BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children worldwide are more likely to be preyed upon by residents of their own homeland than foreign tourists seeking illicit sex, anti-trafficking experts said on Wednesday.
The typical picture of a sexual predator is no longer a white, wealthy middle-aged man from a western country but business travelers, migrant workers and local tourists in their own country or region, experts said at the International Summit on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism in Bogota.
Globally, 1.2 million children are estimated to be victims of sex and labor trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization.
Child sex tourism has been fueled by cheap travel, the internet and mobile technology such as messaging apps that give predators ways to find vulnerable children and share pornography while staying anonymous, experts said at the conference.
“The monster isn’t the same one known a few years ago. The profile has changed so much that we need to be much more alert,” Sandra Howard, Colombia’s deputy tourism minister.
As tourism grows, so does the risk and vulnerability of children to sexual predators, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Some offenders are international, but the majority are regional and domestic travelers,” Dorothy Rozga, head of the anti-child trafficking group ECPAT International.
Rather than being convicted pedophiles, those who sexually exploit children are more likely to be opportunists who believe they will get away with the crime, ECPAT said in a 2016 report.
Sex crimes against children are fueled by a sense of impunity and social tolerance that results in low conviction rates, said Najat Maalla M’jid, who chairs a global task force to end the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.
“A growing tolerance has been progressively emerging,” she told the conference.
“During my work, I have visited many countries and what makes me angry is that this is seen as normal,” said M’jid, a former United Nations expert on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography.
Local residents familiar with sex tourism hot spots - from hotel receptionists to bus and taxi drivers - can help by reporting the crime, said Karen Abudinen, head of Colombia’s child protection agency (ICBF).
People who turn a blind eye to children being sexually exploited are “accomplices,” she said.
In the past two years, the ICBF has helped 662 children, mostly girls, who were victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Colombia, she said.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org