The Company of Bad Men

The company of bad men
Friday June 1 2007 15:28 IST

Sumati Mehrishi

Traveling sex offenders (TSOs) are very much on the prowl at Indian tourist destinations. On May 9, Richard
Borodig, a British national was arrested from the Anjuna Beach, Goa. The paedophile-suspect is out on bail. Recently, the Tamil Nadu Police nabbed Alan Jay Horowitz, a US national listed among the 100 most wanted men in New York, in Mahabalipuram. Horowitz, a traveling sex offender and child psychologist was spotted in Bangalore before he came down to Mahabalipuram.

With Horowitz’s arrest, the issue of unregistered “children’s homes”is increasingly causing concern. This is what the Goa based NGOs have been trying to tell the media and people over the years; that tourism related paedophilia is not Goa’s problem alone, as is commonly believed. According to Nishtha Desai of Child Rights in Goa, an NGO based in Panjim, sexual abuses on children by tourists happen at other Indian tourist destinations as well, but the cases are never highlighted. “Kerala, Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and Mumbai, it’s happening all over India,” she says.

“I fear it’s going to get worse in India, as the trouble deflects from other countries owing to international pressure,” says, Thierry Darnaudet, President, Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), an NGO working against TSOs in Cambodia and India.

Vidya Reddy of Tulir, a Chennai based Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, agrees. She says, “With Sri Lanka, Thailand and Philippines strengthening their response toTSOs, an increasing trend of travel to India among this category of individuals has been reported by alarmed law enforcement in the source countries. Perhaps, they realise that child sex tourism is not considered a significant issue at the moment in our country; with our laws and their implementation fairly lax. There is no dearth of vulnerable children in our country who can be exploited.”

TSOs follow certain patterns in their movement. According to Thierry, “There are TSOs who come to Puri every year and travel to Darjeeling.” He adds, “They return to Puri and leave for Chennai from where they travel to Mahabalipuram, Kovalam (in Kerala) and Goa.” They believe in lying low if they fear a watchful eye and operate at some other tourist destination. They befriend their prey and pose as philanthropists.

In India, NGOs helping the police fight the menace have faced problems owing to lack of “proper” evidence and witnesses turning hostile. According to Desai, the ten year old girl who was seen being let out from the front door of Borodig’s house when the police came cracking down, says that the man “molested” her. One of the few cases where a child has talked about her offender, “however her statements have not been recorded under Section 164 Cr PC before the magistrate”. “The suspect-paedophiles, when out on bail usually operate through other people. We have to keep an eye on them,” adds Desai.

“Spend a night on the town with kids from Britain and Bombay in Baga”. This is no invitation to a children’s party at a seaside locality in Goa. Unfortunately, unnoticed so far by child rights activists in the country, this line in a chapter on North Goa in Lonely Planet, a travel guide shows how openly (or subtly) the state is being projected as a child sex tourism destination — an “image” the Goan government and NGOs are trying so hard to eliminate.

According to sources in the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI), “children’s homes” in Goa “are a classic case” of how funding the ‘have-nots’ is a cover up for suspected-paedophile activities. CBI, which is handling the Goa sex scandal involving children’s homes “is aware of the happenings in Mahabalipuram.”

Incidentally, it was in December 2006 that people at an NGO noticed that there was information on “children’s homes” in Mahabalipuram in Lonely Planet on Tamil Nadu. NGOs collectively wrote to Lonely Planet in February this year. “Lonely Planet wrote back saying that they will look into it,” says a volunteer at an NGO. A few months ago, Mahabalipuram saw the shutting down of unregistered “children’s homes”.

According to A Amalraj, Superintendent of Police, Kancheepuram, there are no specific cases of child abuse by TSOs reported in Mahabalipuram. He says,“We hardly receive any specific complaints of this nature in the area. We need to receive complaints to take action.”

TSOs and child sex abuse: Different Issues

When the Nithari case came into light, attention and arguments shifted from sexual abuse against children by traveling paedophiles to that happening at the domestic front. “Cases of child sex abuse (CSA) within the community are far more prevalent than cases of tourism related sexual abuse,” says Nishtha Desai. However, can we afford to ignore tourism related CSA? “It is important to address the problem and to prevent the institutionalisation of tourism related CSA,” adds Desai. Thierry believes that paedophilia is one end of CSA, where the person “once a paedophile will always remain a paedophile, hence is far more harmful than a child sex abuser.” He warns, “TSOs usually keep a back up of child pornography on their computers, so that once they return to their home country they can look at images. Plus, they will always look for children they can abuse at their home country. They have a number of victims, cutting across geographical boundaries.”

Our laws are full of loopholes. For instance, who will trace the several “missing” pedophiles in India? Why cannot the pedophiles be arrested when they are “lying low” waiting to strike in some other part of the country? Why is there a delay in prosecution? Why isn’t corruption among “lower ranks” of police at tourist destinations checked when the higher ranks and general public are aware of what is going on? What about keeping check on those Indian paedophiles who were convicted for child sex abuse in the US and deported to India, under Operation Predator, a crackdown by the US department of homeland security and immigration and customs enforcement ICE? They roam free. Sources from the CBI say, “ Indian investigating agencies and the police have little to do with the issue of deported criminals. The country’s legal system has to deal with the problem.” According to Chennai based advocate Geeta Ramaseshan, “There are issues of jurisdiction involved here. There has to be some act of crime in the country if a person has to be prosecuted.”

Also, the legal system, according to Ramaseshan does not use the word “paedophile” at all. “The law still has to a define a huge area in this respect. There are a few bills pending on the same issue. A lot of understanding of the existing laws is needed to bring the changes. I think, more important than the issue of bails are matters like evidence, the defining of the offence against children. Then, sensitisation of the judiciary is required. Remember, punishment for crime is a defensive mechanism. More important is to prevent it.” She points out.

An expert, on the condition of anonymity, has a few suggestions to make. He says, “To improve the situation in our country, we should first locate the missing paedophile-suspects. Next, we should be strict with laws and their implementation on paedophiles; like the kind of laws we have for people involved with narcotics. Paedophiles should be arrested, prosecuted and convicted in time and should be banned from entering India after they serve their sentence here. They should just not be given time to lie low. Also, there’s need for more advanced forensic labs in tourism destination states to handle such investigations.”

A volunteer from an NGO based in Tamil Nadu rues the fact that the issue of TSOs is of low priority in the list of crimes for the government and the police force. The Home Ministry should take some steps in this direction,” says she.

We are watching

Goa authorities have displayed warnings to suspected-paedophiles at various beaches. But due to the scanty presence of tourism police on Goa beaches, “unhealthy” interaction between tourists and children on the beaches goes unchecked.

At the Vagator beach, one of the few lesser crowded beaches in North Goa, “Sharon Stone” settles down on sand with a bowl full of strawberries. “You can call me Sharon Stone. My real name is difficult for foreigners like you to learn,” says she. “Anjelina”, “Kate”, “Julia” (usually from states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Karnataka) when they get back to selling sarongs, knick-knacks, souvenirs — throw names of hotels, middlemen, and sometimes phone numbers. No cop in sight, the only way to cut short the nuisance on beaches is to approach the restaurant owners (who provide the sun beds); do warn tourists and vendors against “any objectionable act”. From Vagator to Palolem, from Calangute to Colva, the trick really works. This way, visitors and local people can really help curb the problem at such open spaces. However, there’s another trend which Goans seem to ignore ; of single parents landing with their kids at shacks and beach side hotels. These tourists hire a local lad for “baby sitting” during the day; during the evenings, the local lad doubles up for the other job.

At Puri, another tourist destination which came in light for TSOs last year, Thierry says, “things usually pick up during the season time (November to January).” “I have got information on a few foreigners who take interest in clicking pictures of naked children on the beach. I just want to tell the TSOs that we are watching them.” he adds. Thierry believes that by being alert and watchful, you can really mount pressure on the paedophiles to move out of the locality.

TSOs-hotel-travel industry: The Nexus

NGOs and child protection organizations over the world are aware of the nexus between TSOs, hotels and the transport industry. Taking clues from the trends, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a network of organizations working worldwide to eliminate sexual exploitation of children has suggested a “code of conduct” for the hotel and travel industry. The code is currently implemented by 17 countries including Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. ECPAT runs programmes like, in-flight videos to warn travelers against child sex abuse. Air France, Corsair, Nouvelles Frontieres, Lufthansa and Austrian Air are already using it. “ECPAT USA has designed and distributed an educational brochure to inform Americans about the extra-territorial provisions of US law against child sex tourism,” says their fact sheet. In India, ECPAT’s ‘Please Disturb, an Inter-sectoral response to Traveling Sex Offenders’, was presented by Tulir in Chennai last year, to build awareness among the tourism and travel sector here. “We expect a lot from the hotel and travel industry in this regard. Their inputs can really help us crack down on such cases,” adds Amal Raj.

The vastness of our country and the sluggish judicial system shouldn’t really discourage any hope for improvement. So, the next time you see a suspicious element on the prowl at one of the tourist destinations, help authorities “mount pressure” on him. TSOs will then think twice before “deflecting” to India.

Around 70 per cent children don’t report abuse

More than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year

An estimated 30 percent of the sex workers in Phnom Penh are under the age of 18

Out of the 9800 child sex offenders arrested in US under Operation Predator, 85 per cent are foreigners (including Indians)

Roughly around 10,000 paedophiles come to Goa each year and 1000 children are at risk in a single area in Goa

Number of children involved in the sex industry in India in 1994 according to ECPAT : 400,000

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