Child prostitution tourism (CPT) is the commercial sexual exploitation of children by men or women who travel from one place to another, usually from a richer country to one that is less developed, to engage in sexual acts with children (defined as anyone less than 18 years of age.). This act is often referred to as “child sex tourism,” but at OneChild, we feel this is a misleading term. It doesn’t take into account the terrible exploitation of the victims. For that reason, “prostitution tourism” is preferable, as it highlights the true nature of sex tourism: Travelling with the intention of committing sexual exploitation.

The perpetrators of this crime are called child prostitution tourists. They are most commonly men, come from all income brackets, and they can take the form of leisure travelers, businessmen, military personnel, etc. Many child prostitution tourists are “situational abusers,” meaning that while they don’t regularly seek out children for sex, they will engage in such activities if the opportunity presents itself (as is the case in many foreign travel destinations.). “Preferential abusers” travel with the specific intention of engaging in sexual activity with children. Becoming more common, “sexpats” are foreigners who move to a country for the sole purpose of commercial sexual activity.

Some of the main prostitution tourism destinations are Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Costa Rica and Kenya, although CPT exists in most countries in the world. CPT also doesn’t require international travel — it can happen within a perpetrator’s home country. The advancement of the internet has increased access to the prostitution tourism industry, with chat rooms and blogs displaying information on CPT, and websites offering packages to prostitution tourism destinations.

Child prostitution tourists travel to countries where they feel sexual contact with children is more acceptable or holds fewer consequences. Often, the allure of traveling to a far-away country gives the offender comfort in that their activities will remain more hidden, or remain a secret. They enjoy the anonymity of being in a completely foreign land, and feel that they can discard their moral values when traveling, and avoid accountability for their behaviour and its consequences. They may also justify their actions by suggesting that sexual relations with a child is part of the culture of the place they are visiting, or that the money or gifts they give benefits the child, their family, and their community, and makes up for their crime.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction is a method of ensuring that people realize there is no safe place to exploit a child, and that they will be held accountable for their actions, regardless of the location. Extra-territorial law makes it possible to prosecute one country’s citizens for crimes they commit in another country. To date, at least 38 countries have extraterritorial laws that can prosecute a country’s nationals for engaging in child sex abuse or child sexual exploitation abroad. Under the Criminal Code of Canada for instance, Canadians who commit offenses in foreign countries related to CPT, will be prosecuted and convictions carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. The youth of OneChild have been generating awareness of the legal consequences of engaging in CPT for Canadians, by teaming up with Air Canada and developing an innovative video that has reached more than 18 million passengers. To view the video, click here.

The tricky part of the story is that when prevention and protection efforts are increased in one country, it produces a “push-down pop-up” scenario, with child prostitution tourists moving to other countries where there is less surveillance. For instance, as countries such as Thailand step up their game, CPT spreads to neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. The opening up of markets, transportation routes, unregulated tourism development, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor have also fueled CPT in new destinations.

Case and Point: Lauda Air

In 1992, the inflight magazine of Lauda Air, an Austrian airline, contained a dangerous advertisement. It displayed a photo of a young Thai girl naked from the waist up and a message about the Thailand sex scene, on a mock postcard from a German tourist. The message ended, “Must go. The tarts in the Baby Club are waiting for me.” Public protests in Bangkok were sparked and this led Lauda Air to apologize for the harmful ad.