Goa Tackles Child Sex Tourism Problem

09/07/2011 - Non-governmental agencies and state officials are attending a two-day conference to discuss child protection issues facing Goa's tourism industry.

Church-based officials, community organizations and state officials have recently expressed concern about the growth of child sex tourism in Goa, India.

The Archbishop Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao has called for legislation to be enacted in order to address the problem. The Archbishop was speaking today at a two-day seminar on child abuse. The seminar, entitled, “Protecting Children in Tourism: Role of the Goa Children's Act 2003,” was organized by the Roman Catholic Church-Aligned Centre for Responsible Tourism.

Thailand, he said, has been considered the child sex tourism capital of the world, but has cracked down on the issue under pressure from international child protection organizations. Serious warnings about the spread of child sex tourism to India were also expressed.

At present, India is home to about 20 per cent of the world's children, and it has the highest number of sexually-abused children. For instance, 40 per cent of female sex workers enter into the trade before they turn 18 years old.

Goa is India’s smallest state, located in south-western India adjacent to Maharashtra to the north, Karnataka to the south-east and the Arabian Sea to the west. The state is also the country’s richest state. Per capita income is the equivalent of CAN$2,876, or just under twice the average income in India. Quality of life and infrastructure development is the highest in the country.

Tourism is generally concentrated along the coast. The region is famous for its beaches, churches and temples, which include two World Heritage Sites. In 2009, about 2.5 million tourists visited Goa. Most of these tourists were domestic, but 376,640 were foreign.

The Goa Children’s Act, says the Archbishop, must be made more stringent – including a zero-tolerance clause for the sexual abuse of children, especially for tourism-related crimes against Indian children.

Last month, the organization, Children's Rights in Goa (CRG), expressed similar concerns about child labour and tourism-related child abuse. There are an estimated 1,000 child labourers in Goa, as well as instances of sexual abuse and child trafficking.

As mentioned, government officials attended the consultation. One main idea expressed was the state’s need to reinvent its tourism industry – in particular, to shift the industry from its present focus on single male tourists to families. According to the Secretary for Art and Culture, Tourism and Education, Rina Ray, families bring in more money.

Part of the reason behind slow progress toward tacking child sex tourism was the fear of affecting industry revenues, reported the Times of India. The Archbishop has urged the Indian government to follow the example of Thailand in protecting children.