Bali, Indonesia - Sexual exploitation of children in the tourism industry is rampant in Southeast Asia despite efforts to curb the crime, child-protection groups said on Wednesday.
In Indonesia, child sex tourism is a major problem on the resort islands of Bali and Batam, said Irwanto, chairman of the National Coalition against Sexual Exploitation of Children.
"If we ignore the problem, Bali's tourism industry could be threatened because it would be associated with child sex tourism," Irwanto told an international conference.
A researcher for the coalition, who declined to be identified, said Bali had become a haven for international paedophile rings.
"They travel around Bali to look for poor children as their targets in areas such as Karangasem," the researcher said.
Irwanto said poverty was one of the reasons children were lured into prostitution.
"In some case children could be lured into sexual exploitation by enticing them with mobile phones, a nice house and other facilities," he said.
Frans van Dijk, director of Terre des Hommes, a Geneva-based child rights group, said between 50,000 and 60,000 children were exploited as sex workers in Southeast Asia.
"It is a crime that scares almost every country and has grown into a multi-billion international business, despite encouraging and positive steps taken by various governments in terms of legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation," van Dijk said.
Even in West European countries, North America and Australia, perpetrators are very seldom brought to court, he said.
A court in Bali last month sentenced an Australian man, Philip Robert Grandfield, to eight years in prison for having sex with boys.
He was one of several Australians to have been arrested in Indonesia in recent years for paedophilia.
Human rights activists said Australian pedophile rings had infiltrated Bali using the pretense of adopting or fostering impoverished children.
They said Australians were also involved in the trafficking of Indonesian children for sex to foreign countries, including Australia. (dpa)