Cape Town children’s rights organisation Molo Songololo has teamed up with Fair Trade Tourism to host training sessions for hotel and tourism staff on how to spot potential child abusers and their victims.
The training is one of the measures the tourism industry has in place to tackle the growing problem of child sex tourism, the media were told at a conference at the World Travel Market held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre this week.
Regional development manager of Fair Trade Tourism, Netsai Sibanda, and director of Molo Songololo, Patric Solomon, started the workshops in September and will continue them until May. The workshops are being held in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KZN and the Eastern Cape.
The South African tourism sector has grown significantly in the past 15 years. Stats SA indicates that more than 20 million people travelled in South Africa in 2012 – including more than nine million international visitors and 12.5 million domestic travellers. This significant volume of visitors brings substantial benefits to the country, but also leads to an increase in child sex tourism.
Sibanda said there were 18 million children in the country. He cited Doctors For Life statistics, which indicated one in three girls and one in five boys would be sexually molested by the time they were 18.
Child sex tourism included child trafficking, prostitution and pornography. Offenders used accommodation, transport, entertainment, travel agencies and tour services to facilitate sexual crimes against children.
Abusers often used their economic power, such as gifts and clothes, to attract children.
Solomon said many parents wanted to travel to a place where they knew the staff would “look out for their children”. He said children who were booked into their own rooms and had access to wifi without supervision, or were left by the pool, could become targets.
Housekeeping staff should keep an eye on them.
Sibanda encouraged the industry to report a suspected child abuser to Childline or the police, not to deal with the matter itself.
A way hotels could limit access to potential child abusers would be to require all guests to produce identification documents upon entering the hotel. Possible red flags included minors accompanied by an adult who did not share the same surname or spoke a different language.
The trainers are encouraging hotels to establish policies for reporting offenders, such as informing the duty manager.
Henko Wentholt of Abang Africa Travel, said he and his staff had undergone child abuse prevention programmes.
“Unfortunately, most people who had a feeling something was wrong when they watched an adult with a child would look away. Child abuse is widespread, but the public don’t seem to realise it’s a real issue.”
Wentholt said abusers would return “10 times” to a country such as Madagascar, where it is easier to exploit children. In contrast, a country such as Kenya has made great strides in combating child exploitation.
Daniel Ponce-Taylor of Global Vision International, said staff from the 11 countries where the organisation was based attended a training session in Cape Town recently.
“It’s okay to be suspicious. Don’t be afraid. Just notify a local expert. In South Africa, Childline is really good.”
Ponce Taylor said volunteers, staff and residents of the community in which the volunteers operated, could pose a threat to children.