Cuba and Canada have signed an agreement to cooperate to fight child sexual exploitation, more than five years after a media investigation claimed that Canadian men were "among the most numerous sexual predators" in the Caribbean nation.
Under the agreement, initialed by representatives from Cuba’s Ministry of Interior and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the two countries have pledged to track the exploitation of children and adolescents for the sex trade, pornography or other forms of sexual abuse.
"While Canada and Cuba have worked closely together on investigations, this new agreement formalizes their respective roles and responsibilities and solidifies this important partnership," a statement by the RCMP said.
"Strong cooperation – through communication and information‑sharing – between law enforcement in originating and destination countries is key to the prosecution of transnational child sex offenders who may otherwise slip through jurisdictional cracks and continue to use travel and tourism to access and sexually exploit children."
A report presented at the end of last year stipulated that eight foreigners were serving sentences in Cuba for sexual crimes against minors: three Italians, two Spanish, one German, one Indian and one British man, according to the Cuban news agency ACN.
A joint investigation in 2013 by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald, a Miami Spanish-language newspaper suggested a wider problem, however.
It found that men from Canada, generally between 40 and 60 years of age, were "traveling to Cuba in surprising numbers to sexually exploit young people" by taking advantage of loopholes in Canadian law aimed at monitoring sex offenders.
The report said the island was attractive to Canadian men because it was closer and cheaper than some popular southeast Asian destinations and its HIV rates are dramatically lower than in most countries.
About a million Canadians travel to Cuba on holiday every year.
Cuban authorities denied the problem at the time, it was reported.
The island has a national 2017-2020 action plan of “zero tolerance” against sex-related crimes, tracking and apprehending human traffickers and offering protection to its victims.
Sex tourism and trafficking involving children is a global scourge, according to child welfare activists.
"Transnational child sexual abuse is a global problem which impacts every region of the world," Ralph Goodale, Canada's Minister of Public Safety, said in a statement following the signing of the agreement. "It is an intolerable crime with devastating consequences for its victims. Strengthening this important partnership with Cuba will assist the prosecution of child sex offenders, help build long-term solutions and better ensure the safety of children."
ACN said the document reinforces "both countries’ willingness to respect the objectives of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography."
Marie-Claude Arsenault, a superintendent of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police charged with tracking sexual abuse of minors by Canadian citizens, said the agreement provides a legal framework for pursuing cases leading to the prosecution of sexual crimes against women and minors in both countries.
Under Canada's Criminal Code, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada may be charged at home for a sexual offense against a child committed in a foreign country.
As of December 2016, registered sex offenders (RSOs) convicted of a child sex offense are required to notify Canadian police of any international travel.