Corruption and culture blamed
August 17, 2006
BANGKOK, Thailand -- It's a photo that has become a staple in the tabloids of southeast Asia: the foreigner taken in by police after being caught in bed with a local boy or girl.
For many of the region's countries that derive huge sums of money from the tourism trade, it's a vivid illustration of its seamiest side -- child sexual exploitation.
The spotlight was on Thailand on Wednesday after a man suspected in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was arrested in a surprise breakthrough in a decade-old U.S. case that some feared would never be solved.
U.S. officials identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, a 42-year-old American.
In countries such as Thailand, child sexual exploitation builds on a long-standing and vast prostitution industry and thrives where law enforcement is weak or corrupt. That sex with young teens is not a strong taboo in some Asian cultures makes fighting the problem even more difficult.
In recent years, poverty-stricken Cambodia has become a new frontier for pedophiles for this reason. The arrests of aging British rock star Gary Glitter -- real name Paul Francis Gadd -- first in Cambodia and then in neighboring Vietnam brought a rare international spotlight, though new cases come to court virtually every month.
In June, Glitter's child molestation conviction and 3-year prison term were upheld by an appeals court in Vietnam. He had been found guilty of committing obscene acts with girls ages 10 and 11 at a rented villa in southern Vietnam.
"This case sends a strong message to child sex offenders around the world that society will not tolerate any form of sexual violence and exploitation of children," said Carmen Madrinan, executive director of the Bangkok-based child protection group ECPAT International.
Vietnam does not have the reputation of Cambodia as a haven for sex tourism, but recent surveys by the government and the United Nations Children's Fund indicate that child prostitution, including child sex tourism, is on the rise, Le Hong Loan, head of UNICEF Vietnam's child protection section, said this year.
"I think the case of Gary Glitter is a historic case for Vietnam so it can be more vigilant about the situation of sex tourism," Loan said.
In Cambodia, there are about 33,000 child sex workers, according to UNICEF.
The U.S. State Department has listed Cambodia as among the world's worst nations at adequately addressing human trafficking problems, including the trade of child sex workers.