Prevent Child Sex Tourism in Yucatan

On April 30 2010, Casa Catherwood is hosting an event featuring a speaker from ECPAT-USA, an organization formed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Below is part of an article from the Casa Catherwood website, but to read all about the event, please check out their site. Go to, select the Catherwood Blog, and then select the event called New York In Merida.(Sorry, I couldn’t make the extended link work.)

ECPAT-USA’s Protect Children in Tourism Project Supports Communities in Breaking the Silence

Mexico’s Quintana Roo State coast, which stretches from Cancun to Tulum and includes the island of Cozumel, is a prime tourist destination – about half of the Americans visiting Mexico today are headed for Cancun airport. Since 2004, the Protect Children in Tourism (PCT) Project has been working on the ground, in partnership with local communities, to prevent this beautiful, sun-filled vacation spot from becoming a sex tourism destination. The project builds on ECPAT’s work around the world in eliminating child sex tourism.

ECPAT-USA is a children’s rights organization and a member of a global network of organizations and individuals. It aims to protect all children from prostitution, pornography, and trafficking for sexual purposes. No one denies that any kind of exploitation of children is wrong and should be stopped. However, the risk of sexual exploitation is always high in popular destinations such as Cancun, whose commercial livelihood depends largely on tourism. The challenge in any country is to support a flourishing tourism industry while promoting policies that ensure that the human rights and dignity of its children are respected.

One of the first steps is to learn about the problem and make efforts to prevent it. Through its extensive training and awareness-raising activities, the PCT project works with all sectors of society to establish a protective environment for children.

The Code of Conduct Is Supported by Responsible Travel and Tourism Companies

The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, created in 1998 by ECPAT-Sweden, in conjunction with the travel industry and the UN World Tourism Organization, is an instrument of self-regulation and corporate social responsibility, that provides increased protection to children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. It sets out clear processes and protocols for tourism professionals who want to “do the right thing” – prevent sexual exploitation in tourism. ECPAT-USA’s Protect Children in Tourism Project is dedicated to promoting the Code – among tourism professionals in Mexico and Belize as well as in the United States.

Among other things, the Code helps companies adopt an ethical policy against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Under the PCT project, ECPAT-USA trains the private sector to implement the Code so all the employees in the tourism industry – from hotel employees and trade association members to taxicab drivers to people who run tours to visit the theme parks – are aware of what sexual exploitation of children is and the harm it can cause and know what to do if they witness any suspicious behavior on the part of their guests. Through implementation of the Code, the companies also promote prevention by making the tourists aware that the sexual exploitation of children is criminal. Because of the Code, companies can protect themselves from sex tourism and, most important of all, thanks to the commitment of the private and public sector, children can grow up and thrive in a safe environment.

As of today, the Code has over 900 members in 32 countries. It is recognized among tourism industry associations, children rights and protection organizations, governments, and international organizations as one of the most reliable and efficient tools to prevent sexual exploitation of children in tourism.

With ECPAT-USA’s assistance, Delphinus, a Mexican company that runs five dolphin parks (aquariums where tourists can swim with dolphins) in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, recruited the local soccer team, Atlante, to increase awareness about the issue. Posters sporting the slogan “We Must Never Allow that Smile To Be Wiped Away” were displayed in and around the Cancun soccer stadium, gas stations, and shops, reminding everyone that it is up to each and every one of them to participate in the fight against the commercial and sexual exploitation of children.

So far, five soccer stars from the Atlante team have associated their names and reputations to the campaign. So has Paulina Gaitan, a young Mexican movie star, who says: “We cannot allow those people who take advantage of kids’ vulnerability and end their childhood.” Paulina, who starred in the movie “Trade,” says that fighting against the sexual exploitation of children will do nothing short of “making a better Mexico.” Paulina is also featured in a short public service announcement, made in conjunction with Delphinus, which is shown is closed-circuit hotel channels in a number of Cancun hotels.

Hotels are training their staff members so they are aware of the hotel’s policy against sexual exploitation of children in tourism and are producing awareness-raising and prevention materials for tourists as well. Oasis Hotels has been giving prevention messages to tourists for many years now. Barceló Hotels – an international chain, whose headquarters in Spain has signed the Code – has produced brochures for their guests. Palladium has inserted messages on their internal room-TV channels and Palace Hotels have organized more than seven training-of-trainers sessions. Small hotels such as Vista del Mar Akumal, Nueva Vida de Ramiro, and Enchanting Group are also doing their part by training their staff members, as is Omni Puerto Aventuras. Others, such Radisson and Sol Meliá, whose corporate headquarters signed in the US and Spain respectively, also have included the policy of implementing the Code in every hotel they have throughout the world, including Cancun and the whole Riviera Maya.

Mexico Leading the Way in Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation

Since the beginning of the project, the wide range of sectors of the tourism industry in Quintana Roo have embraced PCT’s message. Training has already reached thousands of employees, and hotels are continually adapting the training courses to their own needs. A system of training-of-trainers creates a multiplier effect that ensures continuity in the years to come, long after the project itself has ended.

Just reporting instances of sexual exploitation, however, does not mean that the report will receive the appropriate attention or follow-up. Law enforcement agencies, too, need to be trained to know how to identify, investigate and refer cases of child sexual exploitation. In 2007 and again in 2008, training in the new criminal law protecting children, investigation techniques, and sex tourism in general was provided to police officers in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in conjunction with the Special Prosecutor for crimes against women. This government agency –Fiscalía Especial de Delito–Relacionados con la Violencia Contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA – is now promoting the Code in other areas of Mexico.


Casa Catherwood is a wonderful contributor to our community. It is a privately owned museum, fair-trade gift shop, book store, and restaurant that also hosts dozens of events for non-profit organizations, including Pronatura. Visit Casa Catherwood.The museum, which is upstairs, contains a breathtaking collection of lithographs of paintings by Charles Catherwood (documentary artist who travelled with John Stevens – their adventures are chronicled in the two-volume Incidents of Travel In the Yucatan.) If you haven’t already seen it, you will be delighted with the loving restoration of this old Merida building.

Casa Catherwood hours:

Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Address/Direccion: Calle 59 #572 & Calle 72, Santiago, Colonia Centro

Our telephone numbers / Nuestros numeros telefonicos:

(999) 154-55-65 (Mexico)

(917) 880-8587 (For U.S. and Canada residents)

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in General Blog, Merida Expat Life. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Prevent Child Sex Tourism in Yucatan

  1. Jane says:

    What is really upsetting is when the police use the excuse of protecting the Children from sex as they break down the doors of consenting adults and drag the women sex providers well over 30 years old out of their beds naked with assault rifles to their heads and abuse them for their own enjoyment. So it would be wonderful if all the protection, laws, and money being poured into saving the children really was saving the children. This is a excuse and a witch hunt for adult prostitutes. After all how hard is it to arrest them, call them make an appointment and go over and arrest them. Trying to find a child sex ring is dangerous and the police don’t want to face a gun pointing in their own direction.

  2. David Marcuse says:

    Jane, i couldn’t agree with you more about how silly it is for police to get involved in victimless crimes.
    But exploiting children is another matter.
    I have several corporate clients in southeast Asia who I visit periodically and what I see there is heartbreaking. Six-year-old being sold on the street. People approach me and offer boys or girls, whatever I want. These children don’t have a chance of normal lives, if they even live to be adults. This program in Mexico sounds interesting.

  3. Christofer says:

    If you knew more about the abject corruption of the police in Quintana Roo, it would probably help understand the situation. I’m not sure where Jane’s information comes from, but it is perfectly plausible based on what news accounts have reported on those departments.

    A former governor of Quintana Roo was ‘owned’ by drug traffickers and is now in Federal prison after fleeing the country and later being arrested. A Mexican Army General and his military aide who were sent to take over Federal anti-drug efforts was assassinated due to the local police tipping off drug cartel hit men as to his location.

    Various mayors of Cancun (translation: “snake pit” in the Maya language) have either been corrupt – stealing money to line their own pockets and not paying city workers – or working for the drug cartels. Full blown riots at city hall have taken place in the recent past.

    Far more than child prostitution, Cancun and the coast is an enormous source of drug trafficking due to the world-wide travel of all the tourists visiting there.

    In the past, Americans who lived in remote areas have been found murdered, possibly because they stumbled upon the landing of drug shipments by the fast boats that infest the coast.

    Child prostitution is a terrible thing, but to think that the vastly corrupt police of Quintana Roo are about to do anything about it may be a pipe dream.

    The good news is that the Merida and Yucatan state police forces are the polar opposites of those in Quintana Roo. While not without occasional fault, the degree of transparency and honesty practiced in Yucatan allows us to have faith in law enforcement in Merida.

  4. BG says:

    Christofer – So what’s your point? That because the Cancun police are corrupt we should just stand on the sidelines and watch?
    Anyway, this event is about Merida and the state of Yucatan.

  5. Christofer says:

    I think my point was that expecting the QR police departments to “do the right thing” versus continue corrupt ways perhaps may lead to disappointment.

    The event may be about Merida and Yucatan, but the article above contains numerous references to QR and Cancun.

    Nobody is suggesting that child exploitation should take place at all. But at the same time, a “campaign” that only empowers corrupt police to become more abusive or to become abusive in new areas won’t solve the problem. And may make it worse.

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