The sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism (child sex tourism) occurs when an individual travels, either within his/her own country or internationally, and engages in sexual acts with a child (i.e. a person who is less than 18 years old). The perpetrators of such crimes often travel from a richer country to a poorer one but they may also travel within their own country.

In recent years, a growing number of global, regional and national entities have taken innovative measures to ensure that as travel and tourism industry grows, child protection is taken into consideration. However, the growth of this industry and the infrastructure that supports it has not been adequately matched by a growth in measures for child protection. In places like hotels, airports, tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, massage parlours and even on the street in plain view, children are at risk from traveling child sex offenders, who take advantage of poverty, social exclusion and vulnerability to abuse and exploit.

Underlining this is often harmful social attitudes regarding gender, childhood and cultural norms coupled with silence or even tolerance that gives offenders a feeling of anonymity and impunity. There is a clear nexus between the sexual exploitation of children by traveling sex offenders,the online sexual exploitation of children and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Moreover, various travel products put children at risk of exploitation, such as volun-tourism and mega events.

According to the Global Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (the first and, to date, the only research initiative by 67 partners that has attempted to bridge this knowledge gap) no country is immune to this crime and child protection needs to be urgently prioritized through multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches. 

The situation is dynamic. A few decades ago, the prevailing assumption was that travelling child sex offenders came almost exclusively from western countries and went to poor, developing countries. Today, we know that the lines between destination, transit and source countries are blurred and the profile of offenders is diverse. Traveling child sex offenders can be domestic or regional travellers, as well as tourists, business travellers, volunteers or ex-pats. This crime can be committed by anyone and against any child, although some children are more vulnerable than others.

Adding to the risk is an increasing innovation in the tourism and travel industry. Advances in Internet and mobile technology have contributed heavily to SECTT, allowing anonymity and hidden pathways for direct contact between offenders and victims.

The real goal is to promote and ensure rights for all children by prioritising action that protects children in the travel and tourism sector.As the travel and tourism industry expands, the opportunities for child sex offenders to exploit children have increased. No country or child is immune to this ever-growing risk. 

If you witness a situation, which makes you suspect a child is being sexually exploited. Observe carefully and try to remember as many details as possible about the situation, keep in mind the keywords “who”, “when” and “where” and call the police immediately. Use our International Hotline Numbers (link to that page) to make a report.

If the country you are travelling in does not have an online reporting mechanism you can either use that of another country if you understand the language, or contact your country’s embassy in the travel destination. They may be able to inform the competent authorities. By reporting suspected cases of child sex tourism, and encouraging others to report, you can make a difference!