More children are at risk of sexual exploitation than ever before, particularly in travel and tourism, a two-year global study by ECPAT has revealed.

The report, entitled Offenders on the Move: Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism 2016, has found that an increase in global tourism and improved accessibility of information technology have escalated the threat of sexual exploitation in every country in the world.

Children in the UK and Europe, long seen as source countries for travelling child sex offenders, have also experienced an increased risk of sexual abuse by foreign and in-country travelling offenders.

The study cites more than 60 reports from around the world on regional trends and institutional responses, building one of the most comprehensive analyses of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. It notes that persistent power imbalances, corporate travel culture, community-based tourism, weak child protection commitments and institutional silence have fuelled the risks posed to children by travelling offenders, whether “situational” or “preferential”. 

Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, Chair of the High-Level Task Force for the Global Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, said: “We must all share the burden of ending sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. It is a moral obligation to act now to protect all children from this shocking crime wherever they are.”

In the last 20 years international tourist arrivals have grown from 527 million to 1.135 billion annually, providing significant financial gain for most of those involved. Even the most remote parts of the planet are now visited. Yet, with this increase in global travel comes greater risk for children.

The Study reveals that: 

  • There is no typical offender; they are tourists, business travellers, migrant & transient workers, expats or civil society volunteers

  • Travelling child sex offenders are usually from the region or country where the offense takes place

  • The internet and mobile technology have fuelled the increase in SECTT by creating new pathways for exploitation and reinforcing anonymity of offenders

  • Most child sex offenders did not plan the crime, they commit because there is an opportunity and they feel they can get away with it

  • No child is immune and victims are not only poor. Some are more vulnerable than others, such as marginalised children, including minorities, street children, and LGBT

  • Services for victims remain inadequate

  • Enforcement and prosecution of offenders is hindered by a lack of coordination and information sharing between authorities

  • There are alarmingly low conviction rates for the sexual exploitation of children, which means the majority of offenders evade justice

Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK, said: “ECPAT UK has monitored and taken action on hundreds of cases involving travelling British offenders abusing children in countries as diverse as Spain, Kenya and Cambodia. What sadly links these together is the staggeringly low conviction rates by the British government of the offenders they fail to monitor and prevent from travelling to abuse children or targeting children for abuse online. By 2013, only two criminal cases were brought against UK nationals who commit child sexual exploitation abroad. This is indefensible. Tackling these heinous abuses seems to have fallen off the UK Government’s agenda – this study shows it is imperative that the UK redoubles its efforts and demonstrates political leadership to protect these vulnerable children.”