“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
Spirit is Willing, the Flesh is Weak”
By Joseph Gathia
For Child’s Rights
of Journalists (IFJ)
24-25, Bangkok, Thailand
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”.
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
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’.
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
‘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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Below are some samples
“ 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…”
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
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 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
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
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:
knowledge about international instruments of child protection
priority in editorial / paper policy
constraints for travel/ lack of time for research /background materials
orientation in applying CRC and international instruments
of periodic review at district/state of national levels by t he media of
certain key issues such as CSEC.
access to information from NGOs
campaigns not very media friendly (though they want coverage)
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.
- 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
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.
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.