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Fight against child sex tourism stepped up

A beach on Kenya – it is estimated that around 70 per cent of sexual activities with minors is carried out by foreign nationals


Swiss travel agencies have signed a special code of conduct aimed at denouncing those involved in the abuse of children while on holiday.

It is the latest move in Switzerland aimed at fighting child sex tourism. Earlier this year the Federal Police Office set up a special internet link for the reporting of cases.

The Code of Conduct is an international industry-driven initiative supported by children's protection groups. Around 600 companies and organisations have joined worldwide.

By signing up, the around 900 members of the Swiss Federation of Travel Agencies have agreed to take measures such as training local partner establishments in how to deal with the issue and acting in cases of violence.

Sexual abuse of minors is estimated to affect up to two million children worldwide, mostly in poorer countries. Clients of sex tourism are mostly foreign and some local hotels turn a blind eye.

"We are convinced that we can motivate our members soon to act more comprehensively against child sex tourism," federation head Walter Kunz said after the signing at the end of October.

The initiative is supported in Switzerland by Ecpat (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking for Sexual Purposes), which is part of the Swiss Child Protection Association.

"If for example a Swiss tourism operator realises that one of its hotel partners abroad is allowing guests to take minors into their rooms, their contract would be cancelled," said Karolina Frischkopf, head of Ecpat Switzerland, told swissinfo.

"This happened to Kuoni, which around two years ago took an eastern European hotel off its list," she added.

Police action

It follows the creation of the online form, announced at the beginning of September by the Federal Police Office, which allows tourists and personal to flag up any suspect behaviour. To stop abuse, complaints cannot be registered anonymously.

Frischkopf says the move is fundamental because it complements the Code of Conduct.

"It used to be necessary to go to local police or the hotel management, with results which weren't always very satisfactory," she explained. "Now the information reaches the right services in time."

Federal Police Office spokeswoman Danièle Bersier told swissinfo that once a complaint was received it was evaluated and then investigated to see if there was any concrete evidence.

"If we think it necessary, the case is then transmitted to the relevant prosecuting cantonal authorities," she said, referring to the fact that this is a cantonal matter under Switzerland's federalist system.

"Thanks to international judicial cooperation, it's possible to obtain information or ask for searches abroad as well," added Bersier.

If the person concerned is not Swiss, the information is transmitted to the country concerned.

Frishkopf could envisage taking the system a step further. "In the future it would be useful to have a single complaints system internationally, based on the Federal Police Office model," she said.

Sex tourists

She underlines that many offenders were not paedophiles like the ones depicted in the tabloids.

"Sex tourists are often people who, when they are abroad in poor countries, occasionally take advantage of their economic power and the system which allows them to remain anonymous and is less repressive, to try out new experiences," said the child protection expert.

"Some think they are doing some good by paying for these services," she added.

This is why it is so necessary to target these people, Frischkopf says, citing an example in Brazil where the Accor chain, which has signed up to the Code of Conduct, has put up posters showing the prison penalties for sexual activity with minors. This has proven very effective, she says.

However, some in the industry have expressed doubt about the measures. A tourist guide living in Bangkok, Thailand, and working for a Swiss agency, was quoted in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper as saying that a boycott of at risk destinations and political pressure would be more effective.

Frishkopf says that this is not realistic. "We live in a globalised world and it's inconceivable that a destination could be boycotted from one day to another. Furthermore it would be futile, people will access a country no matter what," she said. "Let's not forget either that tourism supports many people."

"The point is this – we have to stop all forms of tolerance and indifference to sex tourism."

swissinfo, based on an article in Italian by Andrea Clementi

In brief

According to Unicef, two million children are victims of sexual abuse, especially in Asia, South America, Africa and eastern Europe.

Among the countries the most affected are: Thailand (800,000 child victims), Brazil (500,000) and India (400,000). 90% of abuse is committed in hotels. Most clients come from abroad.

In 2006 an estimated 842 million people travelled abroad for tourism of all kinds. On a global level the sector employs around 100 million people.

The annual turnover from paedophile activities – prostitution and child pornography – is said to be $20 billion (SFr23 billion).

end of infobox

Sex tourism

Child sex tourism involves people who commit a criminal offence in engaging in sexual acts with children living in foreign countries.

In Switzerland, the sexual exploitation of children is a criminal offence liable to prosecution under article 187 of the Swiss Criminal Code. Depending on the seriousness of the circumstances of the offence, further penal provisions may apply, such as Article 189 (sexual coercion) and Article 190 (rape).

The federal authorities have stepped up their efforts in fighting the problem in recent years. A special Federal Police Office unit deals with child pornography and paedophile offences and cooperates closely with numerous partner services, both at home and abroad.

In addition, the public can report any information regarding child sex tourism cases to the appropriate judicial authorities via the internet.

end of infobox


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