Sexual Tourism in Morocco

Sexual Tourism in Morocco

By Youssef El Kaidi

Morocco World News

Fez, January 22, 2013

It’s been noted by many commentators that Morocco, recently, has become an attraction for sexual and pleasure seeking tourists from all over the world by virtue of the new international context of globalization, openness and travel facilities. This new phenomenon has become more menacing especially after the breaking sex scandals reported every now and then here and there in Moroccan cities. The names of some of these cities have become directly linked to prostitution, and pedophilia such as Marrakech, Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat not to mention other smaller towns all over Morocco. However, this socially, culturally and morally ominous phenomenon has received less serious concern, if any, because sex issues have always been taboos in our society and, hence, socially and officially treated with reticence and caveats. But facts tell us that sexual tourism in Morocco is really ‘booming’.

Facts about Sexual Tourism in Morocco

Many commentators and journalists hold that after Tsunami’s destruction of the infrastructure of sexual tourism in southern Asia, tourists in search of sexuality and human bodies shifted their interest to Morocco as a new preferred destination with growing potentials in this regard, especially with the vulnerability and impracticability of the Penal Code.

Morocco, many people assume, is internationally ranked the second after Thailand as far as sexual tourism is concerned. Hence, the historic, cultural and natural richness of cities like Marrakech, Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat has been badly tarnished by the vice of sexual tourism. Al Morrakchia[1] online news outlet almost daily reports a number of sex scandals in Marrakech and attributes the increase of this phenomenon to the lenience in Moroccan judiciary system towards sex criminals. In this regard, Abdelkrim Yassine, a journalist in Assahrae Al-Maghribiya newspaper, writes:

We can say that the reason why foreigners prefer Morocco in general and Marrakech in particular is due to the lenience shown by the authorities. They encourage such kind of tourism by tolerating the illegal sexual services of many luxurious hotels.[2]

Officially, sexual tourism in Morocco does not exist apart from some intermittent deviant practices that take place anywhere else in the world. However, journalistic reports and investigations say and prove otherwise. In one of its reports, Assabah daily broadsheet asserts that in Casablanca alone there is about five thousands furnished houses and villas providing sexual services to European and Gulf tourists. Some of these villas go to rich investors from the Gulf States who implicitly promote sexual tourism industry in Morocco while ostensibly pretending commercial and touristic goals.

In another report, Assabah newspaper affirms that due to the reluctant alertness of the authorities in the biggest cities like Marrakech, Agadir, Rabat and Casablanca sexual tourism networks have moved northward to cities like Tangiers and Tetouan. In Martil for example, a whole district is reserved for sexual tourism industry and the number of furnished houses the intermediaries rent is estimated in two hundred houses, the fact which arises the fear that Martil would soon become a sex tourism attraction par excellence.

As I mentioned earlier, sex tourism in Morocco is officially covered up so as not to spoil the country’s reputation. Yet, news of breaking sex scandals spread and impart nationally and internationally through media and newspapers and recently through a number of mushrooming ‘scoop’ pages on Facebook. In 2005, national newspapers probed into the details of an outrageous sex crime in Agadir committed by a journalist from Belgium called Philip Servaty.

During the three years of his residence in the city (from 2001 to 2004) the man used to court and entice young ladies into his house and shot them in graphic pornographic scenes and poses. The records, somehow, appeared on a CD which secretly circulated widely not only in Agadir but also in other Moroccan cities. Also, this pornographic record was launched on the internet. Twelve of the women implicated in this scandal were sentenced to one year imprisonment while the perpetrator was released unquestioned. On February the 1st, 2012, a Belgian court sentenced Philip Servaty to two years of suspended imprisonment for his crimes. This is justice!!!

Child Sex Tourism in Morocco

The estimated number of child sex tourism victims annually is about 300 million all over the world. In Morocco, sex tourism involving young children in popular tourist destinations does really exist, but it remains always difficult to uncover due to cultural taboos against the open discussion of sex. According to the National Monitoring Center for Child Rights (NMCC) in Rabat, 43 percent of children making distress calls have reported sexual abuse by foreigners (usually tourists) since the center began its monitoring from 1999 to 2003. These abused children are victims of sex tourists, especially those from the Gulf States and European countries.

Marrakech is well known of its widespread abuse of children within the prostitution industry and attracts many child sex tourists each year according to the report made by the M6 French channel. In addition, girls and boys working as domestic servants and street vendors are increasingly vulnerable to child sex tourism, particularly in the cities of Marrakech and Casablanca.[3] In general, most child sex tourism’s victims are children exposed to poverty, family breakdown, homelessness, child labour, trafficking, and adoption.

Causes of Sexual Tourism in Morocco

Sexual tourism is generally a phenomenon which is pervasive worldwide but with varying degrees from society to another. Khalid Semmouni, Coalition Goodwill ambassador, states:  “this problem also exists in other Arab countries, but it is much more severe in Morocco, since this country is open to the West and also due to its geographical position.”[4]

Actually, the causes of this phenomenon cannot be limited to a certain number as they may vary according to the socio-economic and cultural specificities of such or such a society.  However, most researches and studies carried in this regard meet upon the fact that poverty, family breakdown, and child and young women trafficking are the major causes.

As far as Morocco is concerned, The International Coalition for Responsible and Respectful Tourism (ICRRT) recently published a report on the resurgence of Morocco’s sex tourism industry, uncovering numerous causes of the phenomenon and proposing plausible solutions. The report which was compiled by the Moroccan coalition Goodwill ambassador Khalid Semmouni indicates close links between sex tourism, globalization and the opening of borders, adding that people are always bound to be attracted by what seems to be exotic. The report adds that poverty and exclusion are also among the causes and have contributed to the prevalence of prostitution in Morocco.

Other causes cited by the report include the violation of children’s socio-economic rights; a lack of public education on sex and human rights, especially for children; the disintegration of family structures; domestic abuse and a lack of responsibility on the part of schools.

In addition, the report remarked that the lenience of Morocco’s legislation on child rape and the lack of a national action plan to protect children from violence are also major causes of prostitution and child sex tourism. This irresponsibility from the parts of Morocco towards this growing phenomenon is in fact a violation of international agreements especially that we know that Morocco has ratified the 1949 Convention against the sexual exploitation of women, CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) and the Convention on Child Rights. The report proposes that the Penal Code be strengthened to more effectively counter the sexual abuse of women and children.

Among the solutions that the report proposes is the use of media to inform the public  and sensitize the families to the dangers of prostitution and the sex trade’s impact on our society, and also the organization of trainings for members of the judiciary to guarantee faster responses to young people’s needs.

Despite the considerable government efforts, including the creation of tourism police in Marrakesh in 1994 and the conviction of over 40 tourists for pedophilia and prostitution offences since 2001 to 2008, human rights activists in the country insist that Morocco still has a long way to go to eradicate the problem. The number of sex tourism scandals every year is really alarming. After the colonization of land for 44 years, it seems the country is under a new kind of exploitation, a new kind of colonization which is the colonization of the body!!


[1] An online news outlet in Arabic : http://www.almarrakchia.net/

[2] http://www.almarrakchia.net/fiche-510.html

[3] You can see the report on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3f6_Cj5lzA

[4] Adapted from: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/fr/features/awi/features/2007/12/28/feature-01

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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