‘Turn sex tourists into ex-tourists’

Whenever I see on TV news reports of children abused by strangers or family members, I think of how hard it must be being a parent these days.

Especially for parents who work and have to leave their kids with babysitters or other people, or when the children start going to school or get old enough to leave home and live their own lives. Not being there to watch over your children must be a form of torture in itself.

I’m not a parent but I’m a child, an only child at that. I grew up resenting many times what I saw as overprotectiveness on the part of my folks; calling me to ask my whereabouts when I’m not home yet by 5:00 pm. The calls didn’t stop when I graduated from college. They went on even when after I found a job and still going on until now, when I’m in my 30s and working far from home. The calls may have become less frequent now but sometimes I still sigh in exasperation when I get the call from the parental unit. But overprotectiveness aside, I understand the concern behind the calls.

Which is why I’m happy to learn about the Child Wise Tourism (CWT) program implemented by the Department of Tourism. The program aims to protect Filipino kids from becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children or CSEC, of which child sex tourism is one form of. The others are child prostitution, child pornography, trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and child marriage.

DOT is carrying out the CWT program after ASEAN officials sounded the alarm on child sex tourism, the dark side of the double-edged sword that came with the growing ease of travel and popularity of Philippines among international tourists.

CWT will basically try to stop child sex tourism by empowering tourism stakeholders – workers in tourism facilities like hotels, resorts, tourist guides, drivers, travel agencies, etc – so they will learn to spot suspicious behavior among tourists. Behavior that might lead to child abuse.

Donald Bahandi of DOT Manila, during a round-table discussion on CWT in Mandaue City, Cebu recently – revealed that it’s now a growing concern among tourism officials the incidence of child sex tourism in the country. “Tourism industry is not the cause of commercial sexual exploitation of children, but tourist facilities can be used to abuse children,” he said.

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It seems that child sex offenders gain access to their victims via the tourism industry frontliners themselves (drivers, tourist guides). The pedophiles have found among ASEAN countries a playground for their wicked intentions. It might be due to the fact that we are more lenient when it comes to policing tourists, since we try to welcome them for economic reasons.

But with CWT, more people in the tourism industry – especially the frontliners, those who directly deal with the tourists in the hotels, resorts, travel agencies, transportation, and tourist spots – will know about child sex tourism and learn how to watch for telling signs among tourists and spot a potential child sex offender.

The greatest help will, of course, come from the community. Though they’re not frontliners, tourists interact with locals just as much. It could be a Sari-Sari store vendor who gets asked by a tourist where he can find local children, or the couple seated at a table next to a foreigner eating with a native child.

I’m not saying that we should be alarmed at the sight of tourists mingling with local Filipino children, but we need to learn NOT to be indifferent when we see a foreigner walking into a hotel or a motel with a local child in tow. Or a Filipino mother and child going to the hotel or resort room of a foreigner. When we come across situations like this, we should ask questions, inquire, get our inner radar up and running and find out whether there’s a cause for alarm or not. We just might be saving a child by doing so.

DOT will launch the Child Wise Tourism program in Cebu in August, in time for the founding anniversary of the Cebu province. The tourism department is hoping for a massive public participation in this one. The more people aware of CWT the better. They want big signs and banners on CWT plastered everywhere where tourists are (like airports, tourist spots, ports) to warn and discourage potential child sex offenders.

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The image above is a sample of the kind of banners that local governments can produce to send a strong signal to pedophiles that they can’t come to the Philippine posing as tourists to prey on our kids. If they do, they will be punished accordingly.

If you do see a tourist or foreigner behaving oddly, suspiciously with local kids, report it to 0919-777-7377 right away. Trust your instincts.

To read more about CWT launching in Cebu this year, here are links to 2 news reports I wrote containing more details:

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I write to live, or live to write. Whichever it is, writing is my life.

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