Pilgrim centers as Child Abuse hot spots – A backgrounder

Sunshine the best disinfectant?

There was a recent article (25th November, 2009) about increase of Child Abuse in Pilgrimage centers. The article in ToI was criticised by some for being anti-hindu.

Pilgrimage centres turning into sex hotspots: Study

A study of the various reports issued by Equations, one of the NGOs referred to in the article, was done. Excerpts from the paper they presented at the 24th Meeting of the UNWTO Task force on Protection of Children in Tourism, ITB Berlin, 13th March, 2009.


Busting the Myths

There is a widely and conveniently held myth that tourism related child abuse in India is a phenomenon that is sporadic, mostly limited to Goa & Kerala, and linked only to a small section of foreign tourists. A series of studies over the years have clearly highlighted the links between tourism and the rampant existence of child sexual abuse in other parts of the country indicting both domestic and foreign tourists. EQUATIONS’ contribution to some of these studies is mentioned below,

EQUATIONS study Coastal Sex Tourism and Gender (2002) commissioned by the National Commission for Women (NCW), highlighted the prevalence of child sexual abuse and prostitution in Puri, Orissa.

Another study, Situational Analysis of Child Sex Tourism in India (2003, Goa and Kerala), commissioned by ECPAT International, reported a rise in prostitution and trafficking in women and children for the purposes of sex tourism and labour. The study also revealed that child-sex tourism was facilitated with the help of intermediaries who assisted tourists in accessing the children, such as with local hotels and lodges, tour operators, former victims of paedophiles serving as procurers, beach boys, ‘pilots’ or motorcycle taxi drivers, and shack owners.

In 2006, a study on Trafficking of Women and Children in India, commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)provided further evidence of the growing phenomenon of child-sex tourism in pilgrim, coastal tourism and most major tourist destinations such as Kerala, Delhi, Agra-Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur-Rajasthan, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Pondicherry. The study also noted that the beaches of Goa and Kovalam were increasingly becoming destinations for those seeking child prostitutes.

In 2007, the Women and Child Development Minister, Renuka Chowdhury, admitted in response to a question from the floor in the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) that studies conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and teh National Commission for Women (NCW) show that in the name of pilgrim heritage and coastal tourism, sexual exploitation of children is quite widespread.


Cases pointed out

  • Freddy Peats (Male 76, Origin unknown) Goa in the year 1991.
  • Brinkman Helmut (Male 57, German) Goa in Feb, 1999.
  • Duncan Grant (Male 62) and Allan Water (Male 58) both British Nationals convicted by Bombay High Court in March, 2006.
  • Swiss couple Wilhelm Martin (male 61) and Lascher Marty (Female 58) in 2003.
  • Wulf Werner Ingo (Male 54, Australian) – case being pursued from 2005 when he was extradited from Australia.
  • Dominique Sabire French National connected with Freddy Peats mentioned above.
  • Michael Corbett Joseph, Australian national arrested in Kovalam in May 2008 but jumped bail.
  • Jakob Spalti (Male 82, Swiss) in Kovalam based on tip off by the EQUATION study.


Tirupati is well known for the temple of Lord Venkateswara on the Tirumala Hills. One of the most visited religious sites in the world. In 2007 the temple drew over 20 million visitors mostly domestic and non-resident Indians. Very few foreign tourists come to Tirupati. For this case study we interviewed nine children, all male, with ages ranging from eight to eighteen.

The children spoke of domestic tourists who visit them regularly for sex. A few of these tourists prefer to have the same child during their next visit to Tirupati. This is done by contacting the child through phone, or by e-mail (which the children use in cyber cafes) to fix a place and date to meet. There are no middlemen for mediating with the clients. Some of the children were abused when they were as young as six to ten years old. By age fifteen they were engaged in prostitution catering mainly to domestic tourists as well as local people. …..

Puri (Orissa)

Puri is the site of the 12th century temple of Lord Jagannatha. The number of domestic tourist arrival in Puri in 2007 was nearly 6 million and foreign tourism arrivals around 42,000. We also investigated Pentakota, a fishing village near Puri consisting of fishing families who migrated from Andhra Pradesh. We interviewed thirteen male children, eight from Pentakota and five from the Puri beach area. They were between the age of six and eighteen and all were affected by sexual exploitation.

For these children building relationships with foreign tourists was more “profitable” than domestic tourists as foreign tourists provided them with toys, chocolates, cycles, nice dresses and sometimes even money to renovate or build houses.  Most foreign tourists use hotels while domestic tourists use small lodges and rooms in the bars for this purpose. ………

Guruvayoor (Kerala)

Guruvayoor the site of the famous Sree Krishna temple also is a popular destination. In 2006, over one million domestic tourists and about 1,500 foreign tourists visited Guruvayoor. In Guruvayoor the issue of child sexual abuse is less visible. Unlike Tirupati and Puri, children were not seen living on the streets. The ban on child labour being enforced by officials in Kerala resulted in the department’s jeeps prowling the district, and any homeless child seen on the street being picked up. As a result, child abuse cases have become even more hidden and covert.

However in discussions with community members in the surrounding villages, anganwadi teachers and workers, it emerged that it was common knowledge that male children are abused and involved in prostitution. The stories around the prevalence of homosexuality/bisexuality abound, and there seems to be a cultural acceptance of this. In early times, trading by the sea route was common from nearby Chavakkad and Ponnani areas. When men went to sea for several days on end they took smaller boys with them for sexual servicing. In the current scenario many of the men are in the Gulf countries and their remittances back home is a backbone of the economy. When they return, they engage in the abuse of male children. Discussions with women revealed that they often felt relieved that the men were not involved in extra marital relationships or seeking women prostitutes. In Guruvayoor, though law executing bodies have heard about male child sexual exploitation they have not heard of any registered case or any complaint from any one residing in that area. We could not find any evidence of foreigners being involved in child abuse in Guruvayoor. It seemed from the discussions and opinions of community members that tourists who were involved in such abuse were primarily from within Kerala.

The above excerpts deal only with the perpetrators of the crime and not the victims. It can be seen that the study approaches them with a open mind and only with the intention of reporting the truth rather than malign a group.  Let us hope that action is taken at least now.

The NGO can be reached at :


+91-80-2545 7607 / 2545 7659

EQUATIONS, #415, 2C-Cross, 4th Mian, OMBR Layout, Banaswadi, Bangalore 560043, India.



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