We all like to talk about tourism - and right that we should - it's the country's leading foreign exchange earner - but the ugly underside of that is sex tourism - which in many cases, involves the exploitation of male and female minors and children.
Today, building on the success of the national symposium on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in August of 2010, the office of the special envoy for women and children turned its attention to the tourist industry.
At opening ceremonies for a one day workshop they discussed the demand in certain areas of the tourist sector for children:
Hon. Eden Martinez - Minister of Human Development
"We need to focus our attention in curbing the demand, in deterring the demand, in making it difficult and downright perilous for those who want to buy our children. In the fight to curb demand, the tourism sector is key, hence the reason for this meeting, today."
Kim Simplis - Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"Sexual abuse and exploitation exists because there is a demand for sex with a child. We must never blame the victim. There is an adult out there who wants to pay, and will pay, in cash or in kind for sexual gratification with a child. And yes, it is a fight, a fight against something that has become so widespread and common, that we cannot allow ourselves to become de-sensitized to its occurrence. We implore of you to trust your judgment when you sense that a situation between an adult and a child just doesn't seem right. Take action by reporting such instances to your supervisors and the authorities. We ask that you turn down financial offers for you to acquire children for sexual predators. And we beg that you go even further, and report that person to the authorities. Report, as well, those locals who you know are involved as brokers, or rather simply 'pimping out' our children."
Jim Scott - President, BTIA
"Within tourism, it's pretty common knowledge that through some taxies and some tour guides, they will facilitate young girls - young boys, for you if you come to Belize. And knowing the internet, and the market out there, the information is there. So, people know how to access that, and we really need to tighten up in that regard."
Hon. Eden Martinez
"I know that we are all interested in the growth of tourism in our country. It is one of our major revenue earners, but we must pause and think of the quality of tourism product that we are selling. Are we prepared to have the trading in the flesh of our children to be part of the package that we are selling? Are we prepared to have the exploitation of our children to be part of the appeal of what draws people to our shores?"
The office of the special envoy has launched a PR Campaign and is pushing legislation for the protection of children against such exploitation...