SOUTH PACIFIC: Poverty Breeds Child Labour and Sex Tourism

On August 10, 2008 by Michelle

By Shailendra Singh

SUVA, Jun 18 (IPS) – Beyond the fabulous palm-fringed beaches and cascading waterfalls of the islands of the Pacific is a sordid reality — child labour and commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Lack of reliable data makes it difficult to assess the magnitude of the problem, but rough estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggest that with growing poverty child workers make up an estimated 19 percent of the labour force in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and 14 percent in the Solomon Islands.

A recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report has predicted that an additional 5 percent of people in the Pacific — or some 50,000 people — would slip into poverty because of high oil and food prices.

According to economist and former Fiji government minister, Ganesh Chand, the prevalence of child labour has increased in the region because of social problems triggered by poverty.

With education not free in Fiji, rising costs were forcing children out of school and into the ranks of the workforce in order to supplement family incomes, Chand told participants at a seminar to mark the International Day Against Child Labour in Suva. Chand appealed to schools to “cut costs and increase efficiency”.

Sex tourists in the South Pacific are also preying upon children. A report by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Pacific — based on studies in 2004 and 2005 in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu — said that in each country child prostitution, child pornography, and child sex tourism and trafficking occurred.

The report said that children in the South Pacific were at “high risk” of being traded for sex by family members and friends because of poverty.

A Pacific regional workshop on poverty recently discussed that in Port Moresby and Lae child prostitution was increasing as social and economic problems increased in Papua New Guinea.

Research findings tabled at the workshop indicated that one third of the sex workers in some areas were children aged between 13 and 19, although children as young as 11 were also found to be working in the sex industry.

Similarly, the Solomon Islands conference on child protection heard that the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the country was beyond dispute. Furthermore, there were increasing numbers of street children and sex workers in Honiara, with over 100 girls under the age of 15 involved in the sex industry.

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