Engaging Tourism Industry to End Child Sexual Exploitation: Cartagena Case Study

5 December 2012
Photo courtesy of Vince Alongi / Flickr

A recent article in The Guardian, by Jorge Olague, regional chief of partnerships for UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean provides a case study of how operators in a destination can be trained to take positive action against child sex tourism exploitation. Olague used the Colombian city of Cartagena as an example of what can be accomplished in a high tourism area that also has a high rate of poverty and unequal wealth distribution which disproportionately affects children and teenagers, putting them at high risk for exploitation.

The UNICEF office in Colombia launched a program in 2008 in Cartagena called  La muralla soy Yo, and Olaque describes how the campaign has begun successfully changing behavior in the city's industry:

One of the successful outcomes is how some hotel employees, taxi drivers and others who were directly or indirectly exacerbating the issue, switched to prevent it. For example, when small tourist operators finished their Diploma course on prevention of the issue, they met with other colleagues in the bars of Cartagena to convince them to denounce abuses and invited them to join the wall against this issue.

UNICEF and partners have also worked closely with the police and the judicial system in Cartagena on how to establish a system for reporting incidences as well as how to care for affected children and adolescents...

Initial assessments show a significant increase in reported cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents; by mid-2012, more than 80 cases had been reported to the Colombian justice system, many of them by informal tourism operators, an indication that the issue has gained attention and is now recognized as a reportable offense.

Additionally, the number of tourism operations that had signed ECPAT's The Code (a voluntary set of practices tourism companies can sign to help stop activities that lead to trafficking and sex tourism, which the ATTA recently signed) rose from just one at the program's inception to 64 this year.

Olague points out that work with hotels is especially critical as studies on the sexual exploitation of minors reveals that as much as 80 percent of cases are opportunistic versus pre-planned. He also calls for the increased work and training with other players such as informal tour guides, street vendors and taxi drivers.

For more details, please read the article.

For more information on what you can do to help prevent child sex tourism and trafficking, please read The Code