Modern Slavery in the UK and in orphanages

Modern Slavery in the UK and in orphanages

Modern slavery is an underground issue in the UK, it is hidden from view. Trafficking is at the heart of much of it. I know of no evidence that children are trafficked into orphanages in the UK – but how can anyone be sure that in the orphanages they send volunteers to, organise visits to or you volunteer in, there are not trafficked trapped, and therefore enslaved, children.

On August 9th the London Evening Standard carried a story with the headline “Failure to tackle child traffickers ‘like letting rapist loose in London’”. In the UK 3,805 victims from 108 countries were identified as slaves forced into labour exploitation, prostitution or domestic servitude including cases involving child slavery victims. 255 juvenile trafficking victims from the UK were recorded last year.

Earlier this month  The Independent reported Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, saying: “These new figures show the shocking scale of modern slavery in the UK but it’s important to remember that it does not only affect adults.

“Traffickers do not care how young their victims are and Barnardo’s has provided support to children of all ages, including babies who have been trafficked.”

On 10th August the UK National Crime Agency reported that there were, and presumably still are, more than 300 live policing operations targeting modern slavery in the UK. Will Kerr, the NCA’s Director of Vulnerabilities, pointed out that “it is a hidden crime, so the onus is on us to seek it out.” It is likely that we encounter enslaved people, they come into “contact with everyone else’s so-called normal lives.” Anyone in the UK with suspicions should call their local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700.

Modern Slavery “subsumes the offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation.”

So modern slavery exists on a far bigger scale than we thought in the UK where we have specialised units identifying and tackling it.

There have been well substantiated reports of trafficked children in orphanges for several years.

From UNICEF “During the recruitment process families will often get paid a fee for their child, and in the worst cases children are trafficked into the facilities. Many orphanages here are set up to run like a business, a business which uses children as the product – even sending them to dance for donations in popular tourist areas.”

The most recent  US Government Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, has recognised that orphanages in Nepal are a destination point for trafficked children. “Next Generation Nepal, has documented how traffickers promise families that children will receive an education if they pay money to take them to urban areas to study in boarding schools – in reality these are fake orphanages where children are abused and used to elicit financial donations from volunteers and donors.

The Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has just reported on modern slavery and global supply chains. It refers to the inclusion of the “prevention of orphanage tourism” in an Australian Modern Slavery Act. It includes ‘orphanage trafficking’ in its definition of modern slavery. More on thinking in Australia.

Lumos CEO, Georgette Mulheir, provided testimony at the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into whether the country should adopt legislation to combat modern slavery. She said

“Orphanage tourism has become a child trafficking industry generating probably billions of dollars and driven by well-meaning people wanting to volunteer. Many orphanages are set up purely to obtain donations from abroad and paid ‘child-finders’ go into the community to recruit children. By telling parents their children will get a better education and healthcare in an orphanage, parents are deceived into giving up their children. Very little of the large sums of money the orphanages receive is spent on the children and the harm to them is beyond measure.”

Mulheir focused on the vulnerability of this group of children who, once placed in institutions run by unscrupulous directors, are forgotten and exposed to the realities of modern slavery.

There is now a great deal of material which should give the travel and toruism sector cause for concen about the consequences for vulnerable children and their families of the support they give to orphanages by engaging with them. We should be supporting families not orphanages.  And ask your lawyer about the UK’s 2015  Anti Slavery Act.

If you need further evidence of why our sector  should be concerned come along to the panels we are offering at WTM London on orphanages and trafficking or follow these links.

ReThink Orphanages Submission to the Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

ReThink Orphanages Fact Sheet: The Orphanage Industry

Anti-Slavery Exploiting children in orphanages recognised as trafficking

ECPAT Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism – Voluntourism

Save the Children calls for government action on growing ‘orphanage tourism’ industry, declares it a form of modern slavery

Kate van Doore Griffith Law School How does volunteering in an orphanage encourage modern slavery?


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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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