Last week was Child Protection Week in South Africa, but for the tourism industry child protection should be seen as a year-round issue. In just the last few weeks there have been reports about child trafficking to ‘stock’ orphanages in India, the Ukraine, Cambodia and Nepal. It is an issue that is getting a lot of press coverage at the moment, and one the tourism industry ignores at its peril.
Many in the industry have signed The Code; and many have trained their staff and developed management strategies so that they avoid being used by abusers and are able to support and enable their staff to report abuse when they see it. This is surely both the right thing to do, and important to reduce the reputational risk should a business unknowingly facilitate child abuse – whether in travelling families, through child labour or paedophilia.
Laurie Ahern, the President of Disability Rights International (DRI), wrote on the Huffington Post website recently that people who “donate cash and goods to orphanages or build and refurbish children’s homes and other institutions, may be inadvertently funding human trafficking.” According to Ahern: “Poor and disabled children, locked away and out of sight from families and their communities, are sitting ducks for traffickers and pedophiles. And nefarious staff are often the beneficiaries of perverse transactions where captive children are the commodity. DRI found that children are at risk of being trafficked for sex, labor, pornography and organs in a country that is a known hub for human trafficking.”
Orphanages present perhaps a different challenge. As experience in Nepal demonstrates it is very difficult to be sure that any orphanage is free of child abuse or of so-called ‘false orphans’. These are children who have been trafficked to stock an orphanage (and thus elicit funds) despite having a family. Children are purchased, or their parents are persuaded that they will get a good education, when in fact they are used to stock orphanages, or beg on the streets, to make money for criminals. In efforts to address these problems, the Nepalese government has banned children from traveling without parents or approved guardians.
The precautionary principle should surely apply to issues of child welfare. The industry needs to stop organising visits to orphanages, and placing volunteers in orphanages – because you cannot be sure that children have not been trafficked into the orphanage and that they are not being abused. You simply should not be facilitating or recommending visits to orphanages or encouraging donations.
Likewise, you should also think long and hard about the advice you give to travellers about orphanages and begging children. Tourists enable the child abusers by giving them money. Far better than people donate to recognised charities and support efforts to help children in local schools and in their families, where they belong.
At WTM last November we discussed child protection, and how it is a challenge for the industry. The industry needs to avoid being used by all kinds of child abusers and ensure that we exercise our duty of care for our travellers, including children, and do what we can to avoid the sector’s facilities being used by those travelling abroad to abuse children.
To keep up with developments in this issue visit the Child Protection Facebook group, where you can also share information.