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Asia hunts sex tourists


Sep 7, 2005

By Mata Press Service

When police arrived at the ramshackle computer shop at the Baligbago village in Philippines' Angeles City, the Canadian had vanished. Huddled inside were six Filipinas who were cybersex models.

As police swept through the building, they found James Paul Kelly, 66, from America.

Members of the raiding team rescued the six women and confiscated several units of computer sets from the suspect's house.

Kelly, police say was the alleged operator of the cybersex den along with a Canadian identified as Dave Fischer.

Fischer is now being hunted in the Philippines.

Just a few weeks earlier in the same area, police busted another sex den. This one was was allegedly run by an American couple, Tom and Virginia Deassy.

The couple, who are said to be the owners of cybersex dens operating in different tourist areas in the Philippines, are on the run.

The police raids on the sex dens in the Philippines, which cater to everyone from Western expatriates to rich businessmen from Japan and Korea are not being done in isolation.

They are part of region crackdown on the multi-million dollar sex-tourism industry that victimizes thousands of children and women every year, say government officials.

At a recent Singapore conference on child sex tourism and trafficking attended by about 130 delegates from 14 countries, participants pledged greater recognition that they must cooperate to prevent the trafficking of women and children and the movement of known sex offenders across borders.

While there is no definitive data on the size of the child sex trade in the region, non-governmental organizations estimate there are over a million child prostitutes in Asia.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in the United States and presented at the conference, revealed that Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand are hot spots for those seeking sex with minors and teenaged girls.

Vietnam and Myanmar are emerging hot spots. In the Philippines, lawmaker Joseph Santiago is pushing for local governments to reinforce their supervision of Internet and computer shops that could possibly be fronting for illicit cybersex operations.

He said that over 200,000 Filipinos - women, men and children - have been lured by cybersex operators, according to the registry of adultfriendfinder.com, a popular web site peddling sexual activities on the Internet.

Angeles City alone, Santiago said, has been classified a cybersex and sex-tourism hotspot by the Philippines National Police since at least 10 dens have been busted there this year.

Canadian companies are also beginning to keep an eye on their employees who travel to Asia frequently says a Singapore-based professional child sex tourist buster.

Veteran private investigator P Kalastree, 58, is the managing director of Mainguard International Pte Ltd. He has been in the private eye business for almost 30 years. His wife, Dora Woo, 54, is a director in the firm.

In the last five years, they have handled 25 child sex cases. And, they reckon, they'll probably see more in future, according to Singapore's New Paper.

Kalastree said the companies include those from Canada, US, UK, Germany and Switzerland.

He said they didn't want their employees to violate the laws of that respective country which might embarrass the company.

"The 25 cases I've handled involved mostly Caucasian men," said Kalastree.

"Southeast Asia is a haven for them. Most of them went for young girls and only two went for boys." He said more and more countries are coming down hard on their citizens suspected of child exploitation.

Kalastree said some of these child sex tourists set up businesses in Asian countries so they have an excuse to travel there often.

"They may be from the IT or the garment trade. Most of the men are professionals such as engineers."

Last year, he and his wife travelled to Thailand to observe an Irish accountant in his 40s who was married with a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

"His employers suspected him of buying sex from children. He liked teenage girls around 14 to 16 years old and would frequent lounges where these girls would dance naked in front of him on bar tops.

"Some of these lounges or nightclubs are connected to apartments and he would then take one or two of the girls to his room later."

He said they monitored the man for about six months before submitting reports to the man's employers, who then told the wife.

The woman sued her husband for compensation then divorced him.

Then there was the case of the British oil and gas executive in his 50s who was married and travelled often to Thailand to stay with young teenage boys in his room.

In Vietnam, anyone caught buying sex will have their name published in local newspapers.

Lawyer Tan Heng Thye in Hanoi told The New Paper: "Men, either locals or foreigners, who are caught patronising prostitutes will be shamed by having their details published in newspapers.

"Both the tourists and the operators can be fined or punished.

"Women who are caught will be sent to 're-education camps', where they are given vocational training and attend lectures aimed to reform their ways." The sentence can range between three and 18 months.

Vietnam aside, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are among the top destinations sex tour operators hawk to their customers.

Most of these organised sex tours come from Australia, Germany, the US, Japan and South Korea. The industry is said to be worth billions annually.

A 1998 report by the International Labour Organisation estimates that 2 to 14 percent of the gross domestic product of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand is derived from sex tourism.

In the case of Indonesia, revenue from sex tourism can go as high as C$5 billion.

Braema Mathi, president of women's rights group Aware, said that harsher and clearer laws have to be implemented to stop the proliferation of sex tours, as they often involve the exploitation of women and children who have been forced into the trade.

"There should be punitive action taken against those who continue to make the trade flourish - be it the brothel owners, tour operators or sex tourists."

Meanwhile, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is embarking on a campaign against child sex tourism.

ASEAN officials are now working on the appropriate language for the "Asean Travelers' Code," the association's secretary-general, Ong Keng Yong, told The Straits Times.

Warning messages intended to resonate strongly with travellers - in the same way that the region is now known for its zero-tolerance policy on drug trafficking - could be carried on immigration forms, visas, and publicity materials at immigration checkpoints.

The Australian government is now funding a program called Child Wise Tourism which aims to build child-safe tourism destinations.

Child Wise Tourism is a training and network development program that promotes ethical and sustainable tourism practices.

With the support of the Australian Government, Child Wise is planning to conduct 50 community-based training sessions in seven ASEAN countries between over the next year in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the Canadian-based Cybertip.ca said this month its online child sexual exploitation service has shown another big jump in reports by the public.

Of the 4,541 reports of child pornography filed since Cybertip.ca started as a pilot project in Manitoba in September 2002, 55% have been filed since the tipline was launched as a national service on January 24, 2005 and an intensive public awareness campaign was implemented.

In the six months between its official launch on Jan 24 and July 30, 2005, Cybertip.ca received 2,297 reports of child sexual exploitation on the Internet. This is up from 743 reports for the six months prior to launch, representing a 200% increase.

Over the same period, reports of child pornography have increased more than 300%, from 516 to 2,132.

About 50 of the cases involved child sex-tourism.

The public is urged to report child sexual exploitation they encounter to www.cybertip.ca or by calling toll free 1 866 658 9022.