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The fight against child sex tourism in Mahabalipuram

13:25 Mar 6 2012 Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

Description
Mahapalipuram (also known as Mammalapuram) is an international tourist destination aprox. 30 km south of Chennai. The site is famous for its Cholan granite temples,including a shore Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the years, it has also gained the reputation of a popular sex tourism destination, after several cases of child sex abuse were uncovered.

Several field visits to the town of Mahabalipuram have uncovered various issues directly linked to tourism: "Relocations" of itinerant or underpriviledged communities based on the seashore have been mentioned.
But it's mostly the problem of child sex tourism and drugs sold to children that is prevalent here.

In 2008, a gruesome story broke in the Indian press: a local orphanage had been used as a brothel for high-paying men, especially foreigners visiting the world heritage town. In 2009 and 2012, other similar stories were reported, but unfortunately the children and the families involved did not press charges in order to avoid social exclusion. Then, in 2011, thanks to the work of several local organisations, the Mahabalipuram police made an arrest and uncovered a network of prostitution. [See attached newslinks]

From 2009 to 2012, field officers met with representatives of these organisations decidated to helping children.

Mr. Reddy, who works for a local childline, reports that "[local organisations] are under-resourced, although the tourism industry and the governmnent have been more supportive lately. The key to efficiently fight child sex tourism is to raise awareness - both amongst tourists [note: with a phone number to call if suspicious] and amongst families." He adds: "What is most difficult is to control the issue at ground level, as many abusers stay in family homes, where parents may even agree to the abuse, in exchange for money. We are focusing on coordinating our efforts with other organisations, and we're seeing a decrease in reported incidents."

A meeting with a representative from SEA (the Society for Education and Action, www.seaorg.in) provides another ray of hope. SEA has been developing several programmes to raise awareness on sex tourism, as well as to provide children with support, education and venues to just play and be children. The organisation's office's walls are decorated with colourful drawings, pictures of children involved in various activities, or educational posters aimed at the youngest.

SEA's latest programme, launched in early 2012, is a small community-based tourism initiative involving the local community. For Rs. 300/day (roughly 4 GBP or 5 euros), tourists can stay with a family, enjoy homemade meals, visit the surroundings with a local guide, and share the local culture. They can also take part in volunteering activities in Mahabalipuram if they wish to do so. The families involved in the project receive hospitality training and direct income from the tourism activity; it also helps them become actors of the tourism industry rather than its victims.

Anybody interested in the programme can contact SEA's President, Mr. Desingu, at sea_org_desingu@rediffmail.co.

Attached photos:
- A newspaper article speaking about child sex tourism in Mahabalipuram
- Mr. Desingu, SEA's President
- An example of a week's honestay with one of the families trained by SEA
- A temple in Mahabalipuram
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