The search for the divine has ended at more earthly pleasures. Two independent studies have pointed to a disturbing trend that pilgrimage centres are changing complexion to become hubs for sex tourism. Alarmingly, it is children that are the most vulnerable.
A nationwide study by NGO Gram Niyojan Kendra commissioned by the ministry for women and child development — that studied 68 places of tourist interest — found that after major cities and places for sightseeing, pilgrim centres were a growing hub.
Incidentally, the report said that domestic tourists were “overwhelmingly involved” in sex with commercial sex workers while foreign tourists were “engaged” in paedophilia and sex with minors through short-term marriages. The study, however, clarified that foreign tourists visiting India for sex were restricted to a few places rather than the entire country.
A study by Bangalore-based NGO Equations earlier this year has said that increasing number of cases of child abuse were being reported from pilgrim sites like Tirupati, Guruvayoor and Puri. The study — ‘Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation in Tourism: The Indian Context’ — looked into exploitation of male children, but pointed out that the same was true for women as well.
Both reports have also pointed to the lack of legislation at the state level or detrimental measures to control sex offenders from revisiting sites. Troubled by reports of such blatant violations, the Union tourism ministry is now working on a code of conduct for ethical tourism.