The Supreme People's Procuracy reports that courts heard 6,500 cases of child sexual abuse nationwide during 2007-11. About 50 cases were handled at the national level involving foreign offenders between 2009-11. Those offences mainly took part in tourism sites and in big cities where many tourists come to travel, go on holiday and do business. Viet Nam News spoke to experts on this issue.
How do you assess the current situation of sexual exploitation of children in Viet Nam's tourism industry?
Colonel Ho Sy Tien, director of the Criminal Police Department, Ministry of Public Security
|Ho Sy Tien
The term "child sex tourism" is quite new in Viet Nam. There are undoubtedly foreigners taking advantage of travelling to Asian countries to commit crimes of sexual abuse or exploitation against children.
In Viet Nam, tourism is growing dramatically, attracting millions of foreign and domestic visitors each year. More than 5 million foreign visitors arrived last year. However, initial investigations show few child sex tourism cases have been uncovered in the country.
Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa, director of the Department of Criminal and Administrative Legislation, Ministry of Justice
|Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa
I don't think that the crime is new in Viet Nam. In recent years, some cases of sexual abuse and exploitation against children were uncovered and the perpetrators were brought to justice. These include the cases of the English singer Gary Glitter in 2006 and Jone Erri Kan in 2011.
Viet Nam has quite comprehensive regulations in place on child sex abuse and these can work to punish offenders.
Zhuldyz Akisheva, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Viet Nam (UNODC)
The problem of child sex tourism affects many countries in the world.
Indeed, a staggering 1 billion tourists, or one seventh of the world's population, have travelled abroad so far in 2012. While this expansion drives economic growth, it has also contributed to the increase of illicit activities, including exploitation and trafficking of people.
Southeast Asia is no exception. Both foreign and domestic offenders have been involved in child sex crime in the region.
According to Viet Nam's National Administration of Tourism, more than 4.3 million foreign tourists visited the country in the first eight months of 2012, which shows an increase of 9.4 per cent over the same period in 2011. Criminals now use tourism infrastructure, such as hotels and tour operators, to facilitate and promote "extra" services for visitors, including sex tourism.
What are the difficulties in prosecuting child sex offenders and preventing these crimes?
Tien: Poor communication has led to low public awareness of the issues, limiting the detection of child-sex tourism cases. Indeed, there are cases in which children and their families are not even aware that the child was sexually abused.
For example, the children in mountainous remote areas are often naked due to a lack of clothes or parents' neglect and they are vulnerable from passers-by who can commit offences such as touching the child inappropriately or taking photographs and spreading them over the internet. Under international law, these activities are considered sex abuse crimes against children.
Another problem is achieving successful prosecutions.
The number of foreigners coming to Viet Nam is rising. If they commit crimes it is difficult for investigators to collect information and complete legal documents. In cases of child sex tourism, almost no foreign offenders were prosecuted in Viet Nam because of the country's insufficient legal framework. They tend to be extradited to their own country.
Thoa: The victims of child-sex tourism are children who are too young to be fully aware of the dangers. They are also often unable to report the incidents to relevant authorities.
Meanwhile, victims' families have a tendency to avoid reporting sexual abuse or rape as they cannot bear the prejudice. As the result, they try to cover up their "shame", obstructing the course of justice.
High-mobility is a typical feature of travelling child sex offenders, so catching them is difficult. They often stay in the area where the crime was committed for a short time before moving to other places.
Dr Ha Van Sieu, director of the Institute of Tourism Development and Research
|Ha Van Sieu
We need, first of all, to differentiate between prostitution and sexual abuse. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether one's involvement in sexual tourism is voluntary or involuntary. If it is voluntary, then it is actually prostitution, not really abuse, and society is responsible for letting it happen. No one would want to do that if they are educated and come from a well-off family. It is already against the law to work when you are under age, so if a teenager prostitutes themselves, it is considered doubly illegal.
I think child-sex tourism is a social problem, not just a problem of the tourism industry. This is something the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security should also deal with. Education and awareness promotion are crucial preventative measures because well-educated children will know how to protect themselves and children from average or above average income families will be less likely to get involved in these activities.
What can we do to overcome these difficulties?
Tien: The Government has always attached great importance to child protection, through implementing policies and national programmes aligned with international conventions. We have also worked to review and adjust current laws to create a better legal framework for detection and prosecution and boosted domestic and international co-operation.
The Government has also assigned the ministries of Public Security, Justice, Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs to study, review and propose recommendations for drafting relevant amended laws. The General Anti-Crime Police Department also worked on a project to combat and prevent child sex tourism in the sub-Mekong region with Laos, Cambodia, Thailand.
Domestic and international organisations have compiled training textbooks to improve capacity and skills for investigators, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and legal aid officials.
Protect Childhood is a four-year (2010-2014) AusAID-funded programme aimed at enhancing law enforcement capacity for national and transnational action to identify and effectively act upon traveling child sex offenders in the Mekong.
Three tourist destinations – Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Hai Phong and Khanh Hoa – have also been chosen as places where awareness-raising programmes will be implemented.
Thoa: According to results of a law assessment and evaluation by UNODC and the Ministry of Justice, urgent amendments are required to match international standards in the areas of detection and prevention of child sex tourism.
The international Rights of the Child convention classifies children as those who are under 18, while Vietnamese law regards them as those under 16 and there is no regulation on having sexual intercourse with juvenile older than 16. Also the punishment for paying to having sexual intercourse with a child between 13 and 16 in Viet Nam is not as strict as that for those who harbour and intermediate prostitutes of the same age.
There are not enough measures to protect child victims and witnesses during legal proceedings.
Co-operation is badly needed, especially among regional countries who should cross-check current legal frameworks so that they can reach a common view clarifying the concept and criteria needed to identify child sex.
They must also improve cross border law enforcement and extradition arrangements. Since 2004, ASEAN country members jointly signed a Criminal Legal Aid Agreement. This is an important legal base for them to fight child sex tourism.
Akisheva: Vietnamese authorities should consider introducing provisions against child sex tourism or sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism in relevant national legislation and regulations, including in the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code.
This will help establish a sustainable system to address child sex abuse, which will lay the basis for developing official statistics on child sex tourism, including profiling travelling offenders.
The Criminal Justice system will need to develop mechanisms for the protection of victims and witnesses as a pre-requisite for efficient law enforcement efforts.
There are many other steps that need to be undertaken to ensure that law enforcement, border control and immigration efforts are supported by relevant social and economic policy that includes the private sector and local communities in preventing child sex abuse.
Sieu: The authorities should, firstly, work to prevent child labour because if a child goes to work, no one knows the dangers he or she is exposed to. This also has a lot to do with the economy tourist areas, as only children from poor families are forced to go to work. More should be done to ensure families send their children to school instead in order to get a proper education. — VNS