Sugandha Nagariya, pursuing BLS LL.B. from Government Law College, Mumbai.
Child Sex Tourism in India: An Appraisal with Special Reference to Kerela and Goa.
Child Sex Tourism refers to commercial sexual exploitation of children by paedophiles belonging to the country itself (Domestic tourists) or from other countries. This is a global phenomenon which violates the children’s right of life. It involves the sexual abuse and exploitation of both male and female children in different part of the country.
Children, who are the future of our country, are treated badly and are served as a sex object to tourists in different places. The glamour of tourism has made this phenomenon unnoticed, thus the government in earlier times was much focussed on the revenue being earned by the tourism industry and refused to accept the claims made by various reports highlighting Child sex tourism in various states. But as it is increasing rapidly, they are forced to look at it through the help of various NGO’s and social groups working for the children’s welfare.
India is estimated to have between 5,00,000 and 7,00,000 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. It is believed that foreign and domestic sex tourists may be switching to India because of its lax laws, its cheap and abundant supply of young girls and boys working in the commercial sex industry, and a perceived lower prevalence of HIV/AIDS. In spite of the abundance of vulnerable children, there is no real consensus on the prevalence of the problem of child sex tourism in India, though the problem does indeed exist.
Factors and their consequences
There are numerous factors which forces children into sexual exploitation. Some of them are inequitable socio-economic structure, harmful and religious practices which undermines fulfilment of the basic need of the children, family disintegration etc. This affects the children emotionally, physically and psychologically.
Poverty on one hand and lack of access to quality education, discrimination faced by children of migrant communities in schools, isolation by teachers, lack of understanding on the value of education on other, pushes children to take a decision in favour of solving the immediate crisis of poverty at hand. This then pushes children into places where they are at-risk of being exploited economically, physically and emotionally. Also, the constant movement from one place to another, time and financial affordability by parents, lack of documents proving legal identity and of an understanding on the risk of leaving children without adult supervision are also reasons stated that adversely affect the education of children.
Given the marginalisation and situation of poverty that the families find themselves in, it is quite imperative that they engage children in some activity by way of helping their parents, either by taking care of their siblings or older grandparents when the parents are away for work, helping in household chores or working in income-earning activities. While most children live with their parents, there are also a small percentage of the children that belong to single parent families thereby creating a greater economic vulnerability of requiring them to work. Children very often do not have a choice of the work they engage in, but they do so out of necessity to earn and availability of job.
As parents take up casual or daily jobs, the unsupervised children end up wandering and meeting strangers, thus are vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation and child trafficking. An estimated 5,000 children selling handicrafts or edibles on beaches or working in temporary shacks, hotels and resorts in poverty/hunger are lured by sex tourists.
There also seems to be planned, institutionalized trade with children of poor and vulnerable families with agents paying parents about Rs. 500/month. The families prize material benefits (provided by agents) to their child due to economic insecurity, family break downs, physical or mental illnesses, discrimination and consumerism. Paedophiles, whose work is to allure children by deceit and misrepresentation with food, alcohol, toys, money, gifts, shelter, employment and holidays etc, convince parents of their child’s of better life. Children are brainwashed to accept sexual intercourse as natural, fraudulently addicted to substance abuse or sometimes injected drugs for artificial erection.
Thus, Vulnerability of these children is intensified by many of the factors stated above (not being in school, roaming around without much parental supervision and being involved in work) which increases the chances of them being dragged into these activities by meeting strangers, and easily getting lured by false promises which otherwise would not be affordable by these children. Thus these children are also an easy prey for travelling sex offenders and paedophiles.
Child sex tourism is prevalent in Goa, North Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, West Bengal and in Rajasthan. Mumbai is believed to be the ‘biggest centre for child sex tourism in India’. Child sex tourism involves hotels, travel agencies and tour operators and some companies also openly advertise availability of child prostitutes.
Child sex tourism in Goa
The first case related to child sex tourism was unveiled by the case of Freddy Peats in Goa, after which the government has recognized this and had taken measures to protect children.
The biggest grouping of minor victims of sexual abuse in Goa are from Bangladesh (42 per cent), followed by Thailand (28 per cent), Nepal (25.5 per cent) and Uzbekistan (16 per cent) as observed in a study. It was also observed that these victims were provided with documents such as Aadhaar card, voting cards and marriage certificates to make them seem adults and thereafter be made available for sexual abuse.
Goa earlier became the “sex capital of India” where many Indian and foreign tourists come in search of child sex. Infact Goa is also openly advertised as a state with free and liberal values. This has made our children vulnerable to such exploitation. But now due to the efforts of various NGO’s and government legislation, these activities have been reduced to a much larger extent.
The CRG (Child’s right in Goa) is the first organization dedicated to preventing the abuse and exploitation of children in Goa. It is run by volunteers by its objective rests to make a society that guarantees the right to survival, development, protection and participation to all children with institutional mechanisms to ensure that these rights are safeguarded.
It supports socially responsible tourism which is free of exploitative practices, impacting children and developing a coordinated community response by mobilizing the Government, corporate, voluntary sector and the civil society in empowering and protecting children against exploitation.
Their STOP PAEDOPHILIA campaign in 2000 has strengthened over time. The CRG has helped Goa Police in several child sex abuse cases of its Women and Child Protection Unit (2004). From 2006 to2009, Child rights in Goa ran a Child Protection Cell with a case coordinator, counsellor and legal officer to serve as a rudimentary Victims’ Assistance Unit but due to absence of funds it was prevented from sustaining and establishing.
The CRG addresses child safety issues at different levels of the society. It runs Child Activity Centres and conducts sessions in schools to empower and aware children of their rights and safety from abuse. Its six non-formal schools as educational and recreational centres provide opportunities for working children to achieve basic, education.
CRG’s comprehensive campaign uses different communication modes of creating awareness like the presentations and films during parent-teacher meetings, which generate awareness on unintentional forms of abuse by parents or teachers, prevention of abuse, dangers of unsupervised children, paedophilia, etc. The Beach Nodal Centres identify vulnerable children and spot suspected offenders by monitoring tourists’ behaviour on beaches.
CRG distributes handouts (to reach out) at airports, beaches, flea markets and posters in hotels and shacks. For improving children’s lifestyles and incomes, livelihood skills, automobile repairs, jewellery making, tailoring, pottery and computers are delivered.
CRG works with the Child Welfare Committee in rehabilitating the victims in “Apna Ghar” - the government home for children. CRG has facilitated a scheme with support from NGOs and professionals for submission to the government from time to time and has received complaints on suspected cases of travelling sex offenders and abusers in the community.
It is observed that Goa is the only state with legislation recognizing child exploitation in tourism and its protection by the enactment of the Goa Children’s Act (July 2003). The Act has specific provisions with regard to tourism related child sexual abuse: It says children staying with unrelated adults need to register with the Director of the Women and Child Development and are neither allowed entry into any hotel nor access to any prohibited Internet sites. They can only reside in homes of non-relatives outside the state with the permission of the parent. The Act advocates registration, monitoring and evaluation of Children’s Homes. It also entrusts hotels with the responsibility of ensuring that no child is abused in the hotel premises and ensures that the Tourism Department ensures, that the Tourism Industry adopts a Child Friendly Tourism Code. It also prohibits child labour below 14 and asks for measures to prevent, rescue and rehabilitate victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Even in June 2006, the Travel and Tourism Association, Goa pledged to adopt and work towards a Child Friendly Tourist Code.
Thus due to the continuous efforts of these NGO’s and legislations, it is possible to improve the condition of child sex abuse in Goa. But more efforts need to be made in order to totally curb the problem of child sex tourism starting by reinventing its tourism industry by shifting from single tourists to families and much more.
Child sex tourism in Kerala
On eve of the first National Girl Child Day a report was released on the Status of Indian Children which states that trafficking of young boys and girls for prostitution is on the rise in tourism hotspots like Kerala which is emerging as the new attraction for paedophiles.
“There have been reports of increase in number of boys being trafficked to Kerala to become part of sex trade,” said Bharati Ali of HAQ, Centre for Child Rights, the NGO that brought out the report.
These activities in Kerala are generally regulated by the beach boys, shack owners and former victims of paedophiles by facilitating the procurement of boys and girls for sex.
As we know there are fewer and lax laws against child abuse in India, the beaches of Kovalam in Kerala are increasingly becoming the main destinations for those seeking child prostitutes. The areas experiencing increased sex tourism is Kerala, were places like Alleppy, where the foreign tourists stay in houseboats, making houseboat sex tourism a new and thriving concept. This was considered as a safe method, as there are hardly raids on houseboats. Seeing such incidences various Child protection NGO’S raised concerns but the Kerala’s tourism ministry declined all the concerns saying they lacks credibility and is aimed at finishing the flourishing houseboat industry, especially in Alappuzha and Cochin.
The Tourism Minister K.C. Venugopal said: “Everyone knows that Kerala is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in South Asia with houseboats as its major selling point. Allegation like this could blemish the state’s chances to grow as a tourist spot. So far we have not received any complaints from any quarters. And do you think such a thing can happen in literate Kerala where moral policing is very high?
“There is something fishy. May be they have other interests.”
But due to the rapid incensement the Kerala government was pressurised to look into it and consequently developed various measures to control such activities in Kerala. Starting with the measurements Rao in 1997 addressed issues on women and tourism in Kerala, including consideration of tourism as a part of modern consumerism and the sex industry. Thereafter Rao has also published report in 2003 on the trafficking of Nepali girls for Indian brothels, and reports on the link between poverty and the ease with which people traffickers can lure their victims. The report said Sex tourism is linked to poverty and disparities in wealth and power between rich and poor countries, between men and women and between adults and children. After such awareness campaigns, debates and reports of the surfacing of the phenomenon has shaken the state Tourism Department which, for long, has been leading a high pitched and successful global campaign to promote God’s Own Country. Therefore, in the year 2009, the department launched the ‘Kovalam Vigil’ campaign, declaring Kovalam as a Zero Tolerance Zone for Child Sex Abuse.
The Tourism department also distributed brochures, posters and stickers, calling everyone in Kovalam to ‘Be a Guardian Angel’ and a round-the-clock ‘child line’ number to be alerted if any incident of suspected child abuse were to come up.
The last couple years has opened up the issue to the larger society and exposed the seriousness of the situation. The problem now is of how to catch and punish the abusers. Because these paedophiles are often foreigners, India must have extraterritorial jurisdictions based extradition treaties with countries if it has to successfully prosecute the abusers, as if no steps been taken, these paedophile will come and hang around with children on the beaches and not be questioned. For him the setting is just perfect. At any given time during the six month tourist season (October- March) in states like Goa and Kerala, there could easily be 100 paedophiles operating in the state. No, do not underestimate the figure, for a paedophile generally exploits more than one child, at times up to 20 children, during a stay of 15 days to five months. Thus, this needs to be curbed for the protection of children and their future and stringent approach needs to be adopted by the government.