BANGKOK—Children from five Asian countries are calling on their governments to take a far tougher stand against human-trafficking, including much stiffer penalties for those who enslave and abuse young people.
Twenty-five youths, all under the age of 18, from Cambodia, southern China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam gathered for the first Mekong Children's Forum on Human Trafficking and called on their governments to shut down karaoke bars linked to the sex trade and crack down on corruption.
They also urged governments to introduce harsher punishments for traffickers and those who use child labor.
The forum, an initiative of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Save the Children UK, comes ahead of a pact to fight trafficking expected to be signed by the same countries, along with Burma, when ministers meet later this month in Rangoon.
The United States estimates that up to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, more than half of them for sexual exploitation.
A new international campaign meanwhile says it will target potential child sex offenders in Asian countries before they offend, as well as warning pedophiles that they could end up serving jail terms in the United States.
“Where do the tourists come from? Many of them wealthy, democratic countries.”
John Miller, a top anti-trafficking official in the U.S. State Department, told RFA in a recent interview that while previous campaigns have focused on the victims of child sex tourism, the new initiative will target offenders and potential offenders.
“The problem is also on the demand side,” said Miller, who is ambassador at large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “Where do the tourists come from? Many of them wealthy, democratic countries.”
“When I visited Chiangmai in Thailand, which unfortunately has many children who have suffered, I asked the nongovernmental organizations, who is coming to abuse these children? Are they Thai? No, they are men, they said, from the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Australia,” Miller told RFA.
Campaigners estimate that 25 percent of child sex tourists worldwide are Americans. It is estimated that about 2 million children are enslaved in the global sex trade, many of them as young as five years old.
The Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project is a joint effort among World Vision, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, funded by a U.S. government grant and private donors.
Read and hear more reports from RFA about the state of East Asia’s children:
Rights Group Says Falun Gong Mother and Baby Died in Labor Camp A follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and her eight-month-old son die in a Chinese labor camp, after traveling to Beijing to petition the central government.
China's One-Child Policy Contributes to Trafficking Problem China's controversial and brutally enforced one-child policies have significantly slowed population growth, but encourage baby-trafficking, experts say.
Campaign Aims to Deter Child Sex Tourists A new international campaign aims to discourage pedophiles in Asian countries through due punishment in the United States.
China Busts Trafficking Gang, Rescuing 53 Babies Police in Fujian arrest 110 suspected members of a baby-trafficking gang and rescue more than 50 babies, hinting that the problem may be more widespread than authorities can handle.
Concerns Rise over China's Mental Health Problems China's booming economy and rapid social change come at a heavy price: increasing levels of mental health problems among its citizens.
Uyghur Children Fall Prey to Drug Addiction Children as young as seven among China's Muslim Uyghur minority are falling prey to drug addictions, but authorities have yet to attack the problem at its source.
China Tries to Redress Age-Old Pressures on Children In a society that has traditionally attached the greatest importance to education and respect for age and learning, Chinese children often carry a heavy psychological burden.
Thousands of Phnom Penh Children Work for Little or No Wages The International Labor Organization reveal that nearly 28,000 children work in household positions in Cambodia often for seven days a week and for little or no wages.
China Struggles to Educate All Children In depth report highlights a major struggle among China's poorest communities to provide a basic education for their children—a right supposedly guaranteed by the state.
Burmese Deserters Describe Lives of Child Soldiers Two deserters from Burma's government army recount how they were forced into military service as children, beaten, and prevented from contacting their parents.
Chinese Children Suffer High Levels of Neglect, Abuse Almost one-third of children living in major cities show signs of physical or emotional neglect, with experts blaming high-pressure lifestyles as the country struggles to develop.
UNICEF Says 2.5 Million Vietnamese Children at Risk Rapid economic growth and reform in Vietnam has led to social changes that could put up to 2.5 million Vietnamese children at risk from exploitation, violence, neglect, and abuse.