afrol News: Europeans involved in Gambian child sex tourism

The Gambia
Europeans involved in Gambian child sex tourism

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afrol News, 11 February - Dutch, Scandinavian, German and British tourists are reported to be central in the child sex industry developing in poverty-ridden holiday destination The Gambia. Especially refugee girls outside safe family structures are targeted. 

- A young girl of 11 or 12 years saw her friend with a mobile phone and asked her how she got it. Her friend said at the beach. Next day the girl went to the beach and asked a tourist for a mobile. She was raped in the bushes and left with some coins, according to the Gambian Tourism Authority.

- You can see on our flights; there are a lot of single men - what are they doing on a holiday in Gambia - they are not lying on the beach, says an anonymous tour operator representative in The Gambia. "Sex tourists keep coming back over and over, I recognise their faces," adds a local tour guide.

In a 47-pages report by the Dutch chapter of Terre des Hommes, which has been made available to afrol News, it is documented that child sex tourism to The Gambia is increasing alarmingly. One of the typical ways of contacting the children is establishing a relation to a poor family by "offering financial help for buying food and then offering school sponsorship to children."

The Gambia is among the world's 13 poorest countries and about 70 percent of the population lives in poverty. Even those people having formal work have modest incomes. A waiter in the tourism zone may earn around US$ 25 per month and normally will have to sustain 5-10 family members on his or her salary.

This poverty, together with the traditional Gambian openness and a culture of gifts from rich to poor, has according to the report made The Gambia vulnerable to child sex tourism. While most tourist indeed open their hearts and wallets to contribute to the fight against poverty - offering school sponsorship to children is a very common gesture among well-meaning travellers - a growing number of Europeans are finding ways to exploit the basic needs of poor Gambians. 

- A female Dutch tourist reported in mid 2001 that she was staying for a short time at Holland House, a guest house mainly used by Dutch tourists, and she did not like what she could see, the report says. "There were a lot of young girls and boys hanging around during the day time and at night time. It was her belief that some of the men who were staying there, were taking children to their rooms."

This and other witness accounts in the report document how the situation rapidly is growing worse. From occasional child abusing travellers exploiting the trust of parents, child sex is turning into an industry in The Gambia. Child abuser often operate in networks, and when they "return home and tell their friends" whom to contact "when they come to the Gambia," the report warns. 

In The Gambia, this has already led to the development of a more organised network of child prostitution. A tour operator employee told of a case of a Swedish woman being involved in selling children for sex. This woman is alleged to have had a catalogue of photographs of children and she was "selling" children to other tourists for the night for 25 Dalasi (1 Euro). Unfortunately the report came to the tour operators on the last day of the woman's stay and no action could be taken the employee lamented.

Also Gambian citizens are reportedly increasingly involved in the industry. There were reports of organised pimping and more occasional intermediary services by hotel guards, taxi drivers and others in contact with tourists. The hotel Holland House seemed to have developed into a centre of organised child prostitution.

As the child sex industry is becoming better organised, the abuses become more systematic and other types of children are caught in the prostitution networks. Organised child prostitution is increasingly based on refugee children from war-ravaged neighbour countries (Sierra Leone, Senegal, Congo, Guinea and Liberia), which are outside protecting family network. 


Government to respond

Gambian authorities so far have done little to fight the enhanced abuse of children by tourists. In the particular cases they have tried to intervene, wealthy tourists mostly have been able to avoid charges. According to "a European consulate" in the Gambian capital, Banjul, one had knowledge of several cases where the consulate's nationals had been accused of child abuse.

Gambian police had reported of at least five cases of child abuse to the consulate during the last two years. In all five instances the cases however never made it to court. The speculation was that "the accused abusers paid substantial money to families and witnesses to withdraw the charges leaving the abuser unpunished and the children involved unprotected." The Gambian Police also informs that such cases are complicated, as the tourists often have left the country before charges can be made.

Fanta Cessay from the Gambian Department of Social Welfare reports about a 16 year old girl, which had called the Department anonymously naming a Scandinavian business man abusing her sexually, to the knowledge of her father. The Department, believing that this man was also abusing other girls, had contacted "a high level official who knew the Scandinavian man ... but refused to cooperate," says Ms Cessay, indicating this might have been a case of corruption or that the senior official was involved in the industry.

There is so far only one case where a European has been jailed for abusing children in The Gambia. A German citizen was detained in 2001 after family members had caught the man in the act as he was raping a terrified 8 year old girl. The man was sentenced to two years of prison. At the moment, Gambian police are investigating four cases of suspected child abuse by European citizens. 

Gambian authorities however reportedly have understood the seriousness of the current trends. The new tourism law waiting to be passed by parliament sharpens the reaction on child abuse. There are also plans to enhance cooperation with European governments to register known child abusers and deny them entrance to The Gambia. 

The number of European tourists reached its all-times-high so far in the year before the military coup in 1988. At that time, 110,000 travellers arrived on arranged tours, mostly from the UK, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany. This tourist season (November to May) will see almost equal numbers of arrivals, according to government estimates.



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