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Pilgrim sites turn sex tourism hubs

india Updated: Mar 13, 2009 01:15 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Puri, Tirupati and Guruvayoor aren’t just famous for their temples. They’re also major hubs of sex tourism involving children. This is the finding of a new study on sex tourism in religious places in India.

According to the year-long ‘India Child Abuse Study 2007’, conducted by international NGO Equations in the three pilgrimage sites of Orissa and Kerala, children — especially boys — are a huge attraction. It says boys from poor families are trafficked to these places for visiting religious tourists.

Children make up nearly 40 per cent (375 million) of India’s population. The country has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of sexually abused children in the world.

In Puri, home to the Jagannath temple, 13 boys who were interviewed said they got anything between Rs 50 and Rs 200 a day. They revealed they preferred foreign tourists to domestic visitors because foreigners gave them chocolates, toys and clothes.

In Tirupati, principal investigator S. Vidya of Equations tracked down nine boys involved in the trade. “The children are contacted on phone or by email from a cyber café and the date and place to meet are fixed,” the study said.

The Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society admitted Tirupati, the most visited religious place in the world, had become a “hotspot” for commercial sexual exploitation.

Most of the children come from poor families and are forced into the trade. Once in, chances of getting out are slim. Money is a huge factor in this.

Most children don’t object to the exploitation because they get many things in return. “Foreigners take the children with them for a few days and their families get a handsome amount for this,” the study said.

Compared to Tirupati and Puri, there is less exploitation of children in Guruvayoor. The main reason for this is the ban on child labour, the study said.