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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Asia's child sex tourism rising
Sex show sign
Asia's sex industry has boomed during the economic crisis
The number of tourists travelling to Asia for sex with children has risen sharply in recent years, spurred by the effects of the economic crisis and lax law enforcement.

At opening of a two-day UN-sponsored meeting in Bangkok, delegates from across Asia heard that falling airfares, the opening of new destinations, and the growth of the internet were providing more options for tourists seeking underage sex.

Sex tourist
The number of established sex tourist destinations is growing
"We thought the economic crisis would decrease child sex tourism to Asia," said Amihan Abueva of the non-governmental organisation End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT). "But really it made things worse."

ECPAT says that as a result of the crisis more children have been driven into poverty, resulting in falling prices for child sex and a growing number of foreign paedophiles travelling to the region.

The organisation says countries like Vietnam and Cambodia - which were largely closed to tourism just a decade ago - are now at risk of becoming established sex tourism destinations like Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Asian offenders

At the same time, officials say, a growing number of offenders are coming from within Asia itself, particularly from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Children scavenging
Increased child poverty has led many to turn to prostitution
A report due to be released by the UN next month is expected to shed more light on the dramatic rise in child sex tourism across Asia.

ECPAT program director Christine Beddoe told the meeting that a lack of co-operation from police and other law enforcement agencies was also undermining efforts to control the sex trade.

In some countries, she said, there was a lack of political will to tackle the problem or even acknowledge its existence.

Bribe accusations

She added that high-level corruption was a major obstacle to prosecuting offenders.

In recent years police in both Thailand and Cambodia have frequently been accused of taking accepting bribes to release suspected paedophiles.

On Monday a report published by the Cambodian Tourism Ministry and the charity World Vision said that many senior officials were actively involved in the promotion of sex tourism in Cambodia.

Responding to the report's findings, Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth insisted that sex tourists were a small minority of visitors to Cambodia but said that the government should do more to deter the trade by prosecuting offenders.

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