9 Oct 2013

Group wants better awareness about sex tourism in region

6:20 pm on 9 October 2013

An organisation which works to end child prostitution and people trafficking says there is still room for improvement in awareness campaigns about sex tourism in the Pacific. The director of the New Zealand branch of ECPAT, Alan Bell, says he suspects there's some sex tourism in the region, and his group has anecdotal evidence of some trafficking in Samoa

Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor reports:

Alan Bell says while law enforcement agencies are essential and robust in the region, public awareness and education also play a vital part in keeping a lid on sex tourism. But he says sex tourism is not an easy topic to raise among the region's mostly conservative societies.

"ALAN BELL: Our belief is that it should be given publicity, it should be talked about, and people should be made aware so that they understand the risks, and even become aware of what sort of indicators they might look for and what to do about the situation if they think something inappropriate is taking place."

He says globalisation and technology are putting the region more at risk of sex tourism and people trafficking.

ALAN BELL: There is also a risk certainly of foreigners, tourists, travellers, people from a different part of a different part of the country perhaps, taking advantage of vulnerable children.

Alan Bell says his organisation is pleased the Samoa Victim support group is now an affiliate of ECPAT, and the NGO is looking at anti-sex tourism campaigns in Samoa. In Tonga, the director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre, Ofa Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, is keen to see more information available to people about the dangers of sex tourism.

OFA KI-LEVUKA GUTTNBEIL-LIKILIKI: Definitely around in terms of just creating general awareness and campaigning around sex tourism and trafficking because not very much is known about it.

She says Tonga is not a very rich country and there is a high level of unemployment.

OFA KI-LEVUKA GUTTNBEIL-LIKILIKI: And so young girls who are finishing from school and can't get a job, are struggling financially within their own homes... People who undertake these acts do really specifically target these vulnerable groups.

The chief executive of Save the Children Fiji, Raijeli Nicole, says reports compiled over the last few years show sex tourism is a problem in Fiji especially with the rising number of people living in squatter settlements. She says her group surveyed about a hundred children in Suva and they cited a number of reasons why they ended up in the sex industry.

RAIJELI NICOLE: Family problems, neglect, financial difficulties, no school fees, parents unable to to pay for their school fees, parents have just financial difficulties to meet the family needs and also they just don't have skills and because they drop out of school so young they don't have skills and because they drop out of school so young, they don't have skills to work in other sectors.

Raijeli Nicole says her organisation is also hoping to talk with the hoteliers association.

RAIJELI NICOLE: Because clearly the research is showing that most of the places where these activities are taking place is in motels.

She says Save the Children Fiji is keen to work with the Fiji Hotel Association to get child protection policies in place. She says at the moment her organisation is working with the Ministry of Education on a project there to try and give young people other options. She says the project involves fostering their strong interest in areas like hairdressing, fashion and design.