Factors Affecting Children in Southeast Asia
The Sexual Exploitation of Children (SEC) is a product of the complex interplay between a range of historical, cultural, social and economic factors occurring on the global, regional, national and local levels. The changing and expanding nature of travel and tourism, and increased use of Internet and communications technologies, combined with poverty and inequality throughout the region, influence both supply and demand with regard to SEC.
Research suggests that particular groups of children are at heightened risk of SEC. These include poor children, children who are working, children who are out of school, homeless and street-based children, children in conflict zones, migrating children, refugee children, stateless children, minorities, indigenous children, children with disabilities, LGBTQIA children and children forced into early marriage.
The rapid growth in tourism exacerbates SEC in the region. In the pursuit of economic development, a number of Southeast Asian countries have allowed large-scale foreign investment in tourism and other sectors and the proliferation of Special Economic and Free Trade Zones (FTZ). These developments, often accompanied by casinos and a range of entertainment venues including bars, restaurants and brothels, represent high-risk locales for SEC.
Further exacerbating the SEC situation has been the dramatic development in Internet and communications technologies, which have increased and diversified opportunities to sexually exploit children, or to profit from the sexual exploitation of children. Online grooming, the increasing profitability of child sexual abuse material and ease of access to it, and the advent of live online child sexual abuse have significantly changed the modus operandi of child sex offending and have resulted in unprecedented numbers of vulnerable children being exploited across the region.
The Current Situation in Southeast Asia
Analysis of research on SEC in Southeast Asia indicates that it is prevalent throughout the region, that SEC is increasing, and that child sex offenders are becoming increasingly creative in their efforts to access children. Whilst traditional destinations for foreign child sex offenders such as Thailand and the Philippines continue to attract child sex offenders, countries such as Cambodia, Viet Nam and Indonesia are increasingly becoming popular destinations for adults seeking to sexually exploit children. The vast majority of child sex offenders in Southeast Asia are nationals of the countries of the region. Recent research suggests that Asian men are more likely to sexually abuse young girls, and to seek out young virgin girls, even though available research and anecdotal evidence does suggest that also considerable numbers of boys are abused by nationals. Foreign child sex offenders are also a significant problem in the region and are responsible for abusing boys and girls.
Gaps and Challenges
Persistent gaps and challenges in the response to SEC in the region impede any reduction in child sex offending. Key gaps and challenges include:
- Gaps in domestic legislation
- Gaps in extraterritorial legislation
- Incomplete, or non-existent National Plans of Action (NPAs)
- Lack of cooperation, particularly between law enforcement agencies
- Widespread corruption amongst law enforcement personnel and agencies
- Inadequate/inefficient law enforcement response to SEC
At the regional level, ASEAN has acknowledged the SEC issue in a range of regional declarations and initiatives including regional task forces and public education campaigns. At the national level, the commitment and capacity of governments to combat SEC has varied across the region, but the development of NPAs in some countries, the establishment of coordination and cooperation mechanisms and actions, the development of legal frameworks, the implementation of prevention programmes and the provision of support services to young people have been undertaken to a greater or lesser extent. NGOs continue to drive actions to prevent SEC in the region. A range of NGO partnerships with governments and the private sector attest to this enduring commitment.
The Way Forward
In response to the key findings of this regional overview, a set of recommendations has also been developed for governments, NGOs and the private sector. These recommendations offer a framework for enhancing efforts by governments, NGOs and the private sector to prevent and combat SEC in the region.