Pedophile tourists looking to visit ASEAN nations face the prospect of being placed
on a blacklist and refused visas if new proposals drawn up at a regional conference
on the issue come into force.
Tourism ministers will sign the ASEAN Tourism Agreement at the November summit in
Phnom Penh, and the proposals are likely to be included in that document.
The Cambodian government and representatives from NGOs and the private sector
joined tourism delegates from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines to
discuss the topic. The meeting, which was held in Phnom Penh August 30-31, also heard
calls for better regional cooperation, including data-sharing, to fight child sexual
abuse by tourists.
The blacklist concept was part of an action plan drawn up at the conference, and
tourists convicted of child sex offenses in any ASEAN nation would find their name
on it. Further initiatives included in-flight videos informing travelers about applicable
local laws, posters and stickers at border points and airports, and the development
of an ASEAN travelers' code.
Om Som Sun, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, said the fight against
child sex tourism was made easier with ASEAN cooperation.
"I feel we are taking a big step and have a strong joint commitment," Som
Sun said. "I am sure we can reduce, and one day eliminate, child sex tourism."
However other observers were quick to point out that the majority of child sex offenders
here were Cambodian nationals, and said law enforcement agencies must also focus
on combating local demand.
"If you take the percentage of people who are willing to pay for sex with people
who are minors under the international definition of under 18 years old, the vast
majority are Cambodians," said Janet Ashby, regional consultant at the UN's
anti-trafficking agency UNIAP.
"It is very important to target foreign tourists because it is a trade that
moves around depending on where enforcement is strict," she said. "But
at the same time it is important to focus on domestic demand."
Laurence Gray, coordinator at NGO World Vision, agreed that abuse of children was
not restricted to foreigners and said there was a risk this focus could lead to the
main offenders - local men - being overlooked.
"The problem is not only tourists," Gray said. "We want to protect
children whatever nationality the offender is.
"In our work we are also seeking to raise the profile of problems domestically,
including rape against children in the community."
Gray warned that a lack of funds could reduce the effectiveness of the initiative,
and called on private tourism sector operators to be more proactive in training their
staff to protect children.
Som Sun said she could not specify which nationalities were the worst offenders,
but point-ed to the recent arrests of two Australians in Siem Reap and a British
man in Phnom Penh as evidence that strong action needed to be taken.
None of the men has yet appeared in court, and under the Constitution they are innocent
until proven otherwise.
"It is not human to commit crimes on seven and eight-year-old children. These
people don't understand what is good and bad - they are animals," Som Sun said.
"If people know we are serious they will be scared and not commit crimes."