How do you tackle child sex tourism?
Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has launched a new campaign this week against child sex tourism. He wants Dutch people on holiday to be more alert and to report child abuse by compatriots themselves. What do they need to know to do so?"Watch out - don’t play Sherlock Holmes!" warns the website of the international watchdog against child abuse, ECPAT. ECPAT supports the ministry’s awareness campaign. The association of travel agencies ANVR and the Royal Dutch Military Polcie are also participating in the campaign.
What you should do as a tourist, says Sergeant Greet Koster of the Military Police, is just keep your eyes and ears open:
"Say what you hear, look around you when you're at the beach or having dinner at your restaurant and you see men of an age between fifty and sixty with very young children. Especially bars where you see young children and something in your stomach says: this is not right."
Travel guide David de Koning from the travel organisation Koning Aap had just that feeling when he saw a tourist disappearing with a little girl into a houseboat on the river Kwai in Thailand.
"I once was in a houseboat on the River Kwai. In the houseboat next to me was a bit of a shady character, he had with him one small girl. He reported that this was his daughter, but according to the noises I heard at night it wasn't his daughter so I reported him to the authorities."
De Koning went to the local authorities, but they were unable to stop the man getting away. The new campaign stresses that there is an alternative: reporting child sex abuse after the holiday in the Netherlands. Far too few people know that this is legally possible.
"There might be a chance that you're on the same plane with that person back to Holland. You might notice the chair number in the airplane, so that you can say: okay, it's that passenger. And then, we can go after the airline and ask the name of the person in that seat."
Up to now two Dutch nationals have been convicted of child abuse on the Philippines, and one in Gambia. The handful of convictions no way reflects the total number of Dutch tourists which, according to a study from 2002, have sex with underage children, which is more than 3000 per year.
Even that estimate could be too low, thinks Koster. Who knows what we’ll find out once the awareness campaign is up and running and tourists actually start to report what they have seen and heard. "The Netherlands happens to be one of the problem countries in the area. Unfortunately."
That is why the threshold for reports has been made as low as possible. As of this week there’s an internet address, which is linked to a well known anti-child porn site. People can also phone an anonymous police tip line.
Anonymous tip lines in the Netherlands work surprisingly well. Last year alone a crime tip line led to around 1000 ‘ordinary’ arrests and solved more than 800 cases. Meanwhile the number of online reports of child porn has reached up to 1000 per year.
Nevertheless, Sergeant Koster does not want to start cheering too soon. Because an anonymous accusation does not carry much weight, especially if there is just one and its not confirmed by other travellers. "It’s a start."
Perro de Jong
Photo credit: pierre pouliquin