08 May 2017

Responsible Travel and Child Protection in Asia

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While tourism can provide a vehicle for economic growth and positive societal change, it can also have an adverse effect on local communities if we do not act responsibly. Some of the major issues contributing to the endangerment of children include the rise in child labour, begging, orphanage tourism, volunteer tourism and the sexual exploitation of children. The protection of children should be the highest priority of all responsible travel and there are several ways in which travellers and travel professionals can help to prevent child endangerment.

For several years, Buffalo Tours has been working in close collaboration with Friends International and the ChildSafe Movement to improve the standards of child protection in the travel industry. ChildSafe have developed a list of 7 Tips for Travellers to help protect the fundamental rights of children while travelling. In this article, we explore some of the many dilemmas facing child protection initiatives in tourism and how we can all work together to improve the standards of child protection in Asia.

ChildSafe Logo

What is the ChildSafe Movement?

Friends International was founded in 1994 on the streets of Phnom Penh and has been dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged children in the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide ever since. Friends International launched the ChildSafe Movement in 2005 to increase awareness and promote child protection guidelines through behaviour change campaigns and child protection training. The movement has since spread to 13 countries in Asia, Africa and Central America.

What is Orphanage Tourism?

Many travellers are not aware of the major problems facing child protection in Asian tourism. One of the biggest dilemmas is the proliferation of orphanages that support themselves through “donations” from tourists and volunteers who visit the orphanages. This practice is not only unsustainable, but also harmful to the children, infringing on their right to privacy and stability. There is also a serious concern that children are removed from their families in order to perpetuate these orphanages as an industry.

What is Volunteer Tourism?

Another major issue is “voluntourism” where well-meaning volunteers teach English and other subjects to young children, often paying for the privilege. Little thought is put into whether or not these volunteers are qualified to work with children, especially those in difficult circumstances or with special needs. Even more alarming is that these schemes are usually not regulated and thereby put the children at risk. Similar to orphanage tours, these programs have led to a rise in an industry based on the exploitation of vulnerable children for monetary gain.

Why Shouldn’t We Give Money to Children?

As a well-meaning traveller it is very tempting to give money to begging children or to buy souvenirs from children, but usually we will be doing them a disservice. Children begging in the streets or selling trinkets to foreigners are exposed to the dangers of exploitation and often work long hours instead of going to school. This form of child labour is perpetuated by the generosity of tourist and infringes on the fundamental rights of children to education and safety.

How Can We Improve Child Protection?

Buffalo Tours does not recommend participating in orphanage tourism or volunteer tourism. Rather than giving money to children who beg or sell souvenirs, we encourage travellers to make a donation to reliable and accredited organizations who can contribute to sustainable and community-based development. Through our work with the ChildSafe Movement, we are able to advise travellers on general guidelines that help protect children. If you are interested in responsible travel that supports sustainable community based development you can visit our website or contact us to find out more.

ChildSafe offers several resources, tips and guides for travellers who wish to learn more about some of the issues facing child protection in Asia. In collaboration with ChildSafe, Buffalo Tours has been training our tour guides as ChildSafe Agents so that they know how to deal with any child protection issues that may arise. Tour guides are especially well-suited to working with child protective organizations and agencies, since they can function as eyes and ears in local communities.

Responsible Travel and Child Protection in Asia

Buffalo Tours Operations Manager for Thailand, Mrs. Porjai Chaiwongyart, receiving a medal for her many years of support for the ChildSafe Movement

For more information on the ChildSafe Movement, their campaigns and guidelines, visit their website here. You can also learn more about Buffalo Tours community-based development projects on our blog. At Buffalo Tours, we firmly believe that it is our duty to do everything we can to develop sound policies for the benefit of local communities and especially the protection of their most vulnerable members: children.