While the business sector jumps for joy as the number of tourists grew in 2016 for the seventh consecutive year to reach 1.2 billion, and as the first four months of 2017 have registered 6 per cent increase, the sheer speed, abetted by technology, of an atrocious crime—the sexual exploitation of children in tourism, has, to date, out-paced all attempts to put an end to it.

In fact, failure of collective action and a chronic lack of robust data constitute the main challenges to eliminate this crime, underlines the Global Study Offenders on the Move,” which is the largest pool of information on the issue to date.

In spite of such widely recognised failure, further attempts gave lastly been deployed to halt this crime–a group of specialised experts on July 17 gathered in Madrid at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) headquarters, to discuss measures the fight against child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector.

“Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune.” “We cannot build the responsible and sustainable tourism sector that we seek without protecting the most vulnerable in our societies. To do so we need effective tools and a global commitment,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Article 2 of UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism underlines that the exploitation of human beings in any form, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism”, Taleb Rifai recalled. The world organisation is progressing with transforming the Code into a legally binding international treaty, the UNWTO Draft Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, which we hope will be approved by our General Assembly next September, he added.

The Madrid meeting has been coordinated by the Bangkok-based End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), a network of 95 civil society organisations in 86 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children, with the support of the government of The Netherlands.

The fight against Child Exploitation in tourism is one of the priorities of UNWTO who has been leading since 20 years the World Tourism Network on Child Protection, formerly the Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism.

Internet and the Informal Operators

Najat Maalla M’jid, Chair of this Task force, which guided the development of the Global Study, set the scene for Madrid the meeting by stridently declaring, “Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune.”

In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, let us place children’s right to protection from violence and exploitation at the heart of our actions, she added.

For his part, the Special Rapporteur on child trafficking and sexual exploitation, Maud de Boer Buquicchio called for “child protection to be placed at the core of tourism development strategies.”

“The rise of the Internet and informal operators as well as greater access to international travel have expanded ‘demand’ and heightened the dangers for children. At the same time, grinding poverty and lack of education – combined with the continued neglect of child protection systems – have fuelled the ‘supply’ of children.”