Prostitution of boys at India's pilgrim sites called rampant

Prostitution of boys at India's pilgrim sites called rampant New Delhi - Sexual exploitation of boys in three of India's major pilgrimage centres is pervasive and on the rise, a study released Tuesday said.

The study focused on male children in prostitution at Hindu temple sites of Puri in eastern Orissa state and Tirupati and Guruvayoor in southern Andhra Pradesh and Kerala states.

It was conducted by Ecpat, an international network that aims to stop sexual exploitation of children, and Indian non-governmental organization Equations.

The study found that in these centres, development of tourism had led to sexual exploitation of children, in the form of child abuse, child trafficking, child prostitution, child sex tourism and child pornography.

"There is a dearth of information on male child sexual exploitation and prostitution due to the assumption that most sexual exploiters are men and therefore their victims are women or girls. However, this is not true," said S Vidya, a coordinator with the Equations.

"The double standards that society has about homosexuality and the fact that it is criminalized in India only makes the problem less visible."

In Tirupati, which receives mostly Indians, a survey of boys aged between 6 and 18 years revealed that sexual abuse of boys is rampant due to demand from domestic tourists. Pressure on boys to earn a living for the family was cited as a reason why they were forced into prostitution.

"Family members saw less risk when male children are involved in selling sex as compared to girls, as the social stigma is less and the fear of pregnancy does not exist," the report said.

In Puri, boys interviewed reported that both domestic and foreign tourists were involved in the sexual exploitation.

"A number of massage parlours and health clubs have mushroomed in Puri that primarily cater to foreign and domestic tourists, where prostitution takes place involving both adults and children," the study said.

In Guruvayoor, child sexual abuse was less visible but discussions with locals revealed that several boys were involved in prostitution, selling sex to domestic tourists and locals.

The groups urged the Indian government to set up agencies to safeguard children and tighten laws to stop child sex tourism, including severe punishment for convicted offenders. (dpa)