ECPAT began as a campaign against child prostitution in Asian tourism, which is closely tied to the issue of child sex tourism as, respectively, the supply and demand side of the same phenomenon. Since the early 1990s, ECPAT International and many member groups of the ECPAT network around the world have worked with the tourism and travel industry to raise awareness and to take practical measures against children being sexually abused. Partnerships have been established with the hotel industry, tour operators, and other members of the tourism sector for the prevention of child sex tourism. Technical support is provided by ECPAT to assist the tourism industry, as well as governmental and international agencies.
At the First World Congress in 1996, tourism was high on the agenda as a potential vehicle for the abuse of children worldwide, not only by paedophiles, but also by 'situational' abusers travelling to places where, it was presumed, sex with children was acceptable.
Child sex tourism is the commercial sexual exploitation of children by people who travel from one place to another to engage in sexual acts with minors. Often, child sex tourists travel from a richer country to one that is less developed, or they may be travellers within their own countries or region. Some child sex tourists (preferential abusers and paedophiles) target children specifically, but most do not usually have a sexual preference for children; they are situational abusers who unscrupulously take advantage of a situation in which children are made available to them. Child sex tourists take advantage of their anonymity as well as the socio-economic disparities in the locations they visit. They may try to rationalise their actions by claiming sex with a child is culturally acceptable or that money or goods exchanged benefit the child and community, or by setting their own thresholds for defining who is a child (under the CRC, a child is anyone under the age of 18).
At ECPAT International, in addition to working with and supporting network members, the anti-CST programme works with governments, national tourism authorities, the tourism and travel industry, other child-rights organisations, international organisations, NGOs and local grassroots groups on various initiatives. They vary from advocacy, specifically creating policies and legislations, to creating awareness-raising campaigns and conducting training for relevant stakeholders.
One of the main activities of this programme is to support the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism. Originally an ECPAT project, today the Code is an independent organisation currently funded by the Japan Committee for UNICEF and supported by the World Tourism Organization, and technically supported by many ECPAT groups around the world. It is regarded as the most efficient industry tool to combat child sex tourism. Tour operators and tourism organisations that adopt and sign the Code of Conduct commit themselves to informing customers on their child protection policy, training of staff, reporting cases and application of other measures to protect children. ECPAT International is a permanent member of the Code of Conduct’s Steering Committee and currently a member of its Executive Committee. For more information on the Code of Conduct, please see the link below to the official site of The Code Organisation. Lastly, ECPAT International is also a permanent member of the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Executive Committee for the Task Force on Exploitation of Children in Tourism.
Partnership with the Tourism Private Sector
Within the framework of its sustainable development policy and its Earth Guest Programme that federates social and environmental projects, Accor, as a responsible key player in the tourism industry, is committed to help combating child-sex tourism.
Accor’s commitment mainly consists in training staff on how to prevent this risk and raising customer awareness. The group works alongside ECPAT. Since 2002, thousands of employees have been trained. In 2008 alone, more than 11000 employees were trained in Asia, Europe and Sub-Saharan African countries in order to detect suspicious behaviours and know how to react. Moreover, Accor makes its commitment official by signing the “Code of Conduct for the protection of children against sexual exploitation in travel and tourism” which sets the principles for an active policy against sexual exploitation of children in this sector. In March 2008, the Group was elected member of the Executive Committee of The Code organisation. As of early 2009, Accor had signed the Code of Conduct in 38 countries.
Kuoni signed the Code of Conduct in November, 2006, and now implements it as part of their corporate responsibility strategy. Although a recent Code member, its commitment to the Code is clearly visible in their initiatives, such as numerous workshops conducted in the Dominican Republic, Kenya and Thailand for their business partners to be aware of the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism. Lastly, Kuoni is sensitising its customers and encouraging them not to turn a blind eye through an information flyer that is included in its travel kits all over the world.
Other significant responsible tourism sites: