06 January 2016

Buffalo Q&A: Making 2016 a ChildSafe Year in Thailand

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childsafe network logoIn 2011, Buffalo Tours teamed up with ChildSafe Thailand, a Friends International organisation tasked with combating child exploitation in the country. Since then, our team has helped bring awareness to these important issues through guide training and support – but you’re the key to taking their mission to the next level. We sat down with ChildSafe Thailand expert Marie Duong to talk about what ChildSafe travel means in 2016.

First thing’s first – why is the work that ChildSafe is doing so important for travellers to know about?

During their trips, travelers will probably meet children at risk – perhaps begging at crossroads, selling postcards or fruits at tourist sites, or shining shoes in train stations. They want to help them, but  don’t know how. This is something we hear a lot from first-time travellers to Thailand who are so at odds with their desire to help, but helplessness in knowing how.

The good news: travellers can really protect these children if they take the right actions. Obviously the issue is complex – and we have a team committed to tackling the big issues – but even travellers in Thailand can contribute enormously to the protection of children here. That comes with knowing the ChildSafe tips that we work so hard to distribute to travel agents, tour guides, hotel representatives and of course the travellers themselves.

two children walking Thailand
Image credit: ChildSafe Thailand

In 2015, what were some of the most important projects that ChildSafe worked on?

Firstly, ChildSafe in Thailand has collaborated with Buffalo Tours since 2011 – this is one of the longest partnerships in Thailand with a member of the travel industry!

In 2015, 38 tour guides and staff of Buffalo Tours in Bangkok and Chiang Mai were trained to become active ChildSafe Agents in their work and home environments. This kind of training to field staff of the travel industry are very important because it does not only allow to raise awareness on the protection of children, but also provides effective tools to prevent abuse and protect children at immediate risk.

But beyond our work with the Buffalo Tours team, ChildSafe in Thailand has engaged this year with several actors of the travel industry, such as tour operators, hotels and guesthouses, as well as airports, airlines and the Ministry of Tourism – which is actively supporting the Travellers Campaigns. We have started to work with other NGO partners to support and promote ChildSafe in Bangkok, Kanchanaburi and Chonburi provinces, as well as the border city with Cambodia: Aranyaprathet.

ChildSafe Thailand also works with local authorities, such as the Tourist police and Immigration department , and actively involves local vulnerable communities on how they can protect their own children from specific risks. Needless to say, our network of field ChildSafe Agents is starting to develop quickly and with more and more moto-taxis, tuk-tuks and street vendors being trained and monitored to offer immediate protection to children in risky areas. This will be a big focus for us in 2016.

Last but not least, our Travellers’ Tips for Thailand have been made available in 2 new languages: Japanese and Chinese. We’re hoping that all of this work will help us make even bigger strides in 2016.

What are some of the most important project for ChildSafe planned for 2016?

ChildSafe Thailand will launch a new campaign for Thai Citizens (in Thai!) aimed at informing the larger public on child protection issues and how to be actively involved in helping children. The campaign will be launched together with an Application, a new tool that we hope will reinforce the protection of children in a city like Bangkok, where most people have access to mobile devices.

Plus, new and refreshed Travellers Tips will be released at the beginning of the year and will of course have a version tailored for Thailand. We will also respond to the pressing need of informing local tourists as well by presenting the travelers tips in local language, too. For any travellers heading to Thailand, this is important information to have for your trip.

childsafe logo on Thailand beverage vendor
ChildSafe members in Thailand proudly display signs and posters of the organisation’s logo. Image credit: ChildSafe Thailand

How can travellers be a part of supporting ChildSafe in Thailand?

Since our main mission is to inform, empower and engage travellers and travel industry professionals in our mission, the first step would be to learn about what we do. Our website is a great resource for people soon to head to Thailand, and who might have questions about how they can help curb the issue of child abuse and exploitation.

The next step would be to share the ChildSafe Tips for Travellers – and, of course, this interview – with your friends and family looking to travel to Thailand soon. It’s so important for us to have help sharing this message so that travellers can be an active part of the ChildSafe goal.

We’re always sharing new tips and information about ChildSafe travel in Thailand, so those interested in staying informed can follow us on Facebook – and we even have an international ChildSafe beyond just Thailand.

Last but not least, we always welcome donations as well as questions about how to get even further involved. Travellers can get this information by emailing childsafe@friends-international.org.

What are your top tips for travellers to make their travels more Child Safe next year?

Great question! This year, we have a new tip for travellers in Thailand. They are:

THINK! Children are not tourist attractions –let’s not treat them like they are.

THINK! Volunteering with children feels good but could be harmful – look for better ways to help them.

THINK! Children pay a price for your generosity – don’t give to begging children.

THINK! Professionals know best – call them if a child needs help.

THINK! Sex with children is a crime – report child sex tourism.

THINK! Children should not be at work instead of school – report child labor.

THINK! Protect children – be a ChildSafe traveler.

What are some of the top five mistakes that travellers make (regarding responsible travel) when travelling in Asia?

Well-meaning tourists often want to help children but do so in ways that doesn’t actually support their well-being. This usually happens with orphanage tourism, giving money or gifts to begging children, volunteering for  a short time in an institution with direct interaction with vulnerable children, or trying to help directly without knowing local culture and laws. In a passive way, tourists also make the mistake often turning a blind eye to child sex tourism and child labour. It’s important that these things are reported.

Thailand local tuk tuk Childcare logo
Service providers like tuk tuk drivers are a focus for training in 2016, empowering them to spot and act on child safety concerns. Image credit: ChildSafe Thailand

Last but not least, why is it important for travelers to choose a travel company who works with ChildSafe? What difference does that make to a travel itinerary?

A company who is involved with ChildSafe has committed to protect children internally and through their products and services. A travel company will, for example, make sure that their itineraries do not cause harm to children, their families and their communities and exclude activities such as orphanage visits.

Plus, tour guides and other staff have received awareness raising or training sessions on child protection, and they can share this knowledge with clients. These companies also do make sure when possible to use other services who are also ChildSafe, such as ChildSafe hotels or tuk-tuk drivers.

Finally, many travel companies like Buffalo Tours do support ChildSafe, Friends International or other NGOs in the network on the longer-term, financially or through their communications. This is a very important to channel the ChildSafe campaigns and messages – which rely on getting out to the travellers coming to Thailand who might not know the risks.

Curious how Buffalo Tours is helping ChildSafe make travel in Thailand safer for locals of every age? Ask us about our Responsible Tourism policies on Facebook or Twitter. We’re here to answer your questions.

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