DENPASAR — More than 70,000 children across Asia are being used by sex tourists, mainly in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, an independent expert said Thursday.

Frans van Dijk of Dutch aid group Terre Des Hommes Netherlands told Agence France-Presse on the sidelines of a conference here that the numbers of children working in the sex tourism trade was on the rise.

“It’s difficult to work out the real number but we are sure that the reality is much more” than estimates of 60,000 to 70,000, he said at the three-day Southeast Asia Conference on Child Sex Tourism.

He said victims and their parents were generally reluctant to report abuse due to shame and embarrassment, or were paid to stay quiet.

The situation was especially bad in Asia because some Asian men believed that having sex with children increased longevity, he said.

Indonesian expert Irwanto, of the National Coalition for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, said children were “groomed” for prostitution with financial incentives such as payment of school fees.

Children in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and cyclones were particularly at risk, especially orphans or those who had lost a parent.

“Children in disaster-affected areas like Aceh are a particular concern because they are very vulnerable to this form of grooming,” he said.

The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed around 170,000 people in Aceh, a province on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island.– Agence France-Presse