Group Fights Sex Tours, Seeks PATA Pact

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MANILA, Phillipines -- A Bangkok, Thailand-based organization created to combat child prostitution in tourism is seeking an official endorsement from the Pacific Asia Travel Association, its chairman told reporters at PATA's annual conference here.

Ron O'Grady, chairman of the group, called Ecpat, said he has asked PATA officials to sign a memorandum of understanding in support of Ecpat's fight against child prostitution. But according to PATA president and chief executive officer Joe McInerney, Ecpat "handed the paper to me at 6:45 in the morning and wanted us to sign it at 11:45, and I didn't think that was fair."

McInerney added that PATA's relocation of its headquarters to Thailand will help the two organizations combine forces. "We're moving our office to Bangkok," McInerney said, "and we're going to work with Ecpat."

McInerney said that perhaps the best way for PATA to get involved would be to concentrate on one country at first, and then increase the effort. "It's nice to say you are against [child prostitution], but you've got to do something," McInerney said. "Let's take one step, then we'll take a giant step, and then we'll run."

PATA still was reviewing the memorandum of understanding, a spokesman told Travel Weekly on April 15.

Ecpat was founded in 1991, "when we found out how widespread child prostitution was in Asia," O'Grady said. "A large amount of the demand for child prostitution was from foreigners. People, when they travel, do things that they would not do in their home town. Those who travel overseas on tours were increasingly turning to younger and younger [sex] partners."

Although he said that the travel industry is not the sole cause of the problem -- child prostitution is primarily a homegrown problem in India and China -- O'Grady said tourism is the context in which it is happening. "The people in the tourism industry can be powerful allies for us." Progress has been made in fighting the illicit sex trade, O'Grady said, citing a 1996 meeting on the topic in Sweden that attracted representatives from 122 countries.

O'Grady said the countries with the biggest child prostitution problems are India, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines.

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