Organisations fighting the sexual exploitation of children said yesterday that child abusers were heading to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Gambia and Kenya, where package tourism has led to the growth of local sex industries.
Later this month, Foreign Office officials will propose an international conference next year, with the aim of enabling law-enforcement officials in all vulnerable countries to share intelligence on travelling paedophiles.
Following pressure from Britain, Thailand and the Philippines are already taking a harder line on child sex abuse. Several Britons have received lengthy prison sentences and those convicted can face the death penalty.
Christine Beddoe, of the lobby group End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, said: "With the crackdown in traditional problem areas like Thailand and the Philippines we are seeing abusers looking for alternative destinations. Some paedophiles have begun travelling to neighbouring Asian countries, like Laos, Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia. Others have switched their attentions to the Caribbean and Africa where child prostitution has become rife in the past decade as a side-effect of mass tourism."
Ms Beddoe pointed out that many of the clients of the child prostitutes were "opportunists" who did not fit the conventional stereotype of the paedophile.
"They are happy to have sex with an adult woman but if a 14-year-old girl was offered they would take her too," she said. "They will often try and excuse their behaviour by saying the children are more sexual or that they are helping them by giving them money."
Some of the worst problems are emerging in the Dominican Republic, which has become a magnet for sex tourists from Germany, Spain, Italy and now Britain. In Cuba, Canadian sex tourists are largely responsible for the revival of the Havana brothels and child prostitution on a scale not seen since the Castro revolution in the Fifties.
Package tours to Kenyan resorts on the east African coast have attracted economic migrants from the cities and led to the emergence of a sex industry which includes child prostitutes. On Africa's west coast, children are being exploited by Western tourists in the Gambia.
Ms Beddoe blamed the tourist industry for helping to create a hedonistic environment where other holidaymakers often turned a blind eye to illegality. "The way we promote tourism is very much to encourage a lack of inhibition, with increased opportunity for sexual encounters which we would not have at home," she said.
Ms Beddoe said that hotel receptionists, tour guides and other travel company staff should be doing more to curtail the activities of sex tourists.
The travel industry responded by saying that it had instructed travel agents to advise holidaymakers travelling to certain destinations to be vigilant for child sexual abuse and to report their suspicions on the police Crimestoppers phone line.
Ian Reynolds, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents, said: "Hopefully this will mean that more people are aware of the problem and are motivated to do something about it and will become more vigilant."
Over the past four years, two researchers at Leicester University, Julia O'Connell-Davidson and Jacqueline Sanchez-Taylor, have interviewed hundreds of sex tourists. Ms O'Connell-Davidson said yesterday that many displayed a "neo-colonial" racism which led them to believe they could do whatever they wished in a Third World country.
She said: "They say that the girls are not really prostitutes but are just nice girls who do not have enough money. They say they are helping them by letting them be their girlfriend for a few days."Reuse content