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Child exploitation not new to stricken region

From Brian Todd

Wolf Blitzer Reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- State Department officials tell CNN reports of sexual abuse and child trafficking are trickling in from relief agencies on the ground at tsunami shelters.

A UNICEF official reports getting an unsolicited text message, asking what type of child would be preferred.

"We are appalled by these reports and are horrified that thousands of children orphaned by this disaster are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal elements who seek to profit from their misery," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Human rights officials say even before the tsunamis many of these same areas, especially some resorts in Thailand and Sri Lanka, were so-called "sex tourist" destinations -- places where pedophilia and child trafficking exploded over the past decade as travel became easier and law enforcement was slow to react.

Now, with so many children left parentless and unaccompanied, even minimal protection is gone, and experts say pedophiles are already on the ground.

"In these areas there may be child sex tourists who either come on holiday and are situational child sex tourists, or either they are pedophiles who actually may live in the area," says Andrea Bertone, the director of

In its 2004 report on human trafficking, the State Department says India, Indonesia, and Thailand are all, "source, transit, and destination countries for persons trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation." Sri Lanka is listed only as a "source country."

Devinda Subasinghe, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, tells CNN his government has received no reports of trafficking and pedophilia since the tsunamis and says authorities are on the alert.

"The shelters and refugee camps, including temples and other places of worship -- the police have been deployed. And the national child protection authority is, is taking a census of all the children in these areas. They finished one large area. They're moving onto another," says Subasinghe.

Subasinghe says his country has strengthened its laws against pedophilia and sex tourism in recent years and has collaborated with law enforcement authorities from the United States and elsewhere.

Thailand's ambassador to the United States also claims there have been few post-tsunami incidents, and that officials there are working hard to contain trafficking.

CNN could not reach officials at the Indian and Indonesian embassies for comment.

All four of these countries get high marks from human rights officials for cracking down on pedophiles and traffickers in recent years. But one official says with the new influx of parentless children, structures and orphanages need to be built quickly.

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