Launch of the ASEAN Regional
- aimed at protecting children from child-sex tourists
Monday 7 July 2008
Speech by H.E. Rod Smith
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines
ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Nicholas Tandi Dammen, Under Secretary Oscar Palabyab, Vice Minister Tran Chien Thang, distinguished guests – particularly those from the business community, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s a great pleasure to be here this evening at the launch of the next phase of the ASEAN Regional Education Campaign aimed at protecting children from child-sex tourists. Let me at the outset record our gratitude to the ASEAN Secretariat and the Philippines Department of Tourism for co-hosting this launch.
Tourism undeniably is one of the great boom industries of our time. In South East Asia, as with other regions, it has brought significant financial and developmental benefits to the region. It is estimated that last year alone the ASEAN region benefited from approximately 61 million international visitor arrivals. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the Asia Pacific region achieved growth of 9% for the year – the strongest growth in the world. Tourism brings investment, employment, economic growth and prosperity to many communities.
Regrettably, tourism also has an insidious underside that puts at risk the most vulnerable members of those communities. And that is the risk to children of sexual exploitation.
According to the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report, an estimated 2 million children are exploited in the trans-national sex trade. It is widely recognised that only a small percentage of child-sex offenders are ever detected, and of those detected an even smaller percentage are brought to justice.
The sexual exploitation of children, no matter where it occurs, is an abhorrent act, a grave violation of human rights, and an affront to the values of all decent people.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child reflects this. As many here today would know, this Convention obliges States to protect children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. All of us must ensure that the responsibilities outlined under the Convention are translated into practical efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children.
The launch today of a further phase of the ASEAN Regional Education Campaign, which Australia is pleased to be funding, is one such practical measure.
Australia’s commitment to combating child-sex tourism in the region is a longstanding one. The Australian Government has been supporting and funding activities since 1994 aimed at raising awareness of the problem of child-sex tourism, gaining support and commitment for child protection within the tourism sector, and building capacity in the tourism industry and ASEAN member countries to combat child-sex tourism. These activities have been implemented on behalf of the Australian Government by Child Wise. (And let me take a moment to acknowledge and commend Child Wise for its tireless advocacy and the outstanding work it does in support of children’s welfare.)
Australia funded the first phase of the ASEAN Regional Education Campaign with the support of a number of ASEAN member countries and the wider business community. That campaign, similar to the phase being launched today, raised awareness of the issue of child-sex tourism in the region and encouraged citizens and responsible tourists to report suspected incidents of child-sex tourism.
You may recall seeing posters and stickers displayed on the back of taxis, in hotels and on billboards with messages such as “Child-Sex Tourists. Don’t Turn Away. Turn Them In”. Though the message was simple, the results have been significant. For example, a market research study conducted in Nha Trang, Vietnam, following the education campaign found that 98% of respondents said they would take action if they noticed behaviour suggesting a child was at risk of sexual exploitation by a foreigner. Building this kind of vigilance and responsiveness at the community level is a big step forward.
Australia has also funded training for people working in the tourism industry in destinations which have been identified as child-sex tourism hotspots. This training is aimed at ensuring that tourism workers are aware of the issue and are equipped to respond to it.
The Australian aid agency AusAID recently launched a Child Protection Policy to provide a clear framework for managing and reducing the risks of child abuse by persons engaged in delivering Australian aid. This demonstrates the Australian Government’s firm commitment that child sexual exploitation will not be tolerated in any development work being funded or undertaken by Australia.
Australia, like a number of other countries, has a zero tolerance policy to Australian nationals committing sexual offences against children. Under Australian law it is an offence for Australian citizens or residents to engage in, facilitate or benefit from sexual activity with children, in Australia or anywhere else in the world. These offences carry penalties of up to 17 years imprisonment for individuals and fines of up to $500,000 – PHP20 million – for companies. These offences have extra-territorial application, so offences committed overseas can be – and are – investigated and prosecuted in Australia.
The Australian Federal Police contributes significantly to investigations into child-sex offences in the region. Australia has signed MOUs with a number of Asian countries in support of such investigations. Efforts to identify and investigate those involved in the sexual exploitation of children in the region are enhanced through international cooperation, information exchange and capacity building programs. The AFP actively monitors, investigates and prosecutes child-sex tourists, and convictions are resulting in significant jail sentences.
The AFP also provides training to law enforcement agencies within the region to combat child-sex tourism and related offences, and is combining traditional policing methods with a focus on prevention through education and awareness raising. It is in recognition of the importance of education and awareness-raising as a preventive strategy that the AFP is funding the new phase of the education campaign being launched tonight.
Australia is pleased to have been able to provide ongoing support for a number of years, through Child Wise, to the ASEAN Regional Taskforce to Prevent Child-Sex Tourism which was formalised in 2005. Since its inception, the Taskforce has played a crucial role in the oversight of the regional response to child-sex tourism. Each year, the information gathered by and shared within this taskforce is compiled and published in the form of the ASEAN Child-Sex Tourism Review. ASEAN has been identified internationally as a leader in the field of child-sex tourism prevention for these outstanding and innovative regional efforts.
However, it is clear from the incidence of child-sex tourism that more needs to be done to combat it. Australia, through AusAID, is supporting the ASEAN Secretariat and Child Wise in developing a 5 year plan for a sustainable response to child-sex tourism in the region to broaden the current response. This plan will outline options for future activities, and it will also bring together strategic partners including governments, the private sector and development agencies for a comprehensive response. The plan will provide a framework for a coordinated, evidence-informed response to this complex issue. It will also incorporate a range of national and regional initiatives.
In partnership with ASEAN member countries, Child Wise hosted a number of business breakfasts in the region in 2006 to foster stronger links between the private and public sector to combat child-sex tourism. Recognising the value of investing in child protection and keen to join the fight against child-sex tourism, a number of significant business organisations offered their support, both financial and in-kind, for the production and dissemination of the campaign materials.
Here in the Philippines, I am pleased to note that South East Asian Airlines was particularly proactive, agreeing to carry full-page campaign messaging in all in-flight magazines and other travel publications. Globe Telecom, also a Philippines-based company, funded the production of 100,000 campaign posters for distribution in this country. Globe Telecom has also funded the production of immigration arrival and departure cards which include the campaign brand and a warning of the penalties associated with the sexual exploitation of children in this country.
Joint efforts between the public and private sectors will send a strong message that there is no safe haven for child-sex offenders in South East Asia.
Accordingly, I urge business leaders to get behind this initiative and support the development of the 5 year transition plan for a sustainable response to child-sex tourism in the region. The responsibility for protecting the region’s children does not rest with governments and law enforcement agencies alone, but should extend to a much broader range of stakeholders including the private sector. Just as you are partners in promoting the benefits of tourism, work with us to combat its underside.
The theme for this dinner could not have put it better. Protecting children is everyone’s business. The Australian Government looks forward to working with you to combat these abhorrent human rights abuses and protect the children of the region. I urge you to get involved. Do it for the children.