Re-visiting Child Sex Tourism

Re-visiting Child Sex Tourism, Re-thinking Business Responses

The phenomenon of ‘child sex tourism’ (often now discussed as a form of ‘modern slavery’) has been a focus of concern and action for over two decades. Child rights NGOs have lobbied very successfully for more robust legislation against the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and greater international cooperation amongst law enforcers to target perpetrators. They have invested heavily in awareness-raising campaigns to change the attitudes and practices of tourists, as well as in training and guidance for tourist industry officials and workers. Anti-child-sex-tourism campaigning has spurred industry-driven, corporate social responsibility responses, such as The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, with a mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry in order to prevent CSEC. Yet, a recent global study by ECPAT (2016) concludes that despite these efforts, the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism ‘has expanded across the globe and out-paced every attempt to respond at the international and national level’.

This project explores whether patterns of sex tourism have changed over the past 20 years. Have NGO-led efforts to raise-awareness of child sex tourism altered the attitudes and practices of tourists? Have industry-led CSEC education and training initiatives actually reached front-line tourism workers in Jamaica? A known barrier to rolling such initiatives out to tourism workers is the fact that many are in transient, temporary and poorly paid jobs. Moreover, in Global South contexts, many local people are unable to secure even precarious employment in the formal tourism sector. Instead, they are left to ‘hustle’ a living in the informal tourism economy by providing a range of services. For a small number, this includes sexual services.

The project also aims to explore the problems and paradoxes this presents for current, industry-led approaches to combatting CSEC. Informal sector workers provide services tourists want and enjoy, and so add value to the ‘product’ or ‘experience’ sold by formal tourism companies. Does this make them part of the tourism supply chain? And what is their take on ethical questions about tourism, ‘business practice’, economic and sexual life, and childhood?

A third project objective is to investigate whether these negative side effects persist, and how they can be avoided. More than this, the research team questions the widespread, if often implicit, assumption that adult sex workers are part of the problem, rather than the cure, and explores possibilities for including sex workers as participants in the struggle to protect children’s rights.

This project considers barriers to achieving SDG 8.7 in the context of developing world tourism.

Read Julia’s blog post ‘Talking Trafficking With Sex Worker and LGBTQ Voices From Jamaica’

Project team:

Principal Investigator: Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Bristol

Co-Investigators: Dr Katie Cruz, University of Bristol; Dr Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, University of Leicester


This project is funded by the British Academy, within its Tackling Slavery, Human Trafficking and Child Labour in Modern Business Programme.

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Bodies, things, capital