In 2020, an additional 32 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. The current crisis dramatically increases the vulnerability of children, particularly in countries that have traditionally relied on the income generated from travel and tourism.
Poverty forces families to make difficult decisions regarding their survival. Children are often at the receiving end of these difficult decisions and face life-altering consequences such as being withdrawn from school to enter the world of work, forced into child marriage, or sent away, in the hope of attaining better lives. The reality is that these decisions only serve to increase their vulnerability to trafficking and sexual exploitation.
As COVID-19 related restrictions ease and travel becomes more possible, child sex offenders that have increasingly sought online engagement are likely to seek offline contact to directly abuse and exploit children. INTERPOL recommends close monitoring of travel for registered child sex offenders when travel restrictions are relaxed to protect victims overseas. Although no country, business, or destination is immune to sexual exploitation of children, offenders – both foreign and domestic alike – tend to target countries with more lenient legal and policy frameworks, and where families and children are more vulnerable to economic, social, and cultural factors.
This World Tourism Day, ECPAT International and its members are urging governments and business to ensure that no child is left behind during the post-COVID-19 recovery of travel and tourism.
This year’s official celebration of World Tourism Day is hosted by Cote D’Ivoire
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, over 10 % of the Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP was derived from tourism and the number of international arrivals to the country continued to grow. However, despite this expansion limited measures were put in place to protect children from sexual exploitation. While the country prepares to reopen, child protection needs to be prioritised among other sustainability issues.
The tourism sector in Côte d’Ivoire is overseen by the Ministry of Tourism and regulated by the Tourism Code. In 2013, the National Federation of Tourism Industry signed the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism at the UNWTO Commission meeting for Africa. In 2014, the law No. 2014-139 introduced the Tourism Code. Article 54 “obliges all tourists to avoid the exploitation of human beings in all its forms, in particular sexual and especially when it applies to children”.
In reference the Tourism Code, Ivorian non-governmental organisations, such as SOS VIOLENCES SEXUELLES work to protect children from sexual exploitation. In a 2016 situation analysis, data showed that:
- both girls and boys fall victims to sexual exploitation,
- children were approached by offenders through online means; and
- 16% of children interviewed at the time were exploited in the travel and tourism context.
With the increased vulnerabilities of children due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to improve child protection legal and policy frameworks in Côte d’Ivoire, as reflected in country analysis conducted by ECPAT International. For instance:
- The Tourism Code should provide binding requirements for travel and tourism businesses to encompass child protection measures to protect children from sexual exploitation.
- Reporting by professionals working with children and institutions that may come across suspected cases of sexual exploitation of children, including the travel and tourism and the ICT industry, should be made obligatory.
- Grooming of children for sexual purposes should be criminalised, regardless of the actual intention of an adult to meet the child.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as reflected in the “Out of the Shadows” country profile report, the travel and tourism industry engagement in child protection was low, none of the companies from Côte d’Ivoire or those operating in the country implemented the six criteria of The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.
ECPAT International is engaged in the Corona-Tourism-Package the German Federal Government has initiated in March 2021 to retain the structures of the tourism sector and to empower local actors to offer products and services in tourism. In the spirit of “build back better”, the aim is also to improve the ecological and social aspects of tourism and to achieve improved resilience. The measures are closely tailored to the needs of the local people.
The entire program addresses 26 countries, that are particularly badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Philippines and Vietnam are among those. ECPAT International’s approach is to support the governments to best protect children from the sexual exploitation through the development and enforcement of legal and policy frameworks, and the private sector, in identifying and addressing the risk and impacts they may have on children as the tourism restarts.
ECPAT International and its members call upon the governments and business in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Philippines and Vietnam to take a zero-tolerance approach towards the sexual exploitation of children as the travel and tourism industry restarts.
Specifically, we call for:
- Governments to improve legal and policy frameworks and establish obligatory child protection standards for the tourism industry in the view of post COVID-19 recovery
- Consult the Global Progress Indicator map to see how child protection is addressed as part of standards for the travel and tourism industry in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Philippines and Vietnam.
- Businesses to analyse and address the risks and impact on children in order to develop responsible and sustainable practices as the tourism restarts
- Use the Child Protection Risk Assessment Tool to help your business assess and understand its potential risks in relation to child sexual exploitation and trafficking in your industry and take action to protect children.
World Tourism Day 2021 provides an opportunity for governments and business, in cooperation with civil society organisations worldwide, to enhance tourism’s role in inclusive growth with child protection in focus.
The project “Developing travel & tourism with child protection in focus for a sustainable post COVID-19 pandemic recovery” is implemented with support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD.
- INTERPOL. (2020). Threats and Trends: Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: COVID-19 Impact
- World Tourism Organization, Yearbook of Tourism Statistics, Compendium of Tourism Statistics and data files, available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ST.INT.ARVL?locations=CI