The sexual abuse of children has become a menacing problem that is chipping away at society and disrupting families. In the past two weeks, a four-year-old girl was raped and a seven-year-old was molested by her father. Those are only two reports that made the headlines, but there are many other minors who are victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). In the past, the discussions have been focused on the victims and risk factors that contribute to the growing child sex trade. But a workshop held today under the auspices of the Special Envoy for Women and Children turned the focus on the predators, who visit Belize and pay for sexual favors from kids. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports on CSEC in the Tourism Sector.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

Many Belizeans may not be aware of the market that exists in tourism for sexual gratification from minors. But the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is a growing problem that is, unfortunately, facilitated by local adults, who accept cash from visitors in exchange for the young victims. Today’s workshop, entitled CSEC in the Tourism Sector, focused on the root of the problem… the demand for these services.

Kim Simpliss Barrow

Kim Simpliss Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children

“Poverty, family dysfunction, low value attached to education or even a cultural obligation to help support the family are some of the risk factors, but they are not the reason why sex tourism, sexual abuse or child pornography exist. 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.”

Peter 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. It is an attempt to strengthen the collaboration between the two sectors in an effort to protect our children.”

Jim Scott

According to BTIA President, Jim Scott, cruise tourism is a major part of the trade since there is no way of tracing the activities of visitors who chose not to book tours.

Jim Scott, General Mgr., Radisson & BTIA President

“Within tourism it’s pretty common knowledge that through some taxis and some tour guides, they will facilitate young girls and 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.”

Peter Eden Martinez

Peter Eden Martinez

“The way CSEC manifests itself in our society makes it a very insidious and hard to address problem because many times children and adolescents engage in these activities with the consent or at the very least, the complicity of the their parents or guardians. The involvement of adolescents or their seeming active participation in these activities also muddies the waters. As a society, we can easily discern younger children of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, but the same is not always true for teenagers.”

With an estimated one in four Belizeans employed in tourism, the industry is vital to the country’s economy. But Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simpliss Barrow and Minister of Human Development, Peter Eden Martinez, emphasize that Belize’s children are not a part of the tourism package.

Kim Simpliss Barrow

“Our children are not for sale, our children are not commodities. They should never be marketed and there is no amount of money that can purchase their innocence and dignity. The fact that the future of our children is not for sale should resonate with all of us. We cannot allow our country to go the route of others, whose natural attractions have taken a back seat to their child sex trade.”

Peter Eden Martinez

“Are we prepared to have the trading in the flesh of our children 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 o our shores?”

Legislative changes are in the pipeline to put in place penalties for child abuse that will hopefully, make sexual predators think twice before assaulting a minor.

Kim Simpliss Barrow

“We are presently spearheading efforts for significant legislative amendments that focus on CSEC and other sexual crimes against children. These amendments are now in the hands of the Attorney General’s Ministry for final vetting before proceeding to Cabinet. I plan to do everything within my power to advocate for the passage of this pending legislation; legislation that will once for all criminalize sexual exploitation of children and hold accountable all those who contribute to its occurrence.”

A new public service announcement to raise awareness about CSEC was also launched at today’s workshop. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

Other initiatives in the works include the completion and launch of the national plan against CSEC, which is expected by the end of the year as well as a Good Touch Bad Touch story book that will help parents to teach their children about their bodies and how to respond to inappropriate sexual advances.

Channel 5