It is a hot afternoon in the dirty little street, so hot that even the puddles left by the monsoon a few hours earlier have already evaporated. In the shade beneath the awning of a bar – men lounge on plastic chairs, sipping beer and talking. Their features and white skin mark them out as foreigners among the bustling brown bodies.
This is Kovallam, a beach rated as one of the best in Asia. Other than water sports, its sole distinguishing feature is that it is lined with brothels full of underage boys and girls. Westerners, with a penchant for immoral experimentation, tired of preying on middle-aged prostitutes, are drawn to Kovallam where the kids or “players” are as young as six months and their services cost only Rs 50. It is a place where pedophiles from all over the world go to indulge themselves. After satiating their appetite, they sit back and snort ‘coke’ or eat a local shrimp delight while facing the beach and enjoying the pleasant sights. Among the American, Canadian, Latin, Australian, Japanese, Carribean and Scandinavian accents, there are voices with more familiar cadences – British pedophiles are well represented in the ranks of those who use the shanty whorehouses.
The pimps and the “madams” are happy. After a police crackdown on Child Sex Tourism in Thailand, Senegal, Cambodia and Brazil; Kovallam (having a police force who believes that their job is only to chase bank robbers) has evolved as the Child Sex tourism hub of Asia. Through a convenient marketing channel, a website provides potential child sex tourists with pornographic accounts written by other child sex tourists. These websites supply all the information about sex tour travel agents, sex exploits, services provided, quality of “players’ offered and charges. There are about twenty- five such websites. One particular website promises nights of sex “with 2 young Thai girls – each 4 years old – for the price of a tank of gas”. Making travel plans to Kovallam is easy. While strolling on the beaches, being propositioned by the pimps hawking for business is common. “You want a young girl, little girl?” they ask. If no reply comes, they try a different tack, “You want a young boy or may be a virgin infant?” The emphasis is always on “young”. Why else, they reason, would a westerner be here?
Kovallam is a sweet shop. If you do not like this “player”, you can pick any other. Most of the “players” are local, they say, sold into temporary slavery by parents desperate to bail themselves out of debt. Others are trafficked from neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. The expensive ones are from Vietnam and Cambodia. The infants are provided by the orphanages and NGOs established for welfare of the forsaken toddlers. The young ones, aged 2- 10 years, quoted at Rs 500 for 2 hours a night – sold four times a night – make good business. They are lent out as “day escorts” for Rs 1000. After selling their virginity for thousands of dollars before their fifteenth birthday, they are usually bowed down by venereal diseases or physical ailments like tuberculosis, exhaustion, infections, physical injuries resulting from violence inflicted by sadists – they become sex peddlers, take up drugs, commit suicide or are killed by pimps on becoming ‘untradeable’.
The daily flow of approximately 100 tourists fleeting in and out of Kovallam as sex tourists are unconcerned by the possibility of retribution from the police. They are comforted by the fact that India is lax about children’s sexual slavery – which is considered to be a passive crime. Along the ‘market’ streets, foreigners can be seen bargaining their purchase. “She has flies all around her and she stinks. I wouldn’t pay one buck more than 500!” Customers compare their lays. “How old is yours?” enquires one. “13”, comes the reply.” Mine is 15”, says another. “15! That’s lousy! My daughter’s that age”, pipes another matter-of-factly. A Scotsman with close-cropped hair, an American from Nevada and a German with a stunted pony-tail fall into conversation.
“Goa was delightful. I hope I get my money’s worth here. Has either of you tried the beaches of Orissa and Tamil Nadu ?”Asks the Scottish. “Yep” smiled the American , “I had been to Tamil Nadu. The brown was satisfactory. Almost half-dead by the time I finished with her. Was groveling for more money. Bah ! The curse of being born in a third world country !” The German thinks aloud , “I wonder if I can cajole the 6 year old to accompany me back home. I could tell her that I will give her a job. My friends will love her.” The depraved conversation continues as the sky clouds over, preparing for another deluge. Next to them, a villager arrives, holding an angelic-looking little girl of perhaps six months. The little doll with a cherubic smile tugs at the German’s pony-tail as he cradles her in his arms and finds his way towards the nearby cabin.
There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of child sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life – an underground of brutality and lonely fear….