South Africa warned on World Cup child sex tourism

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa risks becoming a magnet for pedophiles when it hosts the 2010 soccer World Cup as rising child sex tourism blights Africa’s top travel spots, activists said on Tuesday.

Every year thousands of children in mostly poor countries fall prey to sex tourists. In Africa, a tourism boom coupled with high levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy provide fertile ground for child sex tourism to flourish.

Activists say South Africa in particular must take steps to guard against child sex tourism ahead of the 2010 World Cup, when millions of people are expected to visit the continent’s richest country.

“Africa could become the new Thailand, there is a big risk, a big threat,” said Jennifer Seif, the executive director of Fair Trade in Tourism SA, during a media briefing in Cape Town.

Seif said western men away from home who sleep with 14 or 15 year old girls made up the bulk of sex tourists, although younger children were also at risk.

The South African police said they had not identified child sex tourism as a particular threat related to the World Cup.

“However, crimes against women and children are a national police priority and we will continue to give attention to this as a priority,” said national police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo.

Seif urged South Africa and other countries to sign a code of conduct, under which countries agree to train staff working in the tourism industry on how to spot potential dangers and how to help halt the exploitation of children.

The code is being funded by United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and supported by the World Tourism Organization.

“Within Africa there are five or six countries seen as on a-kind-of-hotspot list, and South Africa is definitely one of them,” said Seif, listing Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal and Gambia as other countries struggling with the phenomenon.

Kenya is so far the only African country which has endorsed and signed the code, said Seif. South Africa is among countries worst affected by the AIDS pandemic, with around 12 percent of its people infected by the HIV virus.