Child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is very often discussed only in whispers. Partly, because it is such a sensitive subject, but mostly, I suspect, because it is something society would like to pretend ‘does not happen’. And when it comes to discussing the role tourism plays in facilitating child abuse, especially the sexual abuse of children, the whispers are almost inaudible. Not surprising, perhaps, given the billions of dollars that ride on the global travel and tourism economy.
India is mostly rooted in the ‘it does not happen here’ camp on child sexual abuse; though we make the occasional empty gesture. And given that India is working very hard to position itself as a top global tourism destination, people tend to scurry for cover when you mention tourism and child abuse in the same sentence.
For several years now, there have been indications that sexual abuse of children by tourists has been spreading in India. One voice that has been speaking very strongly and loudly about the links between tourism and child abuse is the Bangalore-based Equations. Over the past decade, it has looked into child prostitution and tourism, sexual abuse of children in tourism destinations, child pornography and tourism and so on.
The results of work by groups such as Equations has been mixed. For instance, tourism as a cause for the exploitation of children was mentioned in the Goa Children’s Act 2003. However, how effective the Act has been in deterring child abuse is not clear.
Similarly, in May last year Kerala Tourism launched the ‘Kovalam Vigil’ campaign against child abuse in Kovalam, near Thiruvananthapuram. Kerala Tourism had also indicated then that it would conduct vulnerability assessments in other tourist destinations in the State and would then take the campaign across Kerala. But it appears that little progress has been made on this initiative.
So it was tremendously encouraging to read in June 23rd’s The New Indian Express that Kuoni Travel Holding — arguably the world’s largest travel company — has been quietly working against tourism-driven child abuse, including sexual abuse.
Besides being a signatory to the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (Child Protection Code), Kuoni is working to sensitise its customers to the issue of childe abuse by disseminating information through a flyer titled ‘Never turn a blind eye’. Equally important, it has been conducting workshops across the world to make its partners aware of “commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism and take action against it.”
In India, the company held a couple of such workshops in Goa and Kerala last year, and according to the Indian Express report, held another one in Kochi early this month. According to the report, around 70 tourism companies that participated in the ‘closed’ workshop have decided to become signatories to the Child Protection Code and implement a series of measures against child sex tourism.
What is even more encouraging is that child protection is part of Kuoni’s Supplier Code of Conduct, and is being introduced into all its contracts with business partners and suppliers. And according to the Indian Express report, Kuoni will now do business only with hotels and tour companies that sign the Child Protection Code.
Kuoni’s determination to tackle tourism-driven child abuse head-on is heartening. Of course, it remains to be seen what happens on the ground and also whether Kuoni consistently enforces its zero-tolerance policy on child sex tourism. But the very fact that a travel industry leviathan has adopted such a policy is reason enough for other tourism and travel players, both in India and across the world, to pull up their socks and put children first, always.