KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian paedophiles are now travelling abroad to commit sex crimes, a new global study suggests, not unlike the stereotypical Western tourists soliciting children in the dark clubs of Thailand.
The study found that more than 3,000 tourists from Malaysia and Singapore are reported to visit the Indonesian island of Batam every week for sex.
There are more than 5,000 individuals involved in the sex industry in Batam, 30% of whom are children.
The newly-published Global Study on Sexual Explotation of Children in Travel and Tourism released by ECPAT International found that the rise of travel and tourism has led to a rise in the phenomenon of travelling child sex offenders.
ECPAT International is a global network of civil society groups working to stop the sexual exploitation of children.
The modus operandi of those who sexually exploit children in the course of travel and tourism ranges from those who go abroad with that specific objective to those who engage in the crime when the opportunity arises.
While they are predominantly male, there is no specific profile or nationality; they may be locals travelling domestically or international travellers.
The report states that factors leading to the increase of travelling child sex offenders include cheap flight tickets, simplified visa procedures and easier border crossing where offenders may use Malaysia as a transit point to other countries.
In the report, ECPAT International also said Malaysia, due to its strategic location, has become one of the destination countries for trafficked children, many of whom end up in prostitution.
It said Kuala Lumpur is home to a thriving sex industry, into which an estimated 150 children are forced every year.
These children, as young as 13, are reportedly pimped out of dilapidated low-cost apartments rather than brothels to avoid detection by the authorities.
Traditional destinations affected by travelling sex offenders such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines continue to struggle with this crime while the sex industry in emerging tourist destinations like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam continues to grow.
“The Philippines is of particular concern but our research suggests that Malaysia is not immune (to the sexual exploitation of children by travellers),” ECPAT executive director Dorothy Rozga said during the launch of the report here yesterday.
For example, Malaysia has the highest number of IP addresses used in uploading and downloading child sex abuse material in South-East Asia with close to 20,000 IP addresses recorded in 2015, she said.
However, the report said the clandestine nature of the crime – where criminals use advanced technology and secret societies, while victims fear lodging reports – makes it difficult to secure accurate figures on the number of victims and offenders.
The worldwide growth of travel and tourism has also increased diverse forms of travel such as volunteer tourism, gap years and home sharing, all of which may be abused by child sex offenders.
Convicted paedophile Richard Huckle, who was arrested in 2016 for sexually exploiting up to 200 Malaysian children in Kuala Lumpur, managed to gain access to children in churches, schools and orphanages by masquerading as an English teacher on a gap year programme.
“Children are not commodities and should never be considered as part of the holiday package,” Unicef representative in Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said at the launch.
She stressed the need for zero tolerance against child sex exploitation to make Malaysia and other countries in the region safer travel destinations for children.
The two-year study was conducted in 15 countries and nine regions. Evidence gathered for the study suggests that while tourism is soaring, child protection lags.