Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries. It draws billions of dollars to destinations worldwide. While it provides significant economic benefits for many countries, its rapid expansion has also had unfavorable economic, social, cultural and environmental implications. As a result of this, the paradigm of sustainable tourism has emerged as a mean to make minimum impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate future employment for local people.
Within the sustainable tourism-umbrella is responsible tourism, which also is based on the elements to promote environmental integrity, social justice and economic development. What mainly differs sustainable tourism from responsible tourism is that in responsible tourism, individuals, organizations and businesses themselves are asked to take responsibility for their actions and the impacts of their actions. This shift therefore indicates that everyone involved in tourism – governments, local communities, product owners, transport operators, NGOs and other travel and tourism professionals and businesses – is responsible for realizing the goals of responsible tourism.
Watchdog organizations such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the Tour Operators Initiative and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council are some of the actors actively working to promote responsible tourism.
Despite the fact that human rights’ topics including child protection are very important component of sustainable tourism, oftentimes a main part of a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda; it is, regrettably, an issue that is not always properly implemented or on the forefront when speaking of responsible tourism.
In Bangkok, the initiative, The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism [The Code], has become an essential responsible tourism tool for the industry to integrate child protection into its responsible, sustainable tourism and CSR.
The Code, which was developed in 1996 by ECPAT Sweden, is a multi-stakeholder organization with the mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry as a mean to help them prevent, identify and report any suspicious cases of sexual exploitation of children.
As part of this mission, The Code employs six criteria which members of must adhere to once they join The Code: establish a policy and procedures against sexual exploitation of children; train employees in children’s rights, the prevention of sexual exploitation and how to report suspected cases, and inform travellers on the same clauses; develop a zero-tolerance policy of sexual exploitation of children; support, collaborate and engage stakeholders in the prevention of sexual exploitation of children; and lastly, to report annually on their implementation of Code related activities
Since 2004, The Code has operated as an independent non-profit organization led by committed board members coming from the tourism industry and other sectors. Today, the network has more than 1,200 signatories across 46 countries around the world. Companies such as Kuoni, Delta Airlines, Thomas Cook, Lotus Travel, Hotelplan Suisse, Resfeber (Travelocity Sweden), Melià Hotels International, TUI Travel, SRV Schweiz Reisebüro Verband (Swiss Federation of Travel Agencies) and leading hotel operator Accor are among The Code-members.
“Why would all tourism companies not join The Code or take action against the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism?” (Quote from a tourism professional)
By providing tourism professionals with adequate training on how to handle cases of child sex tourism – whether it is to train a housekeeper at a small hotel or a flight attendant at an international airline – staff learn ways they can protect a child from exploitation, how to report a suspicious case to authorities, and simultaneously it sends out the message that they and their establishment condemn any kind of such acts.
“Tourism professionals are crucial allies in protecting children from sexual exploitation,” says Andreas Astrup, General Manager of The Code.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a global crime consisting of the prostitution of children, child sex trafficking, child sex tourism and the production of child abuse images or child pornography. ECPAT International defines child sex tourism as “the sexual exploitation of children by a person or persons who travel from their home district, home geographical region, or home country in order to have sexual contact with children. Child sex tourists can be domestic travelers or they can be international tourists. Child sex tourism often involves the use of accommodation, transportation and other tourism-related services that facilitate contact with children and enable the perpetrator to remain fairly inconspicuous in the surrounding population and environment.”
Although recent media reports have highlighted the issue of hundreds of convicted child sex offenders travelling, the exact number and nationalities of travelling sex offenders is difficult to identify. In Australia, the federal police’s statistics reported that in the first two months of 2012, 195 of the 143,000 offenders registered on the Australian National Child Offender Register travelled internationally, with many offenders travelling to known, “vulnerable” countries. In the United State, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which participates in investigating and capturing child sex tourists, arrested in 2003 more than 11,000 child sexual abusers, including more than 1,100 outside the United States.
It is not older men only who exploit child sex tourism. There are several reports showing that also young men and women can be abusers, who themselves directly sexually exploit children or facilitate the abuse by acting as ‘pimps’ or mediators. For example, in recent years, it has been brought to light that many Western women travel to Jamaica and the Gambia in West Africa for child sex tourism involving young boys.
The number of victims of child sex tourism is unclear. This is due to the crime being underreported, involvement of organized crime, sensitivity of the issue, the lack of understanding of the crime by the public and the lack of data being kept and shared by law enforcement, government and NGOs. However, the United Nations Study on Violence against Children estimates approximately 2 million boys and girls less than 18 years of age around the world are victims of sexual violence and sexual exploitation
Available tools, such as the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, aimed to help companies addressing this problem is, unfortunately, many times overlooked and not utilized or promoted. Reasons being denial or ignorance to the issue of child sex tourism taking place in a specific company’s country or establishment. Another reason is as though signing The Code, a company admits to having the problem at their establishment or among its customers. These arguments hold no validation as signing The Code solely is a way for businesses to demonstrate that it is responsible and equipped to protect children.
“Challenges in working with the tourism companies are tied to the sensitivity of the crime,” says Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon, Project Manager at The Code.
“Others are afraid to take action because they do not feel a sense of responsibility, are afraid of legal consequences or retaliation from organized crime or the criminals,” Sakulpitakphon continues.
The Code’s effectiveness is continuously affirmed as success stories from across The Code network demonstrate how various members now knowing when, how to and to whom they can report suspicious cases for further investigation. In Colombia, a hotel member is working closely with taxi drivers who are helping the hotel to pay attention to suspicious cases of child sex tourism.
The Code-member, Studiosus Tourism Munich is glad to have the opportunity to be a part of network, as it gives them – by its guidelines and criteria – “good base to build up tools and an effective system for the prevention of child prostitution and trafficking,” says Ruth Hopfer-Kubsch, Corporate Social Responsibility Officer.
By assisting The Code member companies to implement and commit to its six criteria efficiently; a line of online services has been developed. The Code’s services include a member portal for companies providing step-by-step guidance on implementation and reporting; and interactive e-learning modules for tourism professionals from different sub-sectors and positions within the industry.
Tourism development, like any industry, must be appropriately managed to ensure sustainability, profit and positive benefits for society. A lack of protective mechanism for children in tourism development could result in the increased exposure of children to child sex tourists and traffickers; negative impacts on the destination’s reputation; and vulnerable parts of society not benefitting from profits earned through tourism. For tourist destinations wanting to genuinely develop and sustain a destination as a place for tourists to want to visit; it must focus on developing destinations that are responsible, sustainable and positive attractive.
Learn more about The Code
Are you a travel or tourism company interested in learning more on how your company can become a responsible company? Are you a traveler wanting to support The Code?
Please visit our site to see which of our member operates at your destination.
Visit The Code for more information: www.thecode.org