05/05/2006, 00.00
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Sex tourism in Vietnam, a growing problem

Poverty, plane loads of tourists and ineffective law enforcement are among sex tourism's causes. Laws are rarely applied.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Sex tourism involving minors is growing at an alarming rate in Vietnam. The three-year prison sentence imposed on former British rocker Gary Glitter for sexually abusing two girls, 11 and 12, at his home in the southern resort town of Vung Tau, is just the most high-profile case. The singer is set to appeal this month in Ho Chi Minh City.

Children's rights groups say there is a broader, growing problem with child-sex tourism and underage prostitution in Vietnam that still rarely makes the international radar screen. This trend is widely attributed to a combination of factors: poverty, fast-rising tourism, ineffective law enforcement.

Whilst child-sex tourism has long been a well-known problem in other Southeast Asian countries, its emergence in Vietnam reflects the country's new-found openness to the outside world. After a hiatus of 15 years ago, tourist arrivals in Vietnam reached 3.5 million in 2005, up 18.4 per cent from the previous year.

As early as 2003, a foreign-aided study estimated that 30 per cent of 185,000 sex workers in Vietnam were under the age of 16.

Official estimates released two months ago indicated there were now five times as many prostitutes under the age of 18 than just five years ago.  

The police, which is rife with corruption, rarely intervenes. When caught, prostitutes of any age are usually sent to "re-education centres". Street-level support services remain scarce.

Whilst Vietnam has strict laws against child-sex exploitation—Glitter was charged with crimes that could have brought the death penalty—enforcement of them is "rather weak", said Tran Viet Phu, of World Vision Vietnam.

In light of the problem, many foreign countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have adopted laws punishing sex crimes even when committed abroad. (PB)

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