Thinking of volunteering abroad with children? Learn how to make responsible choices to protect the vulnerable— WTTC Travel Hub
Learn how to make responsible choices as a company, or as a traveller to protect children.
Volunteering is a common option for people looking for meaningful experiences. While it can be a valuable way to contribute to society, that can bring positive benefits to both the community and the volunteer, certain forms of voluntourism that involve direct or indirect contact with children have shown to have a range of harmful consequences which tourists should be mindful of.
Volunteering in residential care centres and visiting orphanages fuels the growth of institutions and separates children from their families. Such visits can disrupt children’s development as a consequence of repeated patterns of attachment and abandonment by multiple short-term visitors and volunteers. Although many volunteers have the best intentions, the lack of a screening process and proper supervision allows those with malicious intent access to vulnerable children, thus putting children at risk of exploitation and abuse. Other unregulated and unsupervised forms of voluntourism with children such as teaching, sports, activities carried out in day-care centres, local, rural and religious communities may also expose children to the risk of sexual exploitation. This is why governments should be developing family-based care solutions for children.
A search for meaningful experiences through volunteering has been attracting many travellers before COVID-19 pandemic and this expansion is likely to resume during the tourism recovery phase as part of alternatives to mass tourism. To be meaningful, tourism has to benefit not only the traveller but first of all, it has to be safe and beneficial for children.
So, how do we make responsible choices?
As a company, think if your business includes or considers offering voluntourism products with children or visits to orphanages in tourism programs. If so, ECPAT International and The Code developed the Voluntourism Policy that can support you in understanding risks related to volunteering with children or visits to orphanages. No activities that involve orphanages or other forms of residential care settings or programmes should be offered to travellers. Children in these settings are at high risk of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking, additionally exacerbated by voluntourism. Child-related voluntourism should be limited only to supervised activities where risks can be minimized by introducing clear policies and procedures such as supervision and requiring criminal background checks from all persons applying to volunteer with and for children. To find out more if your business is doing the right thing for children take a look at the Orphanage Divestment Resources for the Travel and Volunteering Sectors developed by Rethink Orphanages.
As a traveller, if you want to do something truly valuable, choose companies that offer responsible tourism packages and participate only in safe forms of voluntourism for children — check if the company follows the standards described in the Voluntourism Policy that can be used by members of The Code, as well as other organisations and entities. A picture taken with a vulnerable child in a remote community does not help — think if you are doing the right thing for children, or just for yourself? Consider learning about, working with, or donating to programs supporting children in families and at-risk communities. Such programs can include family strengthening, economic development, positive parenting, social work training, family-based care alternatives or even helping to advocate with governments to create protective environments for children and family-based care solutions. To get inspired — follow ECPAT members working in over 100 countries around the globe, and other civil society organisations, such as Better Care Network.
Travel & Tourism can restart in a truly sustainable way only with companies and travellers doing the right thing for children by making responsible choices — be part of this change.
Written by Gabriela Kühn, Head of Programme on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism @ ECPAT International