The high-profile case of an accused Australian paedophile in India and the recent arrest of an Australian man on child sex charges in Thailand represent just the ”tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Australians involved in child sex tourism in the Asia-Pacific, children’s rights advocates say.
”The ones that we hear about are the unlucky ones, the ones that get caught,” says Bernadette McMenamin, chief executive officer of the child protection agency Child Wise, the Australian chapter of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) International.
One of those ”unlucky” people is Paul Henry Dean, who fled Australia in 1976 on a false passport after allegedly embezzling funds from the travel company where he worked. He is accused of sexually abusing young men and boys in India, where he has lived and worked with charities for three decades, posing variously as a priest and a doctor.
Although not a tourist, Dean falls under most definitions of a child sex tourist, which generally refers to people who sexually abuse children while in a foreign country. The term ‘child sex tourism’ not only includes tourists but businessmen, expatriates and other travellers as well.
Dean was initially charged in 2001 and faced similar charges in 2008. Although nine years have passed since he was first arrested, his trial has still yet to be concluded. Dean remains free on bail and on Jul. 9, the trial was again delayed. Up to now, none of his alleged victims have testified against Dean in court.
In what is a rare move for Child Wise, McMenamin is calling for Dean to be extradited from India because ”in this case we feel that he would be better prosecuted in Australia.”
According to McMenamin, Australians and others in Dean’s situation can use money to avoid facing justice. ”They just pay the kids. They pay off the families, they pay off the police,” she says.
Another Australian facing child sex charges in Asia is 90-year-old Karl Joseph Kraus. Arrested on Jun. 29, German-born Kraus is alleged to have raped four sisters – believed to have been aged between five and 13 when the abuse began – at his home near the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
Giorgio Berardi, the programme officer for combating child sex tourism with ECPAT International in Bangkok, told IPS that Thailand has been unable to shake ”the unenviable label of a haven for child sex.”
He argues that although Thailand has the legislation to crack down on child sex tourists, these laws not being enforced. But this is just one factor in understanding and tackling what is ”an extremely complex phenomenon,” says Berardi.
The ECPAT International officer singles out Cambodia from the likes of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, as a country that has taken action to curb the problem. ”Over the last few years, arrests and trials in the Khmer kingdom have exceeded those in any of the other countries,” says Berardi.
The cases of Dean and Kraus are far from isolated incidents of Australians accused of sexual crimes against children in Asia.
A report titled ‘International Sex Tourism’ released in 2007 by the Protection Project, a human rights research institute at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, documented Australians who had been arrested on child sex charges in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Australian child sex tourists figured prominently in the cases outlined in the report, as did nationals of the United States, Germany and Britain.
Largely due to cases of sexual abuse only coming to public attention when a complaint has been made by a victim or an alleged perpetrator has been arrested, data regarding the extent of child sex tourism remains scarce. However, McMenamin describes the scope of the problem as ”huge.”
Fuelled by demand and often facilitated by factors such as organised crime, corruption, underdevelopment and poverty, child sex tourism is clearly not going away any time soon. Some two million children worldwide estimated to fall victim to paedophiles yearly, according to advocates’ estimates.
In an effort to reduce the number of Australians involved in child sex tourism, the federal parliament here amended a child sex offences law in April. The new legislation increases the penalties for crimes related to child sex tourism to a maximum of 25 years in jail for child sex offences committed overseas.
Additionally, the amendments introduce new offences related to preparing to sexually exploit children outside Australia, with those convicted facing up to 10 years in jail. New penalties relating to child pornography also came into force, with up to 25 years in prison for those engaging in such activity.
”The sexual abuse of children is abhorrent and we’re doing all we can to stop it from happening and punish those who commit these sickening offences,” said Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor on Jun. 29.
The minister was speaking at the launch of a campaign to make Australian travellers aware that the new laws are in place. Signs at Australian international airports, advertisements in newspapers, information brochures and even an online word search have been employed by authorities to warn the public.
McMenamin welcomes the changes to the child sex offences legislation and the advertising campaign, both of which Child Wise lobbied for. ”These laws have been amended because of reality, because of people who have escaped justice,” she says.