One of the world’s most wanted suspected paedophiles and sex tourists, Canadian schoolteacher Christopher Paul Neil (32), was apprehended in rural Thailand earlier this month after a three-year worldwide manhunt by Interpol.
Neil stands accused of sexually abusing dozens of boys between the ages of six and 12 in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. He allegedly appeared in more than 200 internet photographs depicting the abuse. Canadian authorities have said they will seek his extradition as their sex-tourism laws allow prosecution for crimes committed abroad.
In South Africa, the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children is well known, but the rising phenomenon of sex tourism is often overlooked.
Unlike countries such as Canada, ”it is difficult to establish how often sex tourists are arrested in South Africa because these offenders are charged with indecent assault or rape and not on account of sex tourism”, says Samantha Waterhouse, advocacy manager of Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
She describes the policing and criminal justice response to these cases as ”fundamentally flawed”, and in some areas there has been little development in policing and court practice over the past few years.
Cape Town-based child rights activist Linda Anbor says that child abusers are often not adequately prosecuted because anal penetration is still considered to be indecent assault and not rape.
”This will change in the new [Sexual Offences] Bill, and boys and girls will be given equal rights,” she says. ”Men and women in positions of child care, for example teachers and doctors, will be more harshly dealt with in case of sexual abuse. Both of these examples will help to prosecute sex tourists more effectively.”
Joan van Niekerk, national coordinator of Childline South Africa, says street children regularly report sexual encounters with adults who are not South African nationals. Even though experts agree that reported child-sex tourism cases in South Africa are only the tip of the iceberg, few cases have been reported in the past two years, she says.
The problem of domestic sex tourism should not be discounted. Van Niekerk describes a case where two men were too scared to abuse children in their own area, where they were well known, and therefore travelled to Durban to do so. Despite this regular pattern of behaviour, neither man was ever caught.
”Street children are also seen as unreliable witnesses in reporting sex tourism because they are often substance abusers and poor,” says Luke Lambrecht, head of Johannesburg’s Teddy Bear Clinic for street children. ”How credible is the word of a street child compared to that of a rich businessman?”
Street children in South Africa and other developing-world countries are desperate for money. ”This is fatal for the 2010 World Cup,” says Lambrecht.
Andre Neethling, provincial coordinator of the South African Police Service’s violence, child protection and sexual offences unit in Gauteng, says: ”It is also very difficult for us to prosecute sexual offenders in South Africa’s democratic system because the law is dependent upon the testimony of the assaulted. The children often do not come forward and struggle to testify.”
An important reason why sex tourism is under-reported in South Africa is the lack of information on the subject, according to Jennifer Seif, executive director of Fair Trade and Tourism South Africa. She says that no research has been done on the subject, which makes it difficult to determine sex-tourism hot spots and track down the offenders.
”It is important that South Africa implement the code of conduct soon as possible, especially regarding the 2010 Soccer World Cup. A call centre where cases of sex tourism can be reported should be established urgently,” says Seif.
The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism was formulated in 1998 by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (Ecpat) in Sweden, in cooperation with Scandinavian tour operators and the World Tourism Organisation.
The code aims to prevent sexual exploitation of children at tourism destinations. Tour operators committed themselves to, among other initiatives, establishing a corporate ethical policy against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Kenya is the only African country that has signed the code and actively raises awareness about the scourge of child-sex tourism.
South African national police spokesperson Superintendent Ronnie Naidoo says police view crime against women and children as a high priority in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup. He adds that the police will identify potential threats such as the exploitation of children during the World Cup and inform the public of these a few months prior to the event.
”Sex tourism is currently not a problem in South Africa. It just isn’t happening,” Naidoo says — but Anbor disagrees. ”I report these [cases of sex tourism] over and over again, but nothing ever happens. The bastards get away with it over and over again. Poor and vulnerable children are not sex toys for rich and powerful men.”
- An alleged sex tourist, British Anglican priest Anthony Hogg, appeared in court last year in Sea Point on charges of sexual assault, says Anbor. ”The man owned a luxurious flat that he visited about three times a year. During this time he volunteered at street-children organisations, making donations of thousands.
”The priest sexually abused three children I know of: the youngest being a 10-year-old boy. Pornographic material was found in Hogg’s flat. He was released on R1 000 bail and is free to enter South Africa at any time.”
Street children are often picked up in Cape Town’s Long Street and outside the Steers fast-food outlet and the Company Garden area in Sea Point.
- In another case, prominent German businessman Werner Braun relocated to South Africa and allegedly sexually abused children in the Helderberg district from 2003, over a period of two years. He fled the country early last year before an arrest could be made.
He apparently stopped his activities only after the investigative television programme Special Assignment exposed him in September 2005. Some of the girls were only 11 years old when Braun sexually assaulted them for the first time. The girls all came from poor families and some were child prostitutes.
- Swiss tourist Peter Zimmerman (33) was caught having intercourse with a 14-year-old Alexandra boy in his Sandton hotel room in 2005. Police confiscated pornographic material, a laptop computer and cell phone. Zimmerman was released on R10 000 bail.
- ”A tourist with an English accent prowled the streets of Sea Point, Cape Town, in order to find a boy to abuse sexually. James (8) (not his real name) caught the tourist’s eye where he stood begging on a street corner. The man approached the boy, asking him if he wanted an ice cream. After the boy got into the car, the man drove to nearby bushes and repeatedly raped him. A few hours later he threw the badly torn and broken boy out of the car in Victoria Road. James did not talk about the incident for four years. The man was never caught, says Anbor.
Sex tourism in Kenya
According to a survey on sex tourism and sexual exploitation of children in Kenya, released by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Kenyan government in 2006, peer pressure is regarded as a primary cause of a child’s entry into sex tourism.
The study revealed a 76,3% acceptance of child-sex tourism among girls who were interviewed. Only 20% of informants thought the practice was immoral and unacceptable. An astonishing 16% of all sexual activity with children in the country involved sex tourism.
The study noted that, of the men who engaged in sex with children, 38% were Kenyan, 18% were Italian, 14% were German and 12% were Swiss, while tourists from other parts of the world made up 12% of the total. It was estimated that up to 30 000 girls in Kenya between 12 and 14 years of age were being lured into hotels and private villas to be sexually exploited.
”Shockingly enough, children are often motivated to sleep with tourists by their parents,” said Shahioor Visram, CEO of Sun N Sand Beach Hotel in Kenya, at South Africa’s first-ever sex-tourism conference, held in Sandton in August this year.
”They take pride in the fact that their children are having sex with rich white men. Tourists are willing to pay more to have sex with children than with adults. Children are paid R8 to R12 daily, while adults are paid R3 to R5 a day.”
To read more about the code go to www.thecode.org