Friday, June 20, 2014

Child sex tourism in South-East Asia - Virtual monsters

THE usual story of child sex-tourism goes something like this. A predator from a rich country arranges a meeting with a fixer and travels to a poor country. The fixer could be a pimp, or even a family relation of the child. If so, the predator might shower the child’s family with gifts and money in exchange for being alone with his victim. Eventually, the offender flies home and returns to his normal life as if nothing had happened.

However, the rapid spread of fast and cheap internet connections in the poor world, and particularly in South-East Asia, is adding a new twist to this nasty old story. It’s called “virtual trafficking”, where predators now meet children in video-chat rooms. According to the UN and America’s FBI, some 750,000 potential predators are online at any given moment. The FBI also estimates that there are at least 40,000 such chat-rooms. The new technology allows paedophiles to skip the expensive travel while still bringing victims right into their bedrooms half-way across the world.

A series of joint police operations early this year exposed “cottage industries” and web-streaming sex dens which hold children for sexual purposes. Many were run by poor families looking to make money out of their children. Terre des Hommes (TDH), a Netherlands-based NGO working against child exploitation, released a report last November showing how easy it is to gather information about paedophiles by using a false profile of a ten-year-old girl from the Philippines. The result, over 20,000 advances from 71 countries over a period of ten weeks. Predators easily gave away their locations and identities because they believed no one was watching. TDH identified 1,000 of them and handed over their dossiers to Interpol.

Since then, several national police forces have been busy hunting down these new chat-room predators. To date more than a hundred Britons and Australians have come under investigation. Some governments, including in America and Canada, have laws that allow for prosecution of child-sex crimes committed overseas as if they happened at home. But while a TDH survey of legislation from the 21 countries that most offenders come from showed a solid legal backing for prosecution, such action is still rare in most countries. TDH says there is a lack of political will to tackle the issue and apprehend those guilty.

The problem is particularly bad in the Philippines. There, whereas 2% of its 77m people had access to the Internet in 2000, today over one-third of its 104m people do. Combined with deep poverty, this gives fixers and families both the means and the incentive to put children on the web. Fortunately, however, unlike in most countries the Philippines justice system allows for entrapment. “This facilitates prosecution in cases where the victims are unable to testify in court for whatever reasons,” says Darlene Pajarito, an assistant city prosecutor with the department of justice. By Banyan for The Economist


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