16 Nov 2005

Singapore to work with ASEAN countries to stop child sex tourism

By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Singapore is coming down hard on child sex tourismand the exploitation of children by working with other countries in theregion.

At the same time, the city state is looking at ways to prevent child abuse in its own backyard.

The government is working to make sure that child sex tourism does not take root in Singapore.

At the Regional Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse andNeglect, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan says tough action will be takenagainst those involved.

"We want to make sure that our people behave themselves when theygo abroad. We are signalling that this behaviour is intolerable, andincompatible with being a Singaporean, both locally as well asoverseas," said Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister DrVivian Balakrishnan.

"We are also stepping up ways and means to identify and ultimately, prosecute and stop such behaviour," he said.

These include making amendments to its laws that will bring those whoare caught committing these crimes abroad, back home, to face themusic.

This would mean a close collaboration with other ASEAN countries.

Member countries are already working on the ASEAN Traveller's Codeto promote responsible tourism, including preventing the abuse andexploitation of people.

Tourism ministers from the various ASEAN countries are expected to meet in January to discuss these issues.

"We want to stop the sexual exploitation of children. I think thatcountries should take up a position to say that we want to stop this.We will collaborate and prosecute people who engage in this sort oftourism," said Dr Balakrishnan.

In Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan says the number of abused children is small.

Over the last five years, only 40% of about 200 complaints of alleged child abuse reveal real evidence of abuse.

Still, the government is looking to band together the differentagencies, including voluntary welfare organisations, educationalinstitutions and hospitals, to make sure abused cases do not slipthrough the cracks.

Although the number of abuse cases has grown from 61 in 2000 to 90in 2004, the minister feels that what is significant is that the numberof physical abuse cases has dropped between 2003 and 2004.

Child abuse in childcare centres here is also rare. Rather, it's more of a case of mismanagement of children.

"A lot of people use the term child abuse loosely in childcarecentres. The correct term is child mismanagement and it could refer tothe ways a teacher uses harsh words or belittling of the child,"explained Maimon Salim, deputy director of Family Care Branch at theMinistry of Community Development, Youth Sports (MCYS).

In 2003, there were four such cases reported, while in 2004, there were five.

In one case in 2003, the teacher found to have mismanaged the child had her contract terminated.

But MCYS stressed that there are safeguards in place in childcare centres to ensure a conducive environment for children.

On a larger scale, keynote speaker Kishore Mahbubani, who used to beSingapore's representative to the United Nations says, countries haveto exercise political commitment if they want to improve the lives ofmillions of children.

Averting wars and economic development are key factors in improving the lives of children worldwide.

He warned that while there is zero prospect of war in Europe, it's a different matter in Asia.

"It is remarkable that the two World Wars were enormouslydisruptive and completely shocked the European psyche. They vowed thatnever again will there be war in Europe. But the tragedy is that thisis not the case yet in Asia. So we have to make an emphasis on that,"said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of PolicyStudies.

Other issues addressed at this conference include the maltreatment of children and disciplinary practices against children.

- CNA /ls
Finally, they are doing something about this. Now only if they'd extend it to the scores of prostitutes serving Singaporean men overseas, exploited beyond belief. Or the "brides" from Vietnam who are trafficked left and right.

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