WTM 2011 first put the spotlight on child protection when Michael Horton of ConCERT in Cambodia raised the issue of tourism’s role in fuelling the orphanage industry in Siem Reap. By bringing travellers and tourists to Siem Reap the industry has inadvertently played a significant role in creating demand for orphanages from visitors and volunteers who want to make a difference. Orphanage owners have seized the opportunity; children have become an asset, ‘orphan’ children are used to secure payments from tourists who want to make a difference. 72% of the children in Cambodian orphanages are reported not to be orphans, while tourists have unwittingly encouraged child trafficking – resulting in children being removed from their parents and subject to abuse, not least from paedophiles.
At WTM in 2012 there was a panel on Child Protection where we heard about the Code (which focusses on this issue), and Julie Naylor of Thomas Cook talked about the challenges tour operators face ensuring the safety of children within outbound family groups as well as in the destination. Child protection is a broad agenda encompassing trafficking, sexual abuse, ill treatment, neglect and child labour.
This year on the panel we heard from the UK Border Agency about their work in child protection, watching out for child trafficking at the borders; from Bharti Patel of ECPAT about the range and scale of the problem; from Stephanie Ossenbach about what Kuoni are doing to address the issue; and Krissy Roe of explained why responsibletravel.com have reviewed all the orphanage tours offered through their website and removed all those which are not compliant with their best practice guidelines. The video of the child protection panel is available online, take a look.
At the 2013 World Responsible Tourism Awards, announced at WTM on World Responsible Tourism Day, the judges recognised the efforts of Intrepid Travel, Friends International and TUI Nederland in working to protect children. TUI Nederland were overall winners this year because of the scale of their achievement in child protection, an area of Responsible Tourism which many businesses are reluctant to address. The judges were impressed by TUI Nederland’s willingness to raise this sensitive issue with their clients and Dutch travellers in general, in order to urge them to take action and to report their suspicions when abroad. The judges felt that TUI Nederland’s overall holistic approach was highly replicable and they expressed the hope that others will emulate the company’s leadership.