In 1997, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) established the Task Force to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation in Tourism. Marina Diotallevi is responsible for the coordination of the Task Force from the Secretariat, based at the WTO headquarters in Madrid.
The Task Force is a open ended group of representatives from national tourism administrations, international organizations, tourism industry associations and non-governmental organizations, the latter grouped under the umbrella of ECPAT International. Its mission is to prevent, uncover, isolate and eradicate the exploitation of children in tourism. The Group particularly emphasizes the need to mobilise the private sector in order to prevent child sex abuse occurring in tourism establishments and networks. After having been alerted on the seriousness of the problem by a number of NGOs and religious networks working in tourism destination countries, the WTO started working with a small number of governments and industry associations which had already started working in this field. "We set up the group to raise awareness that this problem exists, that is a global problem, and that it affects both the tourist receiving countries and the countries of origin of tourists". Explained Marina, "Tourists sometimes are tempted by the anonymity of being abroad. We are targeting the occasional abusers, not the hard core paedophiles. We want these people to know that it is a crime. They should be made aware of the laws in each country".
The Task Force Board is formed by government, tour operator, hotel, press, private sector, academic and NGO representatives. "First of all we invited governments to strengthen their laws protecting children and to establish hotlines for people to denounce cases of child sex abuse. We Also invited the tourism industry to adopt professional codes of conduct and build up networks". Said Marina. The Task Force meets twice a year at the Internationale Tourismus Bö in Berlin in March and at the World Travel Market held in London in November. "We exchange experiences and best practices of what has been done and what works. It is a forum for sharing ideas. In Berlin we invite NGO government and institutions to present cases and measures they have taken, and talk to the group". Marina stated.
As Coordinator, Marina is responsible for ensuring ideas and information is shared effectively. She told us, "I have to be in touch with all the industry and government representatives. We are like a clearing house. We put NGOs in touch with organisations and governments. We provide whatever information organisations need to continue their work and get new ideas. Lately, since 2000, we have received backing from the European Commission. With these funds we put into place specific awareness-raising and capacity-building projects targeting different groups of tourism stake holders. For example, national tourism administrations, travel agencies and tour operators, journalists and child rights campaigner, young people and the tourists themselves. We work directly with 4 NGOs that provide information, training and tips on what to do if you are confronted with a child abuse situation".
Marina told us that the changes they have seen since they began working have been impressive. "It is amazing because in 1997 it was a taboo subject. Most governments denied they had a problem in their country. Little by little governments and the tourist sector realised that this is a global problem, joined the task force, and have passed tough new legislation within their countries. Most importantly, we are training tourism personnel in governments and private sector in what the problem is and what they can do".
In the future, the Task Force aims to widen its appeal and continue to maintain awareness of the issue across the world. They are currently working with air companies to develop informative videos to show passengers during their flight. "EU funding ends in early 2004 and we are looking for new sources of funding to be able to carried out more concrete projects, in helping specific areas and countries. But whatever happens the Task Force will continue to work as a clearing centre and forum of exchange of information and experience". She asserted.