Child sex tourism is a stark reality in South Africa – and that includes the Garden Route

National Child Protection Week kicked off on Friday May 27 and, also taking into account the looming winter holiday season, this enlightening report on the work of Plettenberg Bay-based social worker DR KAREN SPURRIER should not be ignored.

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INCREASING tourism numbers in third world countries, like South Africa, affect their economies and certain aspects of their society positively; however, there are concomitant negative effects that expose the dark side of the tourism industry.

One of these is the escalating Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (CSECTT) – particularly child prostitution (CP) in the context of tourism, a phenomenon known as child sex tourism (CST).

Although tourism plays an important role in creating the perfect storm of poverty-stricken or drug-addicted children colliding with wealthy tourists, it is not solely responsible for this phenomenon.

A lack of research available in South Africa prompted Dr Karen Spurrier, a local social worker in private practice, to research this phenomenon on the Garden Route and in Cape Town.

Dr Spurrier researched the subject interviewing local social workers, psychologists, NGO and welfare staff, adult survivors of sexual exploitation by tourists, the police services, and the hospitality industry.

Dr Spurrier’s research showed that factors such as drug abuse, poverty, and family dysfunction pushed children of all races to the street, and as a means to survive they engage in sex work, enabling tourists (i.e. local – out of towners) and foreigners (mainly men, but also women of varied sexual orientation) to commercially sexually exploit both boys and girls, from as young as nine years of age, leaving them with physical and psychological scars.

The results of Dr Spurrier’s research have been confirmed by similar findings through research conducted by Fair Trade Tourism, in conjunction with world authority on child sex tourism, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Child Trafficking).

Titled ‘The Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism – Country Specific: South Africa 2015 Report’, it was launched in Stellenbosch on May 12.

According to this report, ECPAT International’s African network considers South Africa as one of the countries most affected by child exploitation in travel and tourism.

In Dr Spurrier’s study, the accounts and recollections of adult survivors in relation to their commercial sexual exploitation in childhood showed that:

• The adult survivors arrived on the street at a very young age, mostly due to poor circumstances at their homes.

• They were sexually assaulted, raped or exploited at between nine and 11 years of age – very shortly after their arrival on the street.

• Children of all races were commercially sexually exploited and the adult survivors specifically mentioned black, white, and coloured children.

• Both male and female children were commercially sexually exploited.

• The effects of the CSEC include feelings of depression, sadness, confusion, guilt, shame and embarrassment, along with feeling responsible for the exploitation.

• The adult survivors as children were paid between R50 and R1,500, with additional ‘gifts’ sometimes totalling more than R3,000.

• The adult survivors as children entered the sex ‘industry’ for various reasons, including poverty and a lack of other means to survive, which led to so-called ‘survival sex’, addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, the presence of naiveté and lack of knowledge that comes with the natural immaturity of young children.

Child sex tourists or exploiters can be anyone, but have been described by adult survivors and NGOs as mainly, but not only, white ‘executive type’ wealthy males, of varying sexual orientation.

The adult survivors described their exploiters as locals and foreigners, as well as long-stay visitors often described as ‘swallows’.

Local perpetrators were from areas other than those they perpetrated in, and foreigners were mentioned as being from the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Nigeria, and Somalia.

Nigerians were specifically mentioned as intermediaries and pimps. German men were singled out as ‘end users’ – those who had sex with the children – and sometimes acted as intermediaries.

The exploiters engaged sexually with the children at various localities including streets, both upmarket and low-end hotels, apartments and private homes.

Perpetrators used various substances such as drugs or alcohol when interacting with the children and often encouraged the children to do the same (i.e. utilise drugs or alcohol) either prior to or during sex.

They were sometimes violent or threatened violence towards the children they used for sexual encounters. Violence included being thrown out of a moving vehicle or being threatened with a firearm.

Generally perceived to be aged between 50 and 70, perpetrators sometimes required the children to perform unusual sexual acts, exposed children to pornography, or involved them in the production of pornography.

Significantly, perpetrators were more prolific during special events attracting tourists to cities or towns, with the Knysna Oyster Festival mentioned specifically.

Another area of concern that became apparent through the research results highlighted the emergence of ‘volun-tourism’, which refers to short-term volunteer experiences that travellers often combine with travel for work, study or leisure.

While volunteers are hugely beneficial to understaffed and underfunded local organisations, this is also seen as a loophole for exploiters.

The country-specific South African report by Fair Trade Tourism states: “The involvement of volun-tourists in activities that bring them into direct contact with children creates opportunities for preferential and situational offenders to gain access to potential victims. This is the case at schools, refugee or IDP camps, shelters, orphanages, etc.

“Interviews with travelling child sex offenders (TCSOs) noted that they often served as professionals (e.g. teachers) or volunteers to facilitate their abuse of the children in their care – a finding consistent with other, larger-scale studies.”

“All volunteers and staff that work with children should be police checked as a matter of course and if they hail from outside South Africa, an Interpol check should be done,” says Dr Spurrier.

She urges guesthouses, hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation establishments as well as restaurants to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour, to report their suspicions and to keep a copy of their reports for follow-up purposes.

“The onus is on these establishments to report any behaviour deemed suspicious to the authorities, or to risk being complicit in the abuse,” Dr Spurrier cautions.

“Often when guests book in without prior arrangements and want to pay cash, one should be on the alert. Sometimes they leave their ‘daughter’ or ‘son’ in the car while they check in late at night. This is cause for suspicion and should not be ignored.

“Don’t look away – report what you see!”
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