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Protecting every child everywhere: Tackling sexual exploitation of children in tourism

The British Group of the IPU, in partnership with ECPAT UK, hosted a lunchtime lecture on the 9th of May to discuss the sexual exploitation of children and what parliamentarians can do to tackle the sexual abuse of children overseas by British sex offenders.

Mr Gavin Shuker MP, in his capacity as Chair of the Prostitution and Global Sex Trade APPG, chaired the panel and highlighted the importance of seeing strong political leadership to ensure adequate protection of children from sexual exploitation abroad by British tourists. He acknowledged the need to overcome any existing policy loopholes or legal impediments in combating sexual exploitation overseas and, at a time when the issue of sexual abuse was very prominent in the UK, noted that the situation abroad was also deserving of greater attention by UK parliamentarians.

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK provided an overview of ECPAT’s activities and outlined the extent and impact of the problem through presenting relevant case studies and a short video presentation. She highlighted the prevalence of this crime, highlighting stark statistics including that there were at least 120 documented cases involving UK nationals since the mid 1990. This underscored to the audience the scale of the challenge and the importance of coordinated action between governments, legislators, law enforcement authorities and the tourism industry to ensure children were being adequately protected from sexual harm.

Peter Davies, CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre outlined the gaps in knowledge in addressing this issue including the need to understand the overall trends in the sexual exploitation of children and the various elements of the problem, including the recent advent and proliferation of sexual abuse of children occurring through the internet . He also highlighted the difference between transient offenders, i.e. those who travel with or without the intention of offending abroad, and embedded offenders, i.e. expats living abroad in order to offend. He said that given the limited resources for policing this crime, the embedded offenders (who represent a greater risk by having direct access to children through holding positions of trust and who create support networks to sustain their offending) should be prioritised in legislation, focusing more on direct prevention rather than just preventing registered sex offenders from travelling.

Simon Pickup, Sustainable Tourism Manager from the Association of British Travel Agents, outlined the four main ways in which the tourism industry tackles the issue of child protection: 1) encouraging a collective position among travel agents on issues such as child sex trade, child prostitution, etc. 2) raising awareness among all stakeholders about the issue 3) working in partnership with governments and NGOs to provide practical solutions to prevent child exploitation in the tourism supply chain, and 4) ensuring monitoring and evaluation of the issue in the industry. This in turn, builds capacity for travel providers and holidaymakers to address the issue and communicate any concerns through channels which will ensure appropriate action is taken. Concrete examples of effective initiatives included the hotel certification scheme and external auditors ensuring child labour hotel standards are in line with national policy.

The final presentation was from Hugh Davies OBE QC, in connection with the work he has undertaken for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), outlining the relevant legal instruments for international child protection, including international obligations for all state signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also exploring the practical limitations of enforcing legislation aimed at preventing child exploitation overseas. He noted that there were limited resources for police officers to carry out local investigations of crimes committed abroad (with no UK police officers based abroad specifically to address the issue of child abuse by UK nationals).