Her family was starving to death. Their other children had already died. They thought they were giving her a better life, and that the money would be able to help them feed their other children and themselves. She didn’t have a choice but to become one of the two million children who is sexually trafficked worldwide.

Child sex tourism is a specific form of child prostitution that focuses on minors (those under the age of eighteen) who are forced to engage in sexual acts with foreign tourists to their destination. The majority of trafficked children are under the age of twelve and live in third-world countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, India, Brazil and Mexico, but come from literally everywhere, including the United States.

Some children were sold to pimps by their impoverished families, some were kidnapped, some were tricked, and some were starving, without any other option. None of them chose this life, and no one is helping them out of it.

I am begging Americans, those privileged enough to make a change, to do something about this! This is a multi-billion-dollar business, benefiting both the pimps and tourist industries, such as airlines, taxis, restaurants and hotels. They are unwilling to stand up and protect the children, because their own pockets are stuffed to the brim by them. Additionally, law makers and law enforcement don’t prioritize policing sex trafficking and prostitution. In general, people are becoming desensitized to the issue of child prostitution and see it as a minor problem, if that. If their own people will not do anything, who will?

Unfortunately, American tourists, as well as other Western tourists, are the main source of the problem. Without a demand, there would be no industry. Therefore, it is our problem as well. This transnational issue is supremely important, yet shockingly underdiscussed. Where do we begin to fix things?

Firstly, the attitude towards child prostitution in the local region must change. Locals accept child prostitution as a viable form of work, allowing young girls to support their families, and therefore do not try to stop a young girl when they see her on the streets in high heels and bold lipstick trying to lure in an American man. Moreover, when a child is seen sexually mature at a young age, such as in countries that encourage child marriages, it is normal for her to have sex at a young age. When locals see a girl prostituting herself, they refuse to interfere in this “private” matter. They don’t ask whether she wants this or not. They don’t help.

Just as American sex education has made a recent turn to focus on consent and the importance of being an active bystander, this type of education must be taught in the most at-risk countries, potentially through a collaboration with the local government and public school systems (when applicable). This would hopefully end certain attitudes that encourage child prostitution.

Moreover, the tourist attitudes towards child prostitution must change. Tourists are often apathetic towards the prostitute herself and care more about gaining satisfaction for a cheap price than asking her age. (A smaller percentage actually prefer young girls, because they are less likely to have STDs, and more likely to be virgins, or less “used”. A small percentage are pedophiles, as well).

Stereotyping, however, is a major culprit in cultivating the culture of child sex tourism. Both tourist industries and local governments employ harsh stereotypes, based on gender and race, to create an inferior, subhuman group of their young girls. This allows the tourists to sexually exploit and dominate them for their own personal gain.

Honestly, we probably cannot change the attitude of pedophiles, and although we can encourage the rest to find willing, of-age sex partners, it is highly unlikely that any of this will make a difference while the “us” vs. “them” mentality is still extant. We need to work to destroy both the racial and gender stereotypes in the United States and abroad to make any difference.

However, the main issue is that which seems to be the root of most societal diseases: money. A young girl in the most highly-trafficked countries can make more money through sex work than through anything else. That’s horrifying. Young girls are often expected to help support the family and this is their only opportunity. I firmly believe that more financial aid to these countries will eventually decrease the level of child prostitution and sex trafficking.

One immediate change could be encouraging the tourists to directly engage with locals (rather than large, tourist corporations), through buying local food, jewelry, souvenirs and temporary housing. This would leave a greater financial impact on the local economy than paying for cheap sex with a child would.

I believe that the American government, as well as other privileged and able countries, should intervene to educate the locals and financially stimulate their economy. Additionally, because forced prostitution and sex trafficking directly impact the lives of women and the systems of gender inequality, I believe that feminist groups worldwide should step up to help end child sex tourism.

[The United States does have some acts in place, such as the United States Protect Act which illegalizes child sex tourism. One man from Fredonia, KS was recently charged under this act, which inspired this article. Moreover, an International Megan’s Law has been proposed to alert foreign officials when American sex offenders plan to travel to their country. The Code of Conduct for the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “Operation Predator” and “Project Child Safety”, the UK police, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and INTERPOL also work to pursue offenders. It should be noted that all of these programs, while a step in the right direction, focus solely on individuals and will be ineffective in changing the culture that perpetuates this behavior.]

 

Sources:

“About Us.” The Code. http://www.thecode.org/about/

Chaninat, & Leeds. “Sex laws in Thailand part 1: U.S. laws abroad: the long arm of Uncle Sam.” Thailand Law Forum. http://www.thailawforum.com/sex-crimes-in-thailand.html

Guzder, D. “Local Thai NGOs discuss efforts to end commercial sexual exploitation.” Pultizer Center on Crisis Reporting. http://pulitzercenter.org/blog/untold-stories/local-thai-ngos-discuss-efforts-end-commercial-sexual-exploitation

“Kansas man indicted on child pornography and sex tourism charges.” The United States Department of Justice: Justice News. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/kansas-man-indicted-child-pornography-and-sex-tourism-charges

“Sex offenders.” Interpol. https://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Crimes-against-children/Sex-offenders

“Tackling the sexual exploitation of children by strengthening the cooperation between NGOs, law enforcement, and private sector.” https://www.defenceforchildren.nl/images/13/1404.pdf

“United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto.” Vienna: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.