Although economies worldwide are close to recession, one business is booming - the sexual exploitation of children. The United Nations believes that each year, one million children are trafficked for sex in a multibillion-dollar trade. It is surely one of the saddest facts of modern society that children can be so frequently and easily taken advantage of. More advanced global transport and communications have made the exploitation of children easier than ever before. A conference in the Japanese city of Yokohama this week will bring the issue to international attention and expose the horrors of the trade. At least 3,000 delegates at the meeting, the Unicef-sponsored Second World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, voluntary groups supporting the 1989 convention and the Japanese Government - will examine strategies to stem the trade. But putting a stop to a business that mostly operates underground is no easy task. The Internet has made the trade increasingly lucrative and better organised. Criminal gangs can co-ordinate across borders and stay a step ahead of the authorities. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, writing in a Unicef report released to coincide with the conference, said that 'poverty, family breakdown, gender discrimination, consumerism, tourism, lack of political will and weak enforcement of laws' were key reasons for the burgeoning exploitation of children. In the Philippines in 1986, 20,000 children were estimated to be in the sex trade, but that had grown to 100,000 last year. Other Asian governments are not so forthcoming with figures. The traditional destinations for paedophiles a decade ago are still favoured stopovers. Ecpat International, a voluntary group that campaigns against child sexual exploitation, says that about 400,000 children and women are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in India, 200,000 in Thailand, 100,000 in the Philippines and a similar number in Taiwan. Unicef believes that although child sexual exploitation is a global phenomenon, the problem is more acute in developing countries than developed ones. Asian governments need to be more transparent with the problem. They must ensure that children's rights are not ignored and that sufficiently harsh penalties are meted out to those who abuse minors. The Yokohama meeting will bring the issue into the open and governments must take note and act on its recommendations.