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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

INDUSTRYWIDE CAMPAIGN

Travel agencies fight pedophiles


Staff writer

Japan's major travel agencies signed a self-imposed code of conduct Monday clearly stating their opposition to sexual exploitation of children in other countries.

Signing the Code of Conduct for Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism commits each firm to taking several actions, such as informing travelers they oppose such exploitation through messages printed in tour brochures and on tickets they issue.

They are also required to state their repudiation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in contracts with tour operators overseas.

"By implementing the code, we will convey the message that people must not sexually exploit children," Koji Shinmachi, chairman of the Japan Association of Travel Agents, told a news conference in Tokyo after signing the code. "I believe the message will have a major effect" in preventing the sexual exploitation of children.

At the same time, Shinmachi stressed that travel agencies in Japan have never been involved in any activity that promotes the sexual abuse of children overseas.

Tsuneo Nishiyama, a spokesman for industry leader JTB Corp., said his firm and its group companies will revise their ethics rules to include an article citing their opposition to the crime.

The code was drafted by ECPAT, a nongovernmental organization working to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Travel agencies in Sweden, Denmark and Norway signed the code in 1997.

Since then, ECPAT, UNICEF and the World Tourism Organization have been urging travel agencies around the world to sign up.

UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are victims of human trafficking each year, and that many end up in the sex trade.

In 1999, Japan enacted legislation that bans the purchase of sex from children. The legislation also bans the production of child pornography, as well as its purchase and possession with the intent to sell. The law covers offenses that take place overseas.

But the law alone cannot prevent all sexual exploitation, UNICEF officials said, and efforts by the travel industry are indispensable in preventing individuals from committing such crimes.

Since 2000, 12 Japanese have been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing children in other Asian countries, according to ECPAT/Stop Japan, the nongovernmental organization that urged Japan's travel agencies to sign the code.

But staff members at the NGO say they suspect the actual number of Japanese involved in the crime abroad is much larger.

According to UNICEF, 60 Japanese travel agencies, as well as JATA and the Overseas Tour Operators Association of Japan, adopted the code Monday.

Worldwide, 58 tourism organizations in 17 countries have signed the code, UNICEF officials said.



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