Child sex tourism

Remember the child victims of sex tourism

As we mark the UN's World Tourism Day today we shall be looking to celebrate the role played by tourism in encouraging and revitalising local cultures and traditions. However, we are concerned that focusing solely on the benefits that tourism brings risks ignoring the industry's dark side – a sex tourism trade in which young children are recruited and groomed to satisfy a demand from tourists who travel abroad for sex.

In Brazil, along with partner organisations, we are working to mitigate the effects of this insidious trend; reports state that the country is overtaking Thailand as the most popular destination for child sex tourism. Despite Brazil's growing economy, street children in cities like Recife, in the north-east of the country, are turning to prostitution simply to afford a plate of food.

Life on the street for these children is grim and often punctuated by violence, drug addiction and sexual abuse. Many girls fall pregnant by the age of 12. The statistics are heart-wrenching – Unicef estimates that there are as many as 250,000 child prostitutes in Brazil. Faced with this alarming epidemic, we and our partners are engaged in a daily struggle to help street children by giving them a safe place and, hopefully, a chance to rebuild their lives.

While we recognise the positive impact that tourism has had, it is vital that occasions such as World Tourism Day do not obscure the need to confront the industry's darkest manifestations.

(Published by The Guardian - September 27, 2010)

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