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Viet Nam's battle against traveling child sex offenders begins

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 14 March 2012
- As more Vietnamese travel domestically and international tourism arrivals grow each year, many fear that the sexual abuse of children by travelers is becoming a threat to the South-East Asian country's youth. Already a serious problem in several neighbouring countries, the sexual exploitation of minors by travelers often involves local accommodations, transport and tourist-related services that make it easier for sexual predators to meet children anonymously. Often, families are reluctant to press charges and child sex tourists exploit legislative and legal loopholes to escape detection and punishment.

"Legal responses against the sexual abuse of children by travelers must receive higher priority if we are to reverse the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children," said Project Childhood coordinator Ms. Margaret Akullo, UNODC, at a recent workshop in Do Son, Hai Phong hosted by the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The workshop, 'A Legal Framework for Combatting Child Sex Tourism', was jointly organized by Viet Nam's Ministry of Justice and UNODC, and supported by Australian AID (AusAID) through Project Childhood (Protection Pillar).

Lindsay Buckingham, a legal consultant with UNODC, pointed out that while children were protected by Viet Nam's legal framework from criminal conduct and sexual exploitation, "when compared with international standards, there are gaps in the current domestic legal framework relevant to child sex tourism."

Buckingham called for a regional approach to the problem, explaining that when a country cracked down on the sexual exploitation of children, foreign predators moved to a nearby country with less restrictive laws.

Noting that crimes against children were increasing, Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Van Trang, from the Viet Nam Ministry of Justice's Criminal Police Department, said that a lack of data hampered response, with data on child sex crimes often not properly updated or analyzed, especially when committed by travelling offenders.

Project Childhood, is a new $7.5 million Australian AID (AusAID)-funded initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children - mainly in the travel and tourism sectors - in the Greater Mekong sub-region countries of Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand.

Project Childhood is being implemented in two complementary pillars - the Protection Pillar (UNODC/INTERPOL) and the Prevention Pillar (World Vision). UNODC is the primary implementing agency of that project's 'Protection Pillar', which supports the development of strong law and justice frameworks to bring travelling child sex offenders to justice.

The Protection Pillar does this in two ways. The first, delivered by UNODC, offers technical assistance activities to bolster legislative frameworks and law enforcement investigations against child sex tourism. The second, delivered by INTERPOL, supports specialized law enforcement activities, pooling international and regional experience to directly target travelling child sex offenders in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

Workshop participants received the latest information on the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse crimes by representatives of the Criminal Police Department, Ministry of Public Security of Viet Nam, Criminal Police Unit of Hai Phong Police, and the 1A Department of the Supreme People's Procuracy of Viet Nam. International experts and Ministry of Justice specialists presented initial research results on the evaluation of Vietnam's legal framework for prosecuting traveling child sex offenders.

Participants discussed child sex abuse gaps in Viet Nam's legal system, measures to more effectively fight sex crimes, and technical assistance that UNODC could deliver to help Vietnam's legal system meet international standards.

More than 50 representatives from national and local government and law enforcement, as well as international organizations, attended the conference. Attendees included Viet Nam's Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Viet Nam, Supreme People's Procuracy, Supreme People's Court, Viet Nam Law Association, Viet Nam Women's Union, Viet Nam Youth Union, Hai Phong and Do Son local criminal justice and social affairs agencies.

The Protection Pillar will work with the Ministry of Justice to draft revisions to the penal code which will address the protection of children and prosecution of travelling child sex offenders. The National Project Officer, based in Hanoi at UNODC Viet Nam, will be the UNODC Viet Nam focal point for the Protection Pillar to take this work forward.