Rosa Martha Brown

Tourism sector: essential for the protection of children and adolescents

We all win when the experiences we sell are 

we sell are fully satisfying.

We all lose if those experiences 

include infringing on the rights of others.

Tourism plays a central and decisive role in economic growth and today it has become a real engine for development. According to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in 2019, the sector was responsible for 330 million jobs globally, generating 1 in 10 jobs worldwide, representing a large, inclusive, diverse and vibrant workforce in the service of peace.

In every destination, community, country or region of the world, our sector has historically promoted international understanding and prosperity, as well as universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of race, sex, language or religion; despite its very essence and the efforts of a network of partners, on many occasions the infrastructure for the provision of goods and services of this noble industry has been used for other purposes, such as the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents (CSEC).

No country or region is immune; this crime has grown at an alarming and accelerating rate around the world, consuming victims, fracturing families and communities, degrading the image of destinations and creating unsafe mobility environments, thus putting them at risk of being labelled as a "sex paradise". 

The first time I heard about this issue was about 30 years ago, at a Women in Tourism Conference in Bali, it was at that moment that I realised the seriousness of what was happening in the world, thousands and thousands of aggressors were on the move, moving and taking advantage of their economic power and anonymity to devour millions of victims through sexual exploitation and break them in the depths of their humanity. 

During my flight back to Mexico, I could not fall asleep, not even for a few minutes, it was aberrant what I had heard, a multitude of thoughts invaded my mind and at the same time squeezed my heart, it was not possible that an army of tourism service providers who work for the peace of one of the noblest industries on the planet did not know about this issue, in short the sector was not trained to identify risk situations, and worse, there were no protocols to protect potential victims. I reflected, although we are experts in providing services with the quality and warmth that our clients deserve, many of them visit us with totally different intentions to those we imagine, we will never be responsible for their actions, but we do have a valuable capacity to disseminate preventive actions that can save lives and protect the image of our destinations.

However, one of the main causes of the existence of sexual exploitation of minors in the context of travel and tourism is the growing and painful offer of victims who are at the disposal of tourists, men and women who pay large sums of money in exchange for the sexual services of this vulnerable sector of the population.

It was always necessary to say enough is enough, it was urgent to represent the voice of the girls, boys and adolescents that perhaps we did see, but we had not learned to listen to their heartbreaking cries for help behind their silence or behind a look of sadness; it was necessary to open our eyes and not close our mouths; it was thus that in 2003, hand in hand with an interdisciplinary group, we formed a civil society organisation called Fundación Infantia, A.C.,  to represent the voice of all those who are not heard in order to prevent and put an end to the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the context of travel and tourism.

Today, after more than 25 years of uninterrupted work, motivated by the desire to promote responsible tourism that protects human rights, we have managed to mobilise each and every one of the representatives of the sector in Mexico and several other countries to become vigilant and weave networks of prevention and protection. Our field of action has focused on making this problem visible, raising awareness and training thousands of tourism service providers, developing tools to help the business sector and producing dissemination materials to increase awareness of the problem.

In Mexico, thanks to the commitment and determination of the Mexican government, it was possible for Fundación Infantia A.C. to provide technical assistance for the development of the National Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children and Adolescents in the Travel and Tourism Sector (CCN), a tool that has been considered by the World Tourism Organization as one of the best practices worldwide for the protection of children and adolescents.

The CCN is a free self-regulatory instrument that represents for the industry one of the most child-friendly tools to prevent and address CSEC. It consists of 6 guidelines which allow companies to develop corporate social responsibility practices towards customers and the value chain. Without being invasive with the operation times, the CCN allows companies and establishments that adopt it, to sensitise and/or train staff to know the basic aspects of the issue, to have protocols to know how to act in case of a risk situation, to weave collaboration networks with local organisations and institutions to receive assistance in case of emergency situations, as well as advice or accompaniment in case of any need for information.

Certainly we have made great strides in the area of protection to guarantee the full exercise of human rights, however we recognise that we still have a long way to go; in some countries there are legal frameworks on this issue, but unfortunately their application has not always been successful against aggressors, so while you read this article millions of victims are being captured and turned into consumer goods to be offered, bought, rented or discarded, which puts us in a great challenge to accelerate our actions.

The challenges are many, but we are sure that unity has represented the strength of our sector and together we will make a difference in the world to take care of the most valuable treasure we have in our countries: history, gastronomy, handicrafts, traditions and above all our greatest and most precious treasures, the children and adolescents.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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