Combating Child Sex Tourism in South-east Asia: Law Enforcement Cooperation and Civil Society Partnerships


Melissa Curley


Senior Lecturer

Faculty of Social Sciences

University of Queensland

Melissa is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Political Science and International Studies. Her research and teaching interests include Southeast Asian politics and international relations, Cambodian politics and post-conflict reconstruction, and non-traditional security in East Asia.


My research examines the legal opportunities for prosecuting foreign nationals (in countries of offence and through extra-territorial prosecution) that travel abroad to sexually exploit children. I argue for the importance of cooperation between civil society groups and law enforcement to get prosecutions to court.

Sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism industry is a massive problem, and a growing phenomenon. Southeast Asia is one of the regions that have been hit hard, and the problem must be addressed by both the destination countries and the offenders’ home countries. I found that there is a substantial amount of cooperation going on between civil society advocating for children’s right of protection and local and international law enforcement.

However, there is very little in the academic and legal literature on how they cooperate. What are the benefits of that cooperation and what are the risks of it? In what kind of cooperation do they engage?

I used a case study of an actual prosecution that took place against an Australian offender against Cambodian children. The prosecution was a cooperation between Cambodian police and Australian federal police where civil society organisations also contributed. I analysed how the evidence was brought to court, what kind of evidence they used, the sentencing, and the outcome of the case.

Key Findings

As NGOs are on the ground, they can play an important role passing important information to the police, and this significantly helps to bring justice for children that have experienced sexual exploitation

    How to apply research

    It is important to map out the current cooperation mechanisms between civil society organisations, child protection services and law enforcement. What are the benefits, what are the parts of best practice that are positive and what are the potential risks and negative sides of the current practice?
    Another recommendation would be to create dialogue mechanisms between child protection NGOs and local and international law enforcement. This way, the parties can swap experiences and understand where they can cooperate effectively within the context of the law to benefit child protection.
    This research could be relevant for other high profile tourist spots where child sex tourism occurs, e.g., other Southeast Asian countries, and several countries in West Africa.

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      About this research

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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      UN Sustainable Development Goals

      This research contributes to the following SDGs

      What findings means

      One of the major findings is that child protection organisations and the rest of civil society can work very cooperatively with law enforcement to bring justice for children that have experienced sexual exploitation. This is often because NGOs are on the ground, and thus they can pass on important information to the police.

      In order to limit risks, it is important to establish best practice in the forms of cooperation; when NGOs work outside of the law, this is fundamentally detrimental to the rule of law of the country in question. As we see an increase in online offences, the importance of best practices also increases, in order to help the families of the affected children access the justice system.


      With respect to the interviews, I conducted about 12 separate interviews, with child protection NGO workers, other NGOs, with Australian federal police and with Cambodian police. In addition to this and the case law review, I used secondary sources in the form of legal literature on international child sex tourism.

      The research is mainly a specific case study of child sex tourism that has occurred in Cambodia. Thus, while some of the general findings and discussion around partnerships and cooperation might be useful for other jurisdictions, other Southeast Asian countries have different legal systems and thus demand their own analyses.

      Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

      Curley, Melissa. ‘Combating Child Sex Tourism in South-East Asia: Law Enforcement Cooperation and Civil Society Partnerships’. Journal of Law and Society 41, no. 2 (June 2014): 283–314.

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      for helping to prepare this research