A new code of conduct for the travel industry is helping businesses and travelers fight back against child sex tourism.
“Sex tourists not welcome.”
I remember seeing signs like this at hotels and guesthouses all over Bangkok. The risqué sex tourism industry that flourishes in Thailand and many other countries is controversial and widely covered by the media.
What many people don’t know is that an appalling crime lurks in the shadows of this industry – child sex tourism.
Sadly, many people get on the plane to developing countries every year with the intention of having sex with children and teenagers. Why? It’s relatively easy to get away with the crime under the cloak of anonymity and weak laws.
But the travel industry is fighting back against child sex tourism with the The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (aka “The Code”)
The Code was created by the international organization ECPAT (End Child Prostitution And Trafficking), which works with a network of businesses and nonprofits all over the world to fight child sex exploitation.
If you are making arrangements for your fall trip to Asia, Africa or Latin America, consider patronizing businesses that protect children from sex exploitation.
Here’s the full list of U.S. companies that have signed The Code. (This is the most recent version available but many other companies may have been added since.)
Two of the signatories are based right here in Seattle. Meaningful Trip, a tour company focusing on travel that benefits nonprofits in the destination countries, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.
Joe Staiano of Meaningful Trip is only one of three out of 14,000 American tour operators who signed the code. The company he started last year after more than two decades of experience in the travel industry is all about ethical and responsible tourism.
Staiano explained to me how the code works: Companies that sign it agree to develop policies against child sex exploitation and to educate their customers and staff about the issue. They also must include a clause protecting children in contracts with suppliers in partner countries.
Many hotels also have signed the code. Hotels and tour companies can unwittingly play a role in allowing predators to exploit children. For example, the crime may take place in hotel rooms and go unnoticed unless employees are trained to spot it.
The code can make a difference in a lot of different situations. Children in developing countries often work at restaurants or other businesses. Without protection and awareness, they are at risk of falling victim to predators.
Travelers who suspect that they witnessed child sex exploitation should report it to the authorities, ECPAT says. Intervening directly is almost always a bad idea — it can be dangerous for you and the child.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that only companies that have signed the code are dedicated to fighting child sex tourism. Those guesthouses I saw in Bangkok — “Sex tourists not welcome” — made it clear they are vigilant.
But the code offers us travelers a concrete way to hold businesses accountable and to make sure we are doing what we can to stop child sex tourism.
Joe Staiano of Meaningful Trip has trips coming up to Vietnam, India, Palestine and other destinations. Check them out at: www.meaningfultrip.com.