This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. The reason given is: Most if not all information in this article is over a decade old. Lots of things have changed in many countries since then, for better and for worse.. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (December 2023)

Child sex tourism (CST) is tourism for the purpose of engaging in the prostitution of children, which is commercially facilitated child sexual abuse.[1] The definition of child in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is "every human being below the age of 18 years".[2] Child sex tourism results in both mental and physical consequences for the exploited children, which may include sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), "drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and death", according to the State Department of the United States.[1] Child sex tourism, part of the multibillion-dollar global sex tourism industry, is a form of child prostitution within the wider issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Child sex tourism victimizes approximately 2 million children around the world.[1][3][4][5] The children who perform as prostitutes in the child sex tourism trade often have been lured or abducted into sexual slavery.[6][7][8]

Users of children for commercial and sexual purposes can be categorized by motive. Although pedophiles are popularly associated with child sex tourism, they are not the majority of users. There are two types of offenders: preferential abusers who specifically prefer children, because they seek to build a relationship with a child or because they perceive the risk of sexually transmitted infections to be lower; and situational users, which are abusers who do not actively seek out children but for whom the actual act is opportunistic. For situational users, there may be a lack of concern to check the age of a prostitute before engaging in sexual activity.[9]

Travelling child sex offenders can use the Internet to plan their trips by seeking out and trading information about opportunities for child sex tourism and where the most vulnerable children can be found, generally in areas of low income.[5] Multiple governments have enacted laws to allow prosecution of its citizens for child sexual abuse committed outside of their home country. However, while laws against child sex tourism may deter situational offenders who may act impulsively, pedophiles who travel specifically for the purpose of exploiting children are not easily deterred.[5]


Child sex tourism has been closely linked to poverty, armed conflicts, rapid industrialization, and exploding population growth.[10] In Latin America and Southeast Asia, for instance, street children often turn to prostitution as a last resort. Additionally, vulnerable children are easy targets for exploitation by traffickers.[10] South Africa,[11] United States,[12] Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil, and Mexico have been identified as leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.[13] Also, child victim ages have been found in Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand to range from 6 to 11 years old, followed by 12 to 15 years old, and 15 to 17.[14]

In 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography reported: "Countries of origin of international child sex tourists vary depending on the regions, but the demand is usually recognized as coming from the industrialized countries, including the richer countries of Europe, North America, the Russian Federation, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Australians, for instance, have been identified as the largest group of sex tourists prosecuted in Thailand (31 percent of the total). Of the 146 cases investigated by Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) in Cambodia between 2003 and April 2012, 32 were American, 24 French and 20 Vietnamese. In the coastal regions of Kenya, for example, 30 percent were residents and 70 percent of the abusers were foreign: Italians (18 percent), Germans (14 percent), Swiss (12 percent), with tourists coming from Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania fifth and sixth on the list. In Costa Rica, according to available information, between the 1999 and 2005, the Child Exploitation Unit had arrested a total of 74 persons on suspicion of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Of those arrested, 56 were Costa Rican nationals and 18 foreign nationals".[15]

In Thailand, the exact number of child-prostitutes is not known, but Thailand's Health System Research Institute reports that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.[16] In Cambodia, it has been estimated that about a third of all prostitutes are under 18.[17][18] In India, the federal police say that around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution.[19] Up until recently, Brazil has been considered to have the worst child sex trafficking record after Thailand.[20] As per Chris Rogers report on BBC World[21] "Now Brazil is overtaking Thailand as the world's most popular sex-tourist destination". DLN reports that "Brazil at the moment is on a high trend of child sex tourism and is all geared to take up the first spot beating out Thailand."[22]

Sex tourism targeting children creates huge monetary incentives for traffickers. Human trafficking impacts an estimated 1.2 million child victims.[23][24] The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) recently stated that 79% of all global trafficking is for sexual exploitation, which is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world.[24]

UNICEF notes that sexual activity is often seen as a private matter, making communities reluctant to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitation.[24] These attitudes make children far more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Most exploitation of children takes place as a result of their absorption into the adult sex trade where they are exploited by local people and sex tourists.[24] The Internet provides an efficient global networking tool for individuals to share information on destinations and procurement.[24]

In cases involving children, the U.S. has relatively strict domestic laws that hold accountable any American citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. who travels abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit conduct with a minor.[25] However, child pornography, sex tourism and human trafficking remain fast-growing industries.[25] Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. recently introduced H.R. 1623, the international Megan's Law. Similar to the domestic Megan's Law (named after Megan Kanka of New Jersey), which provides for community notification when a sex offender is living in the area, H.R. 1623 would alert officials abroad when U.S. sex offenders intend to travel, and likewise encourage other countries to keep sex offender lists and to notify the U.S. when a known sex offender may be coming to the United States for sex tourism.[25] While there are serious problems with the sex offender registries in the United States, human rights organizations such as ECPAT and UNICEF believe this would be a step in the right direction.[25]

One of the factors pushing Brazil to the top of this list of destination countries is the extensive use of the Sport Fishing industry in the Brazilian Amazon as a front. The 2008 U.S. State Department Report[26] states "At midyear Federal Police in Manaus began investigating allegations that a foreign-owned travel company arranged fishing expeditions to the Amazon region that were in reality sex tours for U.S. and European child predators. At year's end the investigation was continuing in coordination with foreign law enforcement officials." Another US State Department report states (page 85) "In a newer trend, some arranged fishing expeditions to the Amazon were organized for the purpose of child sex tourism for European and American exploiters."[27] Recent Reports on Fox Atlanta and ABC World News Tonight have helped shine the light on this.[28][29][30][31][32] ECPAT-USA has recently posted a Brazilian National News story with English subtitles.[33]

Webcam child sex tourism

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimate, there are 750,000 predators online at any given time in 40,000 public chat rooms. Offers from 20,000 internet users to pay for webcam sex performances were found in a 10-week investigation conducted from a warehouse in Amsterdam, in the Terre des hommes Dutch action against WCST, using "Sweetie", a 3D computer model. Out of 21,000 perpetrators, 1,000 were identified from Australia, Canada, Jamaica ,Germany, Ghana, India, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 110 of the alleged online abusers were based in the UK and another 254 were traced to computers in the US.[34] Together with, Terre des Hommes Netherlands has created an online petition to pressure governments to adopt proactive investigation policies in order to protect children against webcam child sex tourism.

Global response

In recent years[when?] there has been an increase in the prosecution of child sex tourism offenses. At least 38 countries have extraterritorial laws that allow their citizens to be prosecuted specifically for child sexual abuse crimes committed while abroad, and another 31 nations have more general extraterritorial laws that could be used to prosecute their citizens for crimes committed during child sex tourism trips.[1] As of May 2016, 173 countries have signed and ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Children Pornography which is "Deeply concerned at the widespread and continuing practice of sex tourism, to which children are especially vulnerable". It also obliges parties to pass laws within their own territories against these practices "punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account their grave nature".[35] In response to CST, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the tourism industry, and governments have begun to address the issue. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) established a task force to combat CST. The WTO, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) and Nordic tour operators created a global Code of Conduct for the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism in Travel and Tourism in 1996. As of April 2013, over 1200 travel companies from 40 countries had signed the code.[36]

International law enforcement activities

The United States' Homeland Security Investigations participates in investigating and capturing child sex tourists. In 2003 ICE launched "Operation Predator", leading to the arrest of over 11,000 child sexual abusers, including more than 1,100 outside the United States. While ICE agents refuse to comment on their means and methods of operation, media reports have suggested the use of undercover agents, internet sting operations, and sophisticated technologies. ICE agents in Bangkok did say however that they often receive information from local NGOs about foreigners in Thailand whom they suspect of engaging in child sexual abuse. Sometimes U.S. based law enforcement, such as local sheriffs' departments and parole officers, inform them of known sex offenders who are traveling to the region. In both cases, local ICE agents work with their Royal Thai Police counterparts to monitor the suspects’ movements while in Thailand.[37] The UK police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) are actively involved in monitoring child sex tourists and do prosecute.[38] INTERPOL actively pursues offenders as well.[39]

Policing of child sex tourism


North America

The Government of El Salvador does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and continued to provide services to children who were trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Salvadoran government sustained anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government forged or continued partnerships with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments on anti-trafficking initiatives. In May 2009, the government collaborated with an NGO to launch a campaign aimed specifically at increasing awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, reaching approximately 4,500 children and adults. The government included anti-trafficking information in the training it gives to military forces prior to their deployment for international peacekeeping missions.[51]

South America

Extraterritorial jurisdiction

A growing number of countries have specific extraterritorial legislation that prosecutes their citizens in their homeland should they engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with children. In 2008, ECPAT reported that 44 countries had extraterritorial child sex legislation.[53] The following list includes specific citations:


Australia was one of the first countries to introduce laws that provide for jail terms for its citizens and residents who engage in sexual activity with children in foreign countries. The laws are contained in the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994 that came into force on 5 July 1994.[54] The law also makes it an offence to encourage, benefit or profit from any activity that promotes sexual activity with children.

It is a crime for Australian citizens, permanent residents or bodies corporate to engage in, facilitate or benefit from sexual activity with children (under 16 years of age) while overseas. These offences carry penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for individuals and up to $500,000 in fines for companies [55]


Canada has included in its Criminal Code provisions that allow for the arrest and prosecution of Canadians in Canada for offences committed in foreign countries related to child sex tourism, such as child prostitution, as well as for child sexual exploitation offences, such as indecent acts, child pornography and incest (Bills C-27 and C-15A that came into force on May 26, 1997, and July 23, 2002, respectively).[56] Convictions carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance (Cap. 579) of December 2003 introduced offences in regard to child sex tourism, giving extraterritorial effect to 24 sexual offences listed in a new Schedule 2 to the Crime Ordinance (Cap. 200). This makes it illegal for acts committed against a child outside Hong Kong if the defendant or the child has connections with Hong Kong. It is also an offence to make any arrangement relating to the commission of such acts against children and to advertise any such arrangement.[57]


In Ireland, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 gives worldwide jurisdiction to prosecutors when pursuing Irish born offenders through the courts on criminal charges in relation to the sexual exploitation of children, with offences such as sexual acts with a child or producing child pornography being treated as if having been committed in Ireland itself no matter what country it actually occurred in.[58][59]


Israeli Penal Code, Chapter 1, Section 15, states that Israeli penal law shall apply to foreign offenses, whether felony or misdemeanor, which are committed by an Israeli citizen or resident of Israel, without exception, in cases relating to Chapter VIII, Article X (Prostitution and Obscenity) regarding minors.

Section 203B under Article X are penal laws regarding the exploitation of minors for prostitution by way of pimping and trafficking.

Section 203C under the same article is a penal law specific to the client: "A person served by an act of prostitution of a minor, shall be liable to three years imprisonment."[60][61]

As of February 2016, section 203C is in the process of amendment to increase imprisonment from three years to five years.[62][63]


The 1999 Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and for Protection of Children stipulates "that a person who is involved in child prostitution, who sells child pornographic products or who transports foreign children to another country for the purpose of forcing them into prostitution shall be punished with imprisonment with labor or a fine. Japanese nationals who commit such crimes abroad shall be punished with the same penalty".[64]

New Zealand

Under The Crimes Amendment Act 2005 " is an offence: For New Zealand citizens and residents to engage in sexual conduct or activities with a child in another country".[2]


Criminal Code of Russia, Article 12 states "The Operation of Criminal Law in Respect of Persons Who Have Committed Offences Outside the Boundaries of the Russian Federation[:] 1. Citizens of the Russian Federation and stateless persons permanently residing in the Russian Federation who have committed outside the Russian Federation a crime against the interests guarded by the present Code shall be subject to criminal liability in accordance with the present Code, unless a decision of a foreign state's court exists concerning this crime in respect of these persons".[65]

Federal Act No. 380-FZ of 28 December 2013 amended the Criminal Code by also adding laws regarding the receiving of sexual services from a minor. Under the amended article 240.1 of the Criminal Code, "The receipt of sexual services from a minor aged from 16 to 18 by a person who has reached the age of 18 is punishable by up to 240 hours of compulsory work, or restriction of freedom for up to 2 years, or forced labour for up to 4 years, or deprivation of liberty for the same period. In this article, sexual services are understood to mean sexual intercourse, sodomy, lesbianism or other acts of a sexual nature, a condition of the performance of which is monetary or any other remuneration of a minor or third party or the promise of remuneration of a minor or third party".[66]

Article 240.3 (amended by Federal Act No. 14-FZ of February 29, 2012) states "The deeds provided for by Parts One and Two of this Article which are committed with the involvement in prostitution of persons who are to be under 14 years old – Shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term of three to 10 years with or without deprivation of the right to hold definite offices or to engage in definite activities for a term of up to fifteen years and with restriction of liberty for a term of from one year to two years or without such".[65]


Singapore Penal Code, Section 376C (Commercial sex with minor under 18 outside Singapore) states: "(1) Any person, being a citizen or a permanent resident of Singapore, who does, outside Singapore, any act that would, if done in Singapore, constitute an offence under section 376B, shall be guilty of an offence".[67]


Swiss Federal Office of Police state "Swiss federal authorities have stepped up their efforts in fighting child sex tourism in recent years. A special fedpol unit dealing with child pornography and pedocriminality offences co-operates closely with numerous partner services both at home and abroad. Since June 2008, an online form has been available to the general public to report cases of child sex tourism to the appropriate judicial authorities".[68]

Swiss Criminal Code Article 5 3. (Territorial scope of application / Offences against minors abroad) states: "1 This Code also applies to any person who is in Switzerland, is not being extradited and has committed any of the following offences abroad: abis.3 sexual acts with dependent persons (Art. 188) and sexual acts with minors against payment (Art. 196); b. sexual acts with children (Art. 187) if the victim was less than 14 years of age;".

Article 296 3. (Exploitation of sexual acts / Sexual acts with minors against payment) Amended 27 September 2013, states: "Any person who carries out sexual acts with a minor or induces a minor to carry out such acts and who makes or promises payment in return is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty".

Article 187 1. (Endangering the development of minors / Sexual acts with children) states: "1. Any person who engages in a sexual act with a child under 16 years of age, or, incites a child to commit such an activity, or involves a child in a sexual act, is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding five years or to a monetary penalty. 2. The act is not an offence if the difference in age between the persons involved is not more than three years."[69]

South Korea

Under The Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse, Article 33 (Punishment of Korean Citizens who Commit Offenses Overseas) states: "Where criminally prosecuting a Korean citizen who commits a sex offense against a child or juvenile outside the territory of the Republic of Korea, pursuant to Article 3 of the Criminal Act, the State shall endeavor to obtain criminal information swiftly from the relevant foreign country and punish such offender".[70] According to a 2012 ECPAT report "progress is needed with regard to the enforcement of extraterritorial jurisdiction concerning nationals who have sex with children abroad... depending on which South Korean law is being applied, the definition of "child" varies...These varying definitions create uncertainty as to how the various laws will be applied and invite a lack of cooperation or lack of uniformity in enforcement by multiple agencies" [71]

United Kingdom

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 enables British citizens and residents who commit sexual offences against children overseas to be prosecuted in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.[72] Similar provisions are in force in Scotland under the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.[73] Some of the offences carry penalties of up to life imprisonment and anyone found guilty will be placed on the Sex Offenders Register. As of 2013, two British citizens are in jail following trials based on this legislation: Barry McCloud and David Graham.[74]

United States

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a federal crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.[75] Before congressional passage of the Protect Act of 2003, prosecutors had to prove that sex tourists went abroad with the intent of molesting children—something almost impossible to demonstrate. The Protect Act shifted the burden, making predators liable for the act itself. Penalties were doubled from up to 15 years in prison to up to 30 years in prison.[7]

European Union

Under the 2011 Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, Article 17 (Jurisdiction and coordination of prosecution) "1.Member States shall take the necessary measures to establish their jurisdiction over the offences referred to in Articles 3 to 7 where: (a) the offence is committed in whole or in part within their territory; or (b) the offender is one of their nationals.[76] Meaning EU member states should prosecute their citizens for child sex offences committed abroad.[77] By 2015, most member states have transposed this article.[78]


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