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by Marwaan Macan-Markar

Pedophiles Target Vietnam's Poverty-Driven Child Sex Industry (2005)

(IPS) BANGKOK -- When a British rock star, convicted on pedophilia charges, was turned away at two Asian airports, this week, it was seen by child rights activists as a sign that this region will no longer tolerate sex tourism that exploits minors.

On Thursday, Gary Glitter was turned away for a second time at the Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok's international gateway. The 64-year-old, whose real name is Paul Francis Gadd, was ordered to take a flight back to Britain.

A day earlier, Glitter had been declared persona non grata by Thai authorities after he attempted to feign illness to avoid getting on board a connecting, westward-bound flight home. He managed to head east, and entered Hong Kong. But the balding Glitter, who sports a grey goatee, failed to impress Chinese authorities who shunted him back to Bangkok.

Glitter's current tour began earlier in the week in Vietnam, where he was asked to leave the country after serving two years and nine months in jail for sexually abusing two girls, aged 11 and 12, in the southern tourist resort town of Vung Tau in 2005.

Cambodia had expelled Glitter in 2002 for seeking sex with underage girls. He ended up in that impoverished Southeast Asian nation after slipping out of Britain following time spent in prison, in the late 1990s, for having hardcore child pornographic material in his computer.

The treatment meted out to Glitter in Asia is coming in for praise from child rights activists who have been campaigning for years to protect the region's young girls and boys from being sexually abused by male tourists, both Western and Eastern. Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines are known as favorite hunting grounds for these predators.

'This is definitely a new phenomenon that we are witnessing. It shows a commitment by these countries to take action to prevent convicted child sex offenders from entering their borders,' Carmen Madrinan, executive director of ECPAT International, told IPS. 'This is the result of information being shared by various authorities.'

The Bangkok-based ECPAT, which stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, has been in the vanguard of the global fight against child prostitution for nearly two decades. Southeast Asia was where it launched its campaign, following revelations that child prostitution linked to tourism was on the rise.

Earlier this week, a child rights expert from Australia told a conference here that 52 foreign men were arrested across Southeast Asia in 2006, for sexually abusing local children. There were 17 arrests in Indonesia, 10 in Thailand, nine in Cambodia, and eight each in Burma and the Philippines, revealed Bernadette McMenamin, the head of Child Wise, a child rights lobby.

The offenders had come from over 10 countries, ranging from Germany, Italy and Belgium to China, India and South Korea in Asia. There were also child sex tourists from Britain and Australia, according to McMenamin. 'It is believed that (Southeast Asia) attracts the highest number of travelling sex offenders and child sex tourists.'

But the prevailing image of these predators as mostly white men like Glitter, ignores a larger and more disturbing truth -- the majority of the sexual abusers of children are local men or from other parts of Asia. 'Most of the child sex offenders are locals, although foreign exploiters are often in the media,' says Amalee McCoy, child protection consultant at the East Asia office of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 'Most of these child sex offenders are not paedophiles.'

Few of these cases make it to local courts, she added. 'Most of these cases are settled out-of-court, within the communities, where there is a transfer of funds as compensation for the family of the victims. The case is closed, but the abuser remains free.'

In the Philippines, for instance, exploitation occurs due to the children being absorbed 'into the adult sex trade where they are exploited by local people... It is thought that nine out of ten customers of child prostitutes are Filipinos,' one UNICEF study reveals.

'On the Indonesian island of Batam, Singaporean tourists underpin the demand for underage sex. Likewise, Chinese and Thai tourists are going to the Shan state in Myanmar (Burma) to take advantage of child sex workers,' another study by the UN agency adds.

According to research done on Cambodia's sex trade in 2002, a survey concluded that 'a large part of virginity seekers are Cambodian, followed by Chinese (85-90 percent identified as tourists according to the answers of prostituted girls).'

Tougher laws, greater public awareness and political will by governments to protect children and target abusers are not enough to end this scourge.

'Poverty is very much a push factor, but not the only factor,' says Vanessa Griffen, head of the gender development section at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a Bangkok-based UN regional body. 'We need to address the economic drive that is pushing this problem.'

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Albion Monitor   August 22, 2008   (

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