Child Sex Risk ‘Extremely High’ at Special Economic Zones

A new study on global sex tourism says that special economic zones (SEZs) in countries including Cambodia drive a wedge in local communities in tourist-heavy areas creating the “perfect storm” for sexual abuse of children.

“Offenders on the Move,” a study released on Thursday by global child protection network ECPAT, labels the threat of sexual exploitation of children who live near SEZs as “extremely high.”

“Although little research has been undertaken on the topic, it appears that the threat to children living near, or employed at, these types of enclaves is extremely high,” the report says.

“Special zones established in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and the Philippines coincide almost precisely with the locations in Southeast Asia where [sexual exploitation of children] is known to be particularly widespread,” it adds.

“The creation of these special zones undermines the status of local residents while magnifying the power and status of tourists, creating a perfect storm of opportunity for the sexual exploitation of local children,” the report says.

The report also focuses on the large number of Chinese sex tourists across the region.

“They often initiate encounters with children and adult women at resorts and casinos built by Chinese corporations in recent decades,” it says. “In Cambodia, Chinese sex offenders are mostly business travellers who live in Cambodia for months or years, rather than tourists.”

“Chinese sex offenders reportedly tend to seek sex with virgins; that is, young girls. Brokers at entertainment venues approach men to offer virgins and arrange encounters in hotel rooms or other ‘discreet locations,’” it adds.

Despite highlighting the threat of foreign child sex abusers, the report notes that some three quarters of child sex abuse in Cambodia is committed by locals.

However, foreign cases continue to draw more attention and resources, the report notes, as reflected in a report by anti-pedophile group Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which found that 63.8 percent of child sex offenders were foreign over the past decade.

The reasons cited for these distorted statistics include Western suspects being more likely to catch the attention of foreign governments and the media, as well as being “skewed by law enforcement priorities.”

Khoem Vando, deputy director of field operations at APLE, said the reason for the large number of foreigners targeted by the NGO was its primary focus on sex tourism.

“The problem is we are working on traveling sex offenders, so in regard to traveling sex offenders …mostly they are foreigners,” Mr. Vando said.

Samleang Seila, APLE’s country director, said Chinese offenders had proven particularly difficult to catch due to being involved in more sophisticated child sex networks.

“The trend of Chinese sex tourists is different from Western,” he said. “Basically, they were more involved in trafficking-based sexual exploitation, so it’s hard for law enforcement to detect the crimes.”

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