Most major Western countries have recently brought in, or are considering, laws to deal with their nationals who engage in the growing phenomenon of child-sex tourism in the Third World.
Next month, in what is likely to be a groundbreaking case, a 66-year- old Swedish man, Bengt Bolin, goes on trial in his own country accused of a sexual offence against an 11-year-old boy in a hotel room in Thailand in February 1993. The case will be closely watched by supporters of a Bill introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Hylton to enable the prosecution of British paedophiles and other males for offences against children overseas, even if they have not already been convicted in the country where the offence took place.
His Sexual Offences Amendment Bill has received three readings in the Lords and will be introduced into the Commons by the Tory MP Michael Alison on 14 July. But despite support from leading charities and senior detectives who investigate sex crimes against children, the Government is refusing to support it, saying legislation would be unworkable.
Mr Alison last week said: "There is growing concern about sex tourism, not least because it has a feedback in Britain - that is to say, British or other Europeans who indulge in this overseas and get an appetite for it are almost certainly going to come back and repeat the offence here."
"So far," Lord Hylton says, "The attitude of the Government has not been very enthusiastic, to put it mildly." He is, however, "quietly hopeful".
Currently, Britons can be prosecuted in Britain for bringing videos of their sexual acts with young children into the country, but not for the acts themselves. Yet Australia, the United States, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden have all recently passed laws enabling them to prosecute their nationals at home, and similar legislation is being considered in New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, Italy and Canada.
Anne Badger, who is co-ordinating the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism campaign to end the sexual exploitation of children - supported by Anti-Slavery International, Cafod, Christian Aid, the Jubilee Campaign (a children's rights pressure group) and Save the Children - says Britain is the only major tourism base to have set its face against such legislation.
Britons are said to be among the worst offenders. While the total is not clear, evidence shows they make up the second or third largest group of men to be deported from the Philippines and Sri Lanka for sexual abuse of children. Of 160 foreign men arrested by the police in Asia on such charges in the past three years, Britons were the fourth largest group, after Australians, Germans and Americans.
It is estimated there could be as many as 200,000 children working as prostitutes in Thai resorts and 60,000 children in the Philippines. In Sri Lanka, up to 10,000 children aged between six and 14 are enslaved in brothels and another 5,000 aged from 10 to 18 work independently. It is believed thataround 200,000 Nepalese girls have been sold into sexual slavery in Indian brothels. In Colombia, one-third of all prostitutes are under 14 and one in 20 is under 10.
Child prostitution is also a growing phenomenon in Kenya, Goa, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Cambodia. More recently it has reared its head in Eastern Europe, in Romania, Bosnia and Russia. According to End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (Ecpat), which is supported by the Coalition, there are at least one million child prostitutes in Asia alone.
There are at least 4,000 known or suspected paedophiles in Britain. While many male British tourists indulge in sex tourism, it is not known how many are paedophiles. Scotland Yard's Paedophile and Child Pornography Unit and the National Criminal Intelligence Service are increasingly concerned about informal international networks of paedophiles using the computer Internet to exchange hard-core pornography and information about where to obtain sex with children.
Dr Julia O'Connell Davidson, a sociology lecturer at Leicester University who has studied sex tourism in Thailand, says that "large numbers of sex tourists are either physically repellent by European standards (I have never seen so many enormously overweight men together in one place before), or disfigured or disabled in some way, or too old to be considered sexually attractive".
Last week, Christian Aid published a report on child prostitution which said: "Many child prostitutes are depressed, some are suicidal. They lose their childhood. They have no sense of future."
In August 1996 a world congress will be held in Stockholm to consider the international problem of the sexual exploitation of children. It is being organised by Unicef, the Swedish government and other, non-governmental, organisations, to focus world attention on the issue.
Glenda Jackson, Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate, who supports Lord Hylton's Bill, said : "I don't think its a question of paedophilia as such, it's the gross exploitation of children in the Third World."
The possibility of prosecuting British men who practise sexual acts abroad which would be illegal in Britain should certainly be considered, she said. "Child prostitution is illegal here and it is increasing at an alarming rate abroad - I believe that there are holidays which actually highlight the fact that there are brothels which have children in them."
Ken Livingstone, Labour MP for Brent East, said: "I am amazed that the Government doesn't support [the Bill]. If we had a proper [free] vote on it, it would carry."Reuse content