Child Sex Tourism: "Us" and "Them" in a Globalized World

By Arielle K. Eirienne
2009, Vol. 1 No. 11 | pg. 5/5 |

Preventing child sex tourism may thus require broader initiatives, perhaps led by non-governmental agents, to increase understanding between the peoples of the global North and South.  In particular, such initiatives must stress the humanity of the children abroad, so often viewed as merely “animated object[s]” (Rao, 1999:96), either Bauman’s peddlers of “ as spectacle” (quoted in Franklin, 2003:213) or Razack’s allegedly “degenerate” inhabitants of the scorned ‘anomalous zones’ (1998:357-358). 

What, however, can governments, inter-governmental organizations, and non-governmental actors actually do to effect these conceptual, relational changes?  Convincing diverse peoples to respect one another is scarcely easier than convincing governments to enforce protective laws consistently.  One option is to promote ‘political tourism,’ in which tourists learn about poverty, , and other struggles that challenge the masses in the global South; tours both elicit empathy and engage travellers in aiding Southern communities (Estrada-Claudio, 1992:408).  The problem with this proposal, however, is that the Northerners likely to take advantage of it probably have greater respect for Southern peoples in the first place.  Another option would be for destination-country hotels to offer programs that provide travellers with genuine insight into their host societies, rather than complement largely Western-style overseas experiences with the “few ‘local touches’” of which Bauman warns (in Franklin, 2003:213).  Of course, carefree tourists might well opt not to partake of such learning opportunities.

Thus, conceptual, relational changes will likely require many years’ evolution.  Efforts to educate those in the North about the humanity of those in the South are crucial.  Schoolchildren must learn about their Southern counterparts from an early age, perhaps aided by educational visits from those that have migrated from the South to the North (see Estrada-Claudio, 1992:409 for discussion of the educational potential of South-North migrants).  The news media could also prove helpful if they were to portray Southern peoples not as helpless, victimized, and/or beholden to “barbaric” norms but rather as active, worthy human beings.8  As for Razack’s (1998) claim that sex tourists seek domination, aim to crush their Southern sex partners in their quests for superiority, Northern societies must cultivate the norm that those in the South are not fundamentally inferior – indeed, that the inferior ones are those who seek self-aggrandizement through exploitation.  In short, Northerners must come to view those in the South as spatially removed, yes, culturally distinct, perhaps, but still entitled to basic rights protections.


North-South tourists may have a variety of motives for seeking child sex overseas.  Paedophiles might seek poorly policed locales or merely decide to continue their frequent abuses of children while on vacation.  Misogyny may also play a role, particularly in male abuse of girls.  Nevertheless, otherization – the desire to debase foreigners or simply to consume what appears to be their ‘culture’ – remains a significant factor.

Combating child sex tourism undoubtedly requires better law enforcement.  Nonetheless, the possibility of punishment can only persuade potential perpetrators that if the likelihood of discovery is high, the costs of abuse outweigh the benefits; it will not convince them that hiring child prostitutes for sex constitutes harm.  Recognition of Southern children’s (and adults’) humanity is thus imperative, and educational efforts, both through formal schooling and informal discursive shifts and media programs, can help effect this recognition.  Results may be long-term, but in the fight against child sex tourism, attempts to overcome otherization are essential.


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1.) This paper focuses solely on North-South child sex tourism.  This is not to deny the existence of South-South or domestic child sex tourism, for as Giron (2005:60) and Andrews (2004:419) point out, a sizable proportion of buyers hail from the countries in which the tourism takes place.  Different variables, however, may drive domestic or South-South demand for child sex.

2.) For simplicity, the term “locals” implies natives of the global South that tourists meet in their destination countries.  These may in fact be native to the destination countries themselves, or, possibly victims of trafficking, they may hail from nearby Southern countries (Rao, 1999:96-97).

3.) Bales indicates that customers hiring ‘Siri,’ as well as other young women in the low-quality brothels that clearly enslave their prostitutes, tend to be low-income local men, rather than foreign sex tourists (2004:44).  Nonetheless, his words provide one of the most compelling descriptions of a child prostitute’s emotional trauma and thus serve as an example of what horrors a child prostitute may experience, albeit toward the worst-case-scenario end of the spectrum.

4.) See also Razack’s description of ‘anomalous zones’ in legal scholarship (p. 357).

5.) Rao notes that this age has reached as low as twelve years (1999:97).

6.) As of 2004, guards only provided these fliers on the Czech-German border and on Friday and Saturday nights (Hughes, 2004:50).

7.) O’Connell Davidson likewise calls for the deconstruction of “myths” about travel, culture, et cetera (2004:43-44).

8.) Literature on peace journalism might prove insightful here.