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Research on sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism

Within the thematic area of research on the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, attention is drawn to the prevention and protection of children from sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism sector. The development of this focus area has been influenced by the outcomes of the three world congresses against sexual exploitation and abuse of children (most recently in Rio de Janeiro in November 2008). The research being undertaken on the issue draws on the efforts of multilateral organizations, government and inter-governmental organizations, the private sector travel and tourism industry, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and research centres to prevent and address the issue. The report also documents experiences from UNICEF Country Offices of relevant programming and policy-making, including challenges and lessons learned. Information used in the report was prepared and shared with IRC over a period from 2007 to 2009, and was updated as new information was obtained.

Findings from the material collected and analysed highlight the need for greater attention to the relationship between different types of violence and sexual exploitation children may experience; more appreciation and understanding of children’s views and perspectives on the phenomenon; and improved understanding of the perpetrator to better address the 'demand' side. Data collected from empirical studies suggest the need for caution in applying strict definitions of the ‘travelling child sex offender’ and of ‘sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism’. Such studies also reiterate the need for flexibility as knowledge grows about the phenomenon and the persons and institutions involved. This is especially important when developing policies and programmes to ensure that children’s best interests are being served in all actions.

Many efforts have been made at global and national levels to set standards and develop policies and laws, gaps remain in their implementation. Putting some international commitments into action remains a challenge, for example, the risk that harsh penalties may push the crime further underground or shift it to another destination where laws and enforcement are more lax. The research underscores the need for setting priorities for international cooperation; further developing and implementing multilateral agreements consistent with international standards and commitments; more emphasis on prevention, including efforts to address the root causes and structural dimensions that perpetuate the phenomenon; and mobilizing and involving girls and boys and others in the community for enhanced prevention and protection. Finally, the study reaffirms the importance of understanding sexual exploitation in travel and tourism in relation to other child rights and child protection issues. The research has been supported by the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

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