Combating Child Exploitation Tourism in Costa Rica
"Another thing that you have to understand about Costa Rica�, according to Ted, �is that sex means something very different here. It is �natural�, is �beautiful�, it is part of the way of life, girls are so willing and open, they want to please. They are sexual from the age of 6.� (O�Connell Davidson & Sanchez Taylor, 1996)
Nature is not the proper province for morality. We do not apply moral judgments to natural phenomena.� (O�Connell Davidson & Sanchez Taylor, 1996)
When I read these comments made by sex tourists who sexually exploited children in Costa Rica I literally started to cry. It just makes me so angry that something as logically and naturally as protecting the rights of all children in the world, protecting our future generation, is not understood by so many people in the world. From the moment I saw a documentary by the NGO Casa Alianza, broadcasted in the Netherlands a few years ago I was frustrated about this dark side of the world wide tourism industry; an industry which has the potential to bring happiness to so many people, but turns out to bring tragedy to so many people at the same time.

Every time when I read an article in the newspaper referring to this phenomenon I was thinking about wanting to learn more about the issue and especially about what is being done to fight this worldwide problem. When I started with the Master of Science study Leisure, Tourism & Environment this wish started to become a serious option as a topic for my master thesis. Although I knew this would not be an easy topic to study, and although several people in my environment stressed the difficulties, emotional problems and safety problems that go together with it, I decided to go for it. It just felt good to be able to help in the fight, although I realize I am only one person involved in the issue for a really short time.

It has not been an easy period indeed, for all the reasons I have mentioned, and on top of it I choose Costa Rica as a case study, although I knew almost no Spanish. This was an extra challenge and opportunity for me to learn a new language. First of all I would like to thank Irena Ateljevic for all her help and assistance in guiding me through my research. Her great enthusiasm inspired, encouraged and motivated me during the whole process. The second person I would like to thank is Martijn Duineveld who was willing to be the second reader of this extensive report. Thirdly I would like to thank Paniamor and my colleagues at Paniamor who made it possible for me to experience a great time with such an important NGO and who provided me with a lot of information.

I would like to express my special thanks to Mar�a Teresa Guill�n, who has not only been a great colleague at Paniamor, but who also became a friend during my time in Costa Rica. Furthermore I would like to thank all the participant researchers for their willingness to be interviewed, as most of them have a really busy life. I also want to thank Corina and Cesar and Cesar�s friends and family, the family I lived with for three months. Hearing experiences from others I realize I was really lucky that I have found such great persons to live with and spend my free time with. They have played an important role in making my stay in Costa Rica a great experience. Last but not least I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me through the whole process.
Wageningen University
Wageningen, the Netherlands
Department of Environmental Sciences
Socio-Spatial Analysis, SAL 80433
Supervisor: Irena Ateljevic
Examiners: Irena Ateljevic & Martijn Duineveld


All over the world children are being abused in the sex industry. Most of the times we only hear, see and read about the issue being a problem, but nothing about what is being done to fight it. More and more initiatives are being developed on local, regional, national and international level to fight child sex tourism. The aim of this thesis was to get a better insight in the stricter fight against child sex tourism in Costa Rica, by analyzing what is happening in the field.

In order to reach this goal I have attempted to answer the following sub questions:

1. How can Costa Rica be described with regard to its history, politics, culture and economy?
2. How (and why) is the situation in Costa Rica with regard to child sex tourism sustained?
3. How does Costa Rica succeed with its fight against child sex tourism?

In the theoretical framework I have elaborated on the, in my view, important concepts of globalization, power structures and sustainable development before continuing with a literature review of the (child) sex tourism literature. I have ended this chapter with a model which represents the way how I see the situation of child sex tourism in a country. The study is being conducted from a post-colonial/post-structural feminist perspective within the critical theory paradigm, seeking to investigate the phenomenon by means of a symbolic interactionist/ethnographic methodology using a case-study as the method.

The Costa Rican NGO Paniamor, an affiliate from ECPAT International, was my home base from where I conducted my research. I used qualitative as well as quantitative research methods, such as desk research, workshops, semi-structured interviews, participant observation and informal talks. I conducted twenty semi-structured interviews with representatives of NGO�s, government institutions and the tourism industry and besides the capital city San Jos� I went to the beach towns Jaco and Tamarindo to observe and conduct interviews. In the coding process of my data I went through three different phases: open coding, axial coding and selective coding.

Following the theoretical framework I have located the way how Costa Rica deals with its problem of child sex tourism within structures of inequality [power structures], globalization, and the ambitions of Costa Rica towards sustainable development. All these structures are being influenced by certain cultural, political, historical and economical factors characterizing the Costa Rican society.

Although Costa Rica is definitely moving forward with its fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially compared to its neighboring countries, there are still many challenges which Costa Rica needs to overcome. Nevertheless, every child that is rescued due to the several initiatives which have been carried out makes the fight against child sex tourism definitely worthwhile.
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