Cristina Odone spots a sex tourist
In Goa, the loner among the hotel guests squats and talks to the boys on the beach reports Cristina
As holiday snaps go, it wasn't a happy one. The hotel in Goa was made up of a dozen independent wooden huts overlooking the sea. May is considered off-season, so fewer than half of the huts were occupied. But you couldn't help but get to know your fellow guests, as you bumped into one another in the restaurant and by the pool.
But one guest kept resolutely to himself. He was the first to appear for his meals, and had wolfed them down by the time the rest of us reached the restaurant; he never came near the pool; and we could see him lolling about in his sarong on the patio outside his hut. Every now and then, we would see him flagging down some of the beach vendors - young boys selling silver jewellery and wicker baskets - and when they drew near, he would squat and talk to them. Once I saw him hand over a packet of Marlboros to one delighted youth.
I asked the manager about him. He shrugged, his expression neutral: "He's an Englishman. He asks me to change about a hundred sterling every week. We think he's buying favours."
Buying favours is big business in Goa. For decades, western tourists flocked to this region to buy sex with children. It was easy: they didn't need to haunt bordellos or slums. They didn't even need to deal with the 400,000 or so children who, according to a 1994 Unicef study, are involved in India's sex industry. No, in a region where the average annual wage is among the lowest in the world, you can pick up children on the street, as they make their way to school or the fields where they work.
And you don't need to worry about their parents turning you in to the authorities, either: many poor Indian families have turned a blind eye to foreign paedophiles molesting their children. Sex can mean survival.
Recently, the Goan authorities have been trying to crack down on the whole sordid business: huge billboards warn that sex tourism "does not guarantee a prosperous future for Goa".
There are no statistics for British sex tourists - Britain has refused to copy Australia, Germany and the US, which have recently passed laws that allow prosecution of child sex tourists upon their return home. But it does seem ironic to think that here, people wish for a Fortress Britain that can keep dirty foreigners out; abroad, they wish for a fortress that would pen dirty Britons in.