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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Child Sex Tourism and the Media in India

“The Spirit is Willing, the Flesh is Weak”

By Joseph Gathia


For Child’s Rights Regional Meeting

Organized by

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

24-25, Bangkok, Thailand

We must place dignity and development of the individual at the center of our concern …We owe it to the future generations to give amore hopeful start to the 21st century than that which our predecessor inherited nearly one hundred years ago”.                                       

Mary Robinson Formerly UN Human Rights Commissioner

“ The power of media to shape human relations and influence political and social life has enormously increased. Journalists have social responsibility and the media must contribute to common good. We have a duty to foster justice and solidarity. Let us contribute in making this world better for children”.

Remark by Aidan White, IFJ during his visit to India



In public discourse child sex tourism is not considered a major social issue in India, partly because of the perception that the problem is not as acute as in some countries of South East Asia and partly because the problem is largely associated only with poverty conditions. The social acceptability of having sex with a ‘minor’ is largely ignored because large-scale child marriage still takes place.  In addition, women from a number of social groups are considered ‘inferior’ and their sexual exploitation is not considered as ‘something ‘ wrong in a section of Indian society. The women and girls of Dalit and Adivasi communities are termed as ‘ loose’ and therefore free for all to sexually exploit. The perception of the Indian society about commercial sexual exploitation of children is largely governed by ‘poverty syndrome’.

Sexual Exploitation

The art of selling sex publicly is not a new phenomenon for Indian society. From ancient times the art of selling sex is recognized as one of the most refined one and there are references to it in ancient Indian literature. In the entire Indian sub-continent there may be more than two million prostitutes. Many studies points out that nearly 30 per cent of these are minor girls. The estimates of women in prostitution range from 400,000 to 900,000. In India organized prostitution is found concentrated in the urban centers popularly known as red light areas.

There are many reasons, which contribute to why women and children join the sex industry. Although poverty and migration from rural areas to urban areas are sited as the main causes, a deeper analysis shows that the Indian sub-continent has its own unique form of social pressure and stigma attached to victims of rape, trafficking and pre -martial sex, and an almost hysterical preference for male child, concept of virgin marriage, dowry burden, notion of family izzat (honour) and very low social status to a female child all contribute to women and children being pushed into the sex –industry.  The caste system also contributes to this phenomenon.

Contrary to the mass perception that the problem of prostitution is limited and localized, India has well established red light districts, independent brothels, roadside truck halts and now they are all well organized. It is said that modern Indian prostitution is founded upon ancient Indian erotic tradition. Prostitution is hinted at in the Vedic texts, and as early as the fourth century BC was subject to state regulation, as prescribed in the treatise on policy Artha Shastra. From Kama Sutra to Devadasi to nauch girls of Mugal courts, the historical links exists.

The modern phenomenon, which adds new dimension, is that marginalised women increasingly are replacing men as family breadwinners and cheap wage labourers. Some sell their bodies to feed their parents and siblings, or to pay their family’s debt to the moneylender. Many of the young have been raped or have been duped by boyfriends. Unmarriageable and unable to reintegrate in the communities they join the flesh trade. Once a woman joins this profession there is no way out.

One would have to look at the commercial sexual exploitation of children within the above framework. Before we go further, let us understand what we mean by CSEC. Article 34 of the UN Convention on Child’s Rights pleads for governments to hinder

‘The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, the exploitation of children in prostitution or other illegal sexual practices and the exploitation of children in pornographic spectacles or materials”, the ratifying countries are obliged to adapt their national legal norm so the principles of the CRC to guarantee the rights of children.

But what is CSEC? Sexual exploitation is any type of activity in which a person uses the body of a child or adolescent to take advantage of or exploits in a sexual and or economical nature based on a power relationship. The sexual exploiter is any person who intermediates or offers the possibility of a relationship with a third part, as well as any person who maintains a relationship with a child, regardless of whether that relationship is frequent, sporadic or permanent. Commercial sexual exploitation is currently expressed through four modalities: child prostitution, child pornography, sex tourism and trafficking of children for sexual purposes. These categories are not mutually exclusive. The central purpose of this conceptualization is to understand the media response that should be adopted.

Child Sex Tourism

In the 1990s adult as well as child prostitution activities increased and become more visible and evident through out the country. A Number of reports appeared in the media regarding remunerated sexual relations, although the extent of child sex tourism is not yet known, there is enough evidence which points towards its existence in India. Sex tourism involving foreigners or local nations and boys and girls and adolescents, it is a phenomenon that has never been broached or investigated in the broader concept of CSEC. In port towns like Vizakhapattnam, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Margoa, Mangalore, Cochin, Channai etc adults can be seen with children .Yet it has not yet been possible to determine whether these clients are preferential or occasional abusers.

The tourist cities of India report high levels of sex tourism consisting of sailors, port employees and local tourists. Although so far the popular image of pedophiles is mostly of a potbelly foreigner’s but this kind of sexual exploitation is made up of local nations from other parts of the country. Goa, Kerala and Kolkatta are reported to be favourite places of foreign pedophiles. The Media has also reported their presence in these areas.

As in the case of sex tourism, pornography –which implies the use of boys, girls and adolescents in visual or auditory representation for the sexual pleasure of the uses, has not been investigated in the context of CSEC but there have been cases reported form Goa, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. What is known about the production and distribution of pornographic material involving girls is based on rumours and speculations. However, there is a wide demand for pornographic materials, especially among young and adult males.

In the city of Kokatta there is high demand for child sex partners (who have just attained puberty). During interview’ with users they revealed that every time they visit the city they like to have new ‘chiriya” (girl) who has not learned to fly.”

 In nearly 80% of cases the children victimized by trafficking come form the poor sectors of the population and from the interior areas of the country. The bigger cities like Mumbai, Kokkatta, Delhi and Chennai and now Hyderabad, Bangalore, Nagpur, Bhuvnahware, Lucknow, Jaipur are receptors of the victims. The chain of events on the part of sexual exploiters seems to function in a well-organized manner; the criminal organization requests a number of children that have certain characteristics; age, physical appearances etc.

The hookers identify the victim and make contact with them offering an invitation to travel or a job offer. They take the victim into a situation where they lose contact with their family and deliver them to pimps or owners of prostration venues. Corrupt persons in law enforcing agencies help them retain in the trace.

Child sex tourism is currently limited to certain tourist zones and areas or places in the process of becoming tourist centers. But it is clear from various reports appearing in the media that the dimensions of this phenomenon are even wider and more complex. 

Pimps, intermediaries and traffickers who are the key part of the CSEC promotion, include both men and women from different social and educational levels. There has been no reliable profile established for these actors, although some elements of their modus operandi are available. In trafficking old prostitutes play a key role in convincing the girls to come out of their home and earn money?

One new development during the last five years has been that beauty parlors and massage centers have sprung up in tourist centers, (and in other cities also) where CSEB takes places. The basic service massage of 15-20 minutes for which a young girl would massage the clients body with cream. The charges for this are RS. 100/- to Rs.150 (US $ 2-3). If he asks for masturbation, it is 50 RS (US$1) extra. If he adds oral sex it is RS 100/- (US$ 2) more. For vaginal sex he pays 150/- rupees (US$3) additional.  

Media Coverage:

The media has played an important role in denunciation by revealing the existence of sexual exploitation of children. The first detail coverage was in India Today in 1991, which set the pace of reporting such matters. The Times of India, The Statesman, the Indian Express and of late The Hindu (Channai) have been giving good coverage to the incidents of sexual exploitation of children.

Below are some samples of reporting:

“ Their playground is the brothel; they are the playthings and toys of lust. India reportedly has the world’s largest concentration of child prostitutes, according to one in every four of global number. India’s children are no strangers to exploitation but none of its an arbutus has the terror to which these particularly unfortunate kids have been subejct4dRaped at 10, tortured and starved to submission at 11, an abortion at 12 –and sexually violated 15 times a day till age and AIDS throws them on to the streets

       (The Sunday Times of India: November 15,1998)

The results of interviews and press studies allowed the citizens to learn of the operation of trafficking of adults and children for commercials sexual exploitation.

“: Even now, two children below 16 years are reported missing everyday from West Bengal-and a majority of them are eventually sold in brothels or sent in other places to work as petty slaves. In February this year several children from the Murhidabad district were brought back…”

The Statesman 17 January 1999

Prior to the Stockholm World congress in1996, it was difficult to raise the issue of child sex tourism in India. The CSEC victims were forced to maintain silent and authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the problem. A child was often prevented from breaking his silence by the little credence given to his/her testimony. Thanks to the media particularly the audio-visual media, which supported the NGOs who raised this issue.

However, the language used by media is still a problem. There is no clear concept of CSEC even the NGOs leave aside the media who depends on these sources for their stories. The discussion in India often centers on the more vulnerable aspects of female sexuality and thus notably emphasis the oppressive aspects of traditions but also pivots on the notion of women and girls as objects, as in trafficking. Very often the use of word ”neglect” is used for sexual exploitation but child abuse is commonly used in child labour, children in prison, handicapped children, battered children abandoned children etc. Sexual abuse is very often used under child labour. The problem this presents for arriving at operational definition for sexual exploitation is clear.

In the stories much stress is on the child but little is covered about the exploiters, their background and the service providers. The hotels, which allow entry of children in the night without questioning, are hardly focus of the story in the media.

The use of certain phrases in the stories also some times creates confusion. Often use of a word such as “undoubtedly” makes the readers believe firmly in the line of argument presented in the story. Many journalists tend to take liberty with language, stressing the emotive aspect of the juvenile’s situation and appealing to the readers’ sense of outrage. The tone of journalist’s coverage of sexual exploitation is often deliberately subjective and emotional. In several stories published in India there are usually an emphasis on personal circumstances of each child, without recourse to any wider sociological information. Broken homes and bad parenting are stressed but the failure of state agencies to protect children form CSEC is rarely analyzed and discussed.

The Newspaper Study:

As a part of a workshop a small study was done of five daily national newspapers by CCCL between Oct 2000 to January 2003. The methodology used was to review all sections; editorial, news coverage, letters to the editors, business section and lead articles of the newspapers. The topics looked into included any reference to child prostitution, sex tourism, pornography and trafficking in children.

The main findings are:

In most cases the source of the news are either police briefing or NGOs reporting.

Editorials often repeat the argument of poverty and family brake up but rarely touch upon the situation of children’s rights in the country or region and acceptability of the State per the CRC. It is noticed that in most cases the approach is sensationalism and outrage. With exception to few cases where foreigners were involved no reference is made to the clients .Who they are? What is the role of hotel staff?

Another trend noted is that vernacular press plays up the news related to foreigners where, as English language press seems to be a little cautious. But in both cases little investigation is about local clients and the role of law enforcing agencies. During the study we noted that young journalists who had some exposure to ‘human rights’ did mentioned rights of children but by and large the media either is not aware or has chosen to ignore any reference to Stockholm or Yokohama World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Most stories were about pitiable conditions of children and no reference to SECT.

It is noticed that words like ’abuse’, ‘trafficking, ‘sexual exploitation ‘ and neglect are used interchangeably leaving much confusion in the minds of the readers what is the real issue in the story.

In the majority of cases the story appeared once as news and was hardly given a follow up write. Thus readers were left clueless as to what happened to the victim.

In stories the word ’alleged” is used frequently. During the same period of study stories about women trafficking or ‘call girls rackets’ appeared in greater length. Which leaves.

But one common thread running in the stories is that’ something is rotten’ in the state.

Challenges before Media

By and large Indian media is alive to social issues. However, in covering CST following factors limit their optimum output.

In most Indian laws the child’s age is still 14 or 15 and only recently the Juvenile Justice Act has increased it to 18 years, which is at par with the CRC. This creates doubts in the minds of journalists.

Another problem is conceptual definition of various aspects of CSEC such as trafficking, prostitution, child sex tourism etc. The language used is emotive and differs as per difference regions. The world pedophile is more familiar to press in Goa-Mumbai areas rather in the northern Indian Gangatic belt. Eastern India is familiar with trafficking but often mixes it up with illegal migrants. In the Southern part of India phrases like’ tricked into flesh trade’ is common.

In short the following obstacles have been identified:

Ř      Problem of conceptual definition

Ř      Lack of knowledge about international instruments of child protection

Ř      Low priority in editorial / paper policy

Ř      Resource constraints for travel/ lack of time for research /background materials

Ř      No orientation in applying CRC and international instruments

Ř      No system of periodic review at district/state of national levels by t he media of certain key issues such as CSEC.

Ř      No easy access to information from NGOs

Ř      NGOs/ campaigns not very media friendly (though they want coverage)

Ř      No good info package from Govt. or NGOs

Although the media usually claim’s that their purpose is to inform the public about public events, they often do so in an inflammatory way. Part of this is due to differing interests. Journalists want to write pieces that get people's attention (so they can get more readers, listeners, and/or viewers). To do this, they often focus on extreme events and negative stories, because those generate more interest than stories about cooperation or peace do.

In addition, many reporters have no training in CSEC so they simply do not understand enough about SECT in general or the particular issues or people that they are writing about. Further, they usually work on tight deadlines, interviewing as many people as they can in a few hours or days. Then they have to write their story and move on. This does not give them time to develop the deep understanding of an issue that is necessary to analyze it accurately and clearly for the public. As a result, media coverage of a CSEC, which is intended to clarify the problem, can actually obscure and escalate it. 

Some Practical Suggestions

-     An in-depth review from media perspective of national and regional (SARRC level) plan that tackles CSEC /SECT is urgently felt. This may be initiated in the SA region with the help of IFJs affiliated unions/ ECPAT affiliates / UNICEF and EU groups.

-          IFJ to undertake a 18-to 24 months media capability building progrmme in the region of South Asia on the problem of SECT involving World Tourist Organization / ECPAT and local unions.

-          Undertake a media monitoring projects in various countries for period of 6 to 12 months and share disseminate results of the same.

Concluding Remarks:

Overall, it seems that the media has important role to play in South Asia to educate masses about the CSEC. It is also important that media promotes corporate social responsibility. Finally, the traditional role of the media as reporters of truth can play an important role.