Country information: Laos
AT A GLANCE
236 800 square kilometres
6,83 million (July 2009)
Lao (other languages: English and French)
Gross national product per capita
US$ 2 100 (2008)
2.32 % (2009)
56,7 years (2009)
77,8 per 1 000 live births (2009)
Rate of illiteracy
31,3 % (2003)
The tourism sector has next to no economic significance in Laos. According to UNWTO in 2005, approximately 236 000 guests visited the country and brought 118 million Euro into the country. 70 percent of the tourists came from Thailand. Around 10,000 tourists a year visit from German-speaking countries. Most tourists come to Vientaine, where they stay on average only a few days.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism
Cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children in connection with tourism are rare in Laos itself. However, owners of brothels and slave traders in neighbouring countries exploit the desperate situation of the Laotian. They come to Laos and lure children and young women to Thailand or the Philippines with promises of education and well-paid jobs. Cases are becoming increasingly frequent in which poor families fall for such stories and sell their children. But this happens less from a lack of scruples and more out of ignorance and desperation.
The countries of Southeast Asia have a very high number of victims of child prostitution. According to UNICEF approximately one million children are forced to prostitution.
As a result of the common belief in many Asian countries that sexual intercourse with virgins and children has a rejuvenating and revitalising effect, there has been an increase in the abductions of children in Laos. This development is also linked to the widespread superstition that children become less easily infected with HIV. Of course, this is not true. Particularly in the case of children, whose immune system is often weakened as a result of the effects of poverty, there is a high risk of infection as a result of forced sexual intercourse with adults, because in addition to harmful psychological effects, they frequently suffer severe physical injury.
Laos ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on May 8, 1991, and has undertaken to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, including the abduction of children for prostitution in other countries.
Anyone observing a case of child abuse should report this to the tour operator, the tour guide and/or the hotel manager. The local police, embassies and non-governmental organisations also follow up cases reported to them.
HIV / Aids
According to estimates by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, in 2007 some 5.500 Laotians were infected with HIV, including 1.300 women. In the same year less than 100 Laotians died following infection with HIV. Thus HIV is not playing a dramatic role in Laos. But the number of infected person increased between 2001 and 2007 rapidly and quintupled.
Village Focus International
P.O. Box 4697
Vientiane, Lao P.D.R.
Phone/Fax: +856 21 425080
CIVILIZATION AND CULTURE
State and society
Laos is a people's republic. Head of state is the President, who heads a council of ministers. There is also a national assembly as legislature. The Laotian Revolutionary People's Party is the only political party permitted. Critics of the one-party system face prison sentences, despite signs of democratic tendencies.
The population of Laos is mainly Laotian, but there are also Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indian minorities.
The Laotian Democratic People's Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world. In large areas of the country there is no clean drinking water. About half the children are malnourished, and infant mortality is extremely high. The opening up of the country for economic exchange is in its early stages and has not yet brought any improvements for the people. Most of the population lives in extreme poverty, one-third of the men and two-thirds of the women are illiterate.
Much of the back-breaking work in the rice fields is carried out by women. In most cases they do not have the education or the means to overcome their poverty. Many seek their future in the towns and cities, some emigrate to neighbouring countries. Such moves are becoming easier as the country opens up its economy and improves its road and rail infrastructure.
The economy of Laos is based on agriculture, which was collectivised in 1975. Some 80 per cent of the population live from farming, and the main crop is rice. There is very little industrialisation, and no exportable products are produced.