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Getting Your Kicks, Without Kidding Around

Illustration for TIME by Sarajo Frieden

Images of kitschy tourist souvenirs flash on the screen in a fast-paced montage: a snow-filled plastic paperweight with a replica of St. Basil's in Moscow, $1; a pair of dancing Thai figures, $2; a small boy, $5; a laughing Buddha statue, $4; a young girl, $6. The sounds of the marketplace suddenly stop, the rhythmic drumbeats intensify and the face of the little girl covers the screen. "Child prostitution is not a holiday souvenir," says a voice-over. "A child is not a local curiosity." Warnings in French and English then inform viewers: "Sexual relations with a child is a crime, and offenders will be prosecuted locally or in their own country."

First shown on March 15, this 45-second public-service spot against child-sex tourism is being screened along with regular in-flight entertainment on all long-haul Air France flights until next March. Joining Lufthansa, which ran a warning video last year, Air France is the second airline to campaign publicly against a global problem which, according to UNICEF estimates, involves at least 2 million victims between the ages of 3 and 16. In Asia alone, more than 1 million sex workers are children.

A number of complex factors have fueled the growth in child-sex tourism during the past decade: poverty, a lack of education, inadequate laws (or lax enforcement of existing legislation), corruption, fear of contracting aids and the increased availability of young prostitutes. Contrary to prevailing beliefs that the phenomenon is restricted to Asia or developing countries elsewhere, children are being sold for sex throughout the world.

The magnitude of the problem was apparent in Stockholm at the 1996 World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, where 122 countries agreed to establish action plans by the year 2000. To date, however, a mere 14 have done so, and only 25 of the signatories have adopted extra-territorial laws that allow them to prosecute nationals who sexually exploit children outside their home countries.

The travel industry has taken up the challenge: the World Tourism Organization, the International Air Transport Association, the International Hotels and Restaurants Association and the Universal Federation of Travel Agencies Associations have all formed task forces and put forward initiatives to combat child-sex tourism.

"The endorsements need to come out of the boardrooms and into the grassroots level," says Christine Beddoe, an Australian project manager for End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT). Since 1991, the international organization has worked with governments and travel professionals to address the "demand" side of the problem--usually male travelers--by putting out their message via luggage tags, stickers, posters in airports and hotels and tourism-industry seminars.

ECPAT is now targeting the "supply" countries of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where Beddoe is developing a training program for local travel industry workers this year. The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is supporting the pilot project by donating office space at its operational headquarters in Bangkok. "It's such a major problem," says PATA chief executive Joseph McInerny. "You have to start somewhere."

On airplanes, for instance. "Tourists are a captive audience," says Beddoe. "We need to get information to them not only to prevent child sex exploitation, but also to create an opportunity for ordinary people to be vocal and say it's not right." So speak up--and get informed by contacting your nearest ECPAT office, or by visiting its website at And let corporate pioneers like Air France know that you applaud the addition to their regularly scheduled programming.


May 31, 1999

Short Cuts
The Singapore Arts Festival kicks off with Asian percussion, folk and tribal beats

Off The Shelf
The 50 authors assembled in Worst Journeys have relived their hellacious trips in writing

Web Crawling
Meet the team that recently discovered the body of George Mallory

Suzhou is a place waiting to be rediscovered

Main Feature
The travel industry's new task forces and initiatives to combat child-sex tourism

ASIANOW Travel Home | TIME Asia home



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