Industry receives training to fight child sex tourism threat
September 8, 2014
Child sex tourism haunts many Southeast Asian states and while there are few signs of it yet in Myanmar there are fears that with tourism booming it is only a matter of time before sex tourists arrive.
One NGO, called The Code – short for the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism – held an explanatory forum at Yangon’s Sule Shangri-La in May to discuss the issue.
Officials from the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism, Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF) and local tourism companies received training on how to spot one sign of likely abuse: hotel clients taking local children back to their rooms.
“They really aim to teach what child sex tourism is [and] how to protect children by giving training. For example, if the tourists come with a girl or boy under 18 the hotel staff can catch him,” said U Kyaw Min Htin, the federation’s joint secretary general.
Even in big cities like Yangon, few tourism operators are aware of the threat of child sex tourism, he said.
“Our country has a law for child sex crime. We can report suspected cases to the authorities if tourists come to the hotel with a child,” he added.
But the dangers are there, according to The Code. The group’s engagement and awareness manager, Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon, told The Myanmar Times by email that The Code conducted an assessment in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, Bagan and Mandalay in 2013 that children linked to travel and tourism are at risk of sexual exploitation in Myanmar.
“Our message is that child protection is a part of responsible and sustainable tourism. We strongly believe that tourism development that invests in child protection now will in the long run protect both Myanmar’s children and [Myanmar] as a valuable family tourism destination,” she said.
Aside from training for industry representatives to head off child sex tourism, The Code also provides information on children’s rights to travellers and industry representatives, and encourage hoteliers and tour operators to state in their marketing that they’re taking steps to combat child sex tourism.
The criminal nature of child sex tourism makes it hard to monitor. Despite the lack of reliable statistics, several Southeast Asian countries, particularly Cambodia, are thought to attract significant numbers of child sex tourists.
Myanmar has not yet developed a similar reputation but one tour operator who has worked in the industry for 17 years said it could happen if the industry and authorities are not vigilant.
U Nay Lin Htike said that the lack of knowledge about child sex tourism meant people in many areas of Myanmar may not realize that untoward behavior is taking place.
He described one case at Inle lake where a tourist took photos of boys bathing naked at Inle Lake and asked them to pose in different positions.
“Locals saw him [and thought] that it was a joke while he was taking photos of those boys. They don’t know why he took such photos,” he said. “Actually it is not a joke as they thought.”