Child Sex Tourism Legislation under the Protect Act: Does It Really Protect?

Article excerpt


The sexual exploitation of children for economic purposes is among the worst forms of human rights abuses. In the underworld of child sexual exploitation, sex tourists live out deviant fantasies while claiming to be on an exploration abroad.1 As a result of these actions, children are raped, sodomized, abused, and denied their basic rights. They are not permitted or are not able to attend school or receive basic health care or nutrition, and they are denied the safety and security of a decent childhood. These children are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, including the deadly HIV. Many of these young people lose their lives, but they all lose their childhood.

The United States Department of State estimates that throughout the world one million children are forced into prostitution each year,2 100,000 of whom are exploited in the United States.3 These numbers are staggering, especially when one considers the international efforts aimed at combating the sexual abuse of children. Nevertheless, human trafficking is on the rise and "'[i]n many instances, drug traffickers have switched to trafficking human beings because it is more lucrative and there's less chance of getting caught.'"4 The goal of this Note is to analyze and critique the provisions of the Prosecuting Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003,5 (the "PROTECT Act"), which strengthened the existing legislation by making it illegal to engage in child sex tourism, and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Operation Predator" program.6 A further goal will be to compare these efforts to Australian, German, Japanese, and Swedish child sex tourism legislation.

Part I of this Note provides an overview of the problem of child sex tourism and its impact on the child victim. Part II examines the evolution of United States child sex tourism legislation, focusing on the amendments adopted as part of the PROTECT Act,7 and Part III discusses the advantages of a comparative perspective by which aspects of the United States approach of combating child sex tourism are measured against their respective counterparts in the Australian, German, Japanese, and Swedish systems. Part IV of this Note analyzes the lessons learned from the comparisons undertaken in Part III and attempts to establish benchmarks of effective legislation. Finally, Part V explains that legislation must be coupled with international collaboration and support in order to apprehend and prosecute child sex tourists. Without such unity of purpose and action among the states, efforts to thwart the problem of child sex tourism will be far less successful than if sure unity were to be achieved.


Although there are many forms of sexual exploitation of children,8 this Note will focus only on the issues common to children engaged in prostitution for sex tourists. In doing so, it will focus largely on legislation and policies of the United States. However, in order to understand the global situation more comprehensively, this Note will highlight the legislation and mechanisms employed by several other "sending"9 states that are attempting to fight child sex tourism.10

A. What Is Child Sex Tourism?

To understand child sex tourism, particularly in the context of different cultural standards, it is important first to consider definitional issues. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the "CRC"),11 a child includes anyone younger than eighteen years of age.12 In spite of this declaration, most states have not incorporated this standard into their national legislation.13 The age of consent differs in the child sex tourism legislation of various states and, in some cases, even leads to fatal results.14

The protocols to the Convention define "trafficking" to include exploitation of children through prostitution.15 "Child sex tourism" is defined as "the commercial sexual exploitation of children by persons who travel from their own country to another usually less developed country to engage in sexual acts with children. …