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VIENNA, Austria – Taking a firm stand against human trafficking, especially child trafficking, in the tourism sector, the heads of two United Nations bodies today pledged to stamp out this hidden scou

VIENNA, Austria – Taking a firm stand against human trafficking, especially child trafficking, in the tourism sector, the heads of two United Nations bodies today pledged to stamp out this hidden scourge through joint efforts. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), also called for concerted global action at every level of society.

“Today, our two organizations are conveying a strong message to the world that we will not be party to activities that exploit women and children,” said Mr. Fedotov at an event taking place this week during the 21st United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ).

Mr. Rifai said: “We are here to reiterate the tourism sector’s commitment to combating human trafficking, an unacceptable affront to human rights and dignity, and to set out clear steps for stronger cooperation in fighting one of the most dreadful crimes of our time.”

Yesterday, UNODC and UNWTO signed a memorandum of understanding to step up cooperation against this form of exploitation.

ETN Publisher, Juergen T. Steinmetz, is a member of the Executive Council for UNWTO against the exploitation of children through tourism. He said, “ETN provides whole-hearted support to this initiative and will do all that it can to help increase awareness by getting information out about this dark side of tourism.”

A staggering one billion tourists, or one in seven of the world’s population, will travel abroad in 2012 – and the sector is expanding. While this expansion drives economic growth, job creation, and development, there is evidence that the tourism infrastructure is also being used for the exploitation of and trafficking in persons – and children are especially vulnerable.

Victims of trafficking are most often enslaved for sexual purposes, but they might also be found in kitchens or cleaning guesthouses, restaurants, and bars. Tourism infrastructure can, in turn, create markets for forced and exploitative begging and street hawking. Even organs from victims of trafficking are used today to attract people who need a transplant.

The tourism sector can and should play a vital role in preventing human trafficking linked to tourism, including sexual exploitation, said Mr. Fedotov. Codes of conducts for tourism companies have been developed – based on the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism approved by the UN General Assembly in 2001 – and laws enacted that allow for the prosecution in their homeland of tourists who engage in sexual conduct with children. These efforts need to be strengthened and built upon, Mr. Rifai added.

In India, for example, the Ministry of Tourism, UNODC, the private sector, and Save the Children have jointly developed and adopted a national Code of Conduct for Safe and Honorable Tourism, based on the Global Code. Hoteliers and tour operators have pledged to abide by the Code to make sure that no one involved in the hospitality industry is forced to use drugs or is sexually exploited. The model is ready to be replicated in other countries.

Hotel companies are carrying out awareness campaigns and providing vocational training for trafficked persons. Marriott International, for instance, has taken a comprehensive approach since 2006 to such human rights abuses through policy commitments and staff training. Marriot also runs community outreach programs, which helps vulnerable young people, including rehabilitated victims of human trafficking, providing them with new life opportunities and training skills at their hotels.

Dr. Thomas Mayr, national expert in the Austrian Federal Ministry of Economy, Family, and Youth, highlighted an initiative by Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to fight cross-border child abuse with a tri-national awareness campaign targeting child sex tourism and pornography, while aiming to reinforce the networks that protect minors.

By enhancing their public image, ethical companies and destinations can ultimately benefit from more business. “We must raise awareness of human trafficking in the tourism sector. Consumers should be able to make an informed choice about where they choose to spend their money- and crucially, how it will be used,” said Mr. Fedotov.

“It is appalling to see tourism infrastructure being used by traffickers to victimize the vulnerable, yet our sector is firmly committed to reclaim this same infrastructure and use it for awareness raising in the fight against trafficking,” said Mr. Rifai.