Child Protection in the Travel & Tourism Industry
Dr Harold Goodwin, Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University and Advisor on Responsible Tourism to World Travel Market
At World Travel Market (WTM) in London in November 2014 there was a panel discussion on Child Protection. Through WTM’s Responsible Tourism programme, Child Protection has been discussed since 2011 when Michael Horton of ConCERT in Cambodia raised the issue of tourism’s role in fuelling the orphanage industry in Siem Reap. Horton argued that 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. The unscrupulous have fed on that noble motivation. Orphanage owners have seized the opportunity and children have become an asset, with ‘orphan’ children being 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. Tourists have unwittingly encouraged child trafficking, resulting in children being removed from their parents and being subject to abuse, not least from paedophiles.
As Michael Horton pointed out back in 2011:
“Emotions run high when visitors are faced with children living in difficult conditions. Holiday packages that include visits to, and voluntary work in, orphanages have a wide appeal, from gap-year teenagers to middle-aged professionals who wish to do good during their holidays, and the numbers continue to grow.”
UNICEF had expressed concern that orphanages in Cambodia had become so lucrative that the “demand” from tourists and volunteers had created supply and that tourism was unwittingly financing the creation of orphanages, populated by children who were not in fact orphans.
ConCERT had found that many centres were being run primarily as a means of providing an income for the founders and that some centres get 100% of their funding from tourists. Consequently children are often coerced/forced into fundraising activities – giving out flyers at night in the street, dancing for tourists, working for the owners in some other way – and children are deliberately kept looking dirty, scruffy, and malnourished to elicit maximum sympathy, and donations, from tourists. When extremely vulnerable children are brought from distant provinces, breaking links with their families, and children are used to make money for “orphanage” owners, their movement amounts to internal human trafficking.
Michael Horton’s contribution to WTM in 2011 set the tone for our approach to the issue of child protection. The travel and tourism sector provides facilities which can be used by paedophiles seeking to abuse children, encouraging or facilitating visits by tourists to orphanages can create opportunities for paedophilia – the industry is used by the abusers, the industry unintentionally facilitates abusers to travel to destinations where they are able to abuse children.
Orphanage tourism and ‘voluntourism’ are different. By organising volunteering opportunities in orphanages and creating or encouraging visits to orphanages, the industry fuels demand for orphans to populate orphanages and thus to create successful tourist attractions. Orphanage tourism results in children being trafficked, removed from their families to become unnatural orphans.
As Michael argued in his original presentation in 2011, the child protection issues which arise from tourism are largely unintended consequences. It is important that the industry does not worsen the lot of vulnerable children, unintentionally.
The tragedy is that tourism has a great potential to bring real benefits to its local communities, including of course the children in them. The goodwill from travellers and within the industry is considerable, and the support they together can bring is increasingly important as the current international economic situation has resulted in traditional donors cutting back on their programmes. …. It is extremely distressing for those of us active on the ground and aware of the problems to see people’s time, money, and good intentions often making the situation worse.
Orphanage tourism is a particular challenge, not only in Cambodia and Nepal, but there is well-documented evidence for the scale of the problem in these two countries. In Cambodia, less than a quarter of children in orphanages are actual orphans. The New York Times in June 2014 published on Scam Orphanages in Cambodia. A government study conducted five years ago found that 77 percent of children living in Cambodia’s orphanages had at least one parent.
The empathy of foreigners — who not only deliver contributions, but also sometimes open their own institutions — helped create a glut of orphanages, according to aid workers, and the government says they now house more than 11,000 children. Although some of the orphanages are clean and well-managed, many are decrepit and, according to the United Nations, leave children susceptible to sexual abuse.
“The number of orphans has been going down and the number of orphanages going up,” said Sarah Chhin, who helps run an organization that encourages orphanage children who have families to return home. “We are forever having people say, ‘I’ve come to Cambodia because I want to open an orphanage.’ ”
In 2012 UNICEF published on Residential Care in Cambodia. The number of children in residential care has increased sharply from 6,254 to 11,945 between 2005 and 2010. Cambodian government policy is that “institutional care should be a last resort and a temporary solution, and that the primary role in protecting and caring for children lies with their family.” UNICEF reported that
“Some residential care facilities exploit the problem of poverty by actively recruiting children in poor families by convincing, coercing or even paying parents to give their children away. Through this kind of recruiting, many parents believe their children would be better off in care, unaware of the risks involved for children in terms of abuse, sexual and labour exploitation and even trafficking.”
UNICEF’s advice is blunt and unequivocal
• Overseas donors, including tourists, should refrain from visiting and donating to residential care facilities.
• Overseas visitors should be encouraged to volunteer or donate to programmes that support and promote family and community-based care, reintegration of children into family and community-based care, and provision of social services to vulnerable children and their families within a community setting and which prevent family separation.”
Next Generation Nepal was founded in 2006 and works to reconnect trafficked children with their families. They have linked over 400 trafficked children to their home communities in post-conflict Nepal through a careful process of reconnection and reunification. In Nepal there are 800 registered orphanages holding 15,000 children, two thirds of whom are NOT orphans. 90% of orphanages are in 5 districts, those which are visited most by tourists – there are 75 districts in Nepal, 90% of the orphanages are in just 5 of them. Demand for visits to, and volunteering in, orphanages creates supply.
ChildSafe International has been running campaigns encouraging tourists to think before giving money to begging children , a child safe programme encouraging and enabling tourism industry personnel, taxi/moto-drivers, travellers and foreign residents, the personnel of internet cafés and others to recognise when children are at risk and to intervene to protect the child. “Children are put at risk of abuse because communities either facilitate or turn a blind eye to situations and circumstances of abuse.” Friends International and the Child Safe Network have run a hard-hitting campaign: “Children are Not Tourist Attractions” something still too often forgotten in the industry.
Michael Horton challenged the industry in 2011 to address these unintended consequences of misguided and poorly managed engagement between tourists and vulnerable children in orphanages. We have since had panellists discussing the issues of child labour, the sexual exploitation of children, the safety of young people travelling abroad on a gap year, and the issues of child abuse and neglect which arise in outbound families. We have discussed child protection on panels at WTM Latin America and WTM Africa and this year’s debate is about whether the tourism sector could and should do more to protect children.
In 2011 the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published a report describing sexual abuse of children as a public health challenge. They called for “sexual abuse prevention through the collaborative implementation and promotion of a public health approach.” arguing that “The impacts and consequences of child sexual abuse are profound and far reaching, it is a public health problem which requires a co-ordinated, concerted and sustained response if it is going to be effectively addressed.
It has been clear in the travel and tourism sector that although many companies have signed The Code (“The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” ), there is still a major challenge for the travel and tourism industry in addressing the sexual exploitation of children, of moving beyond the adoption of a policy to effective engagement with the issue. ECPAT International has announced a global study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children. They argue that
“Offenders are increasingly adept at using the travel and tourism industries as a route to child exploitation and new developments have heightened the dangers for children: the rise of the Internet and greater access to international travel have expanded ‘demand.’ At the same time, social and economic disparities, poverty and lack of education – combined with weak child protection systems – have fuelled the ‘supply’ of children.”
Responses are hampered by a failure of collective action, meagre resources and a chronic lack of robust evidence and comparable data that, taken together, allow offenders to commit their crimes in the shadows, and often with impunity. The Taskforce aims to pull this crime from the shadows into the light, guiding an authoritative global study on its scale and nature, assessing what works and advocating for the necessary changes. It aims to re-assess current approaches that are failing to protect children, and to ensure that governments are held accountable when they fail to act. One prime example has been the case of Ian Bower, convicted for sexual offences against children in the UK in 2004, who was able to flee bail to Cambodia in 2006 and abuse children for another eight years before being captured.
But the challenge for the industry is much broader than paedophilia and sexual exploitation. The challenge of child protection is broad, ranging across neglect, abuse, trafficking and exploitation through child labour, begging and sexual exploitation. So at WTM in London on November 5th 2014, World Responsible Tourism Day, we brought together a diverse group, from within the industry and others professionally engaged in child protection, to discuss what the industry could and should do to address the issue of child protection. The panel included Elise Allart, Manager Sustainable Tourism TUI Benelux; Bill Bell, Head of Child Protection Save the Children; Márcio Favilla L. de Paula, Executive Director for Competitiveness, External Relations and Partnerships at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); Willem Niemeijer, Founder & CEO of Khiri Travel Bangkok; Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK; Amanda Read, UK Border Agency & Home Office; Peter Watt, National Services Director, NSPCC.
The panel discussion was videoed and that is the record of the discussion and of who said what. There were 80+ people at the panel discussion.
Background to the panel ‘debate’
Child abuse is worldwide and the effort which has been made since 1996 to raise awareness of the child sexual abuse issue has resulted in over 1,200 signatories in 50+ countries We sought to avoid focusing only on the sexual exploitation of children – there is a wide range of child protection issues which arise in tourism: child abuse and neglect in families holidaying abroad together; the safety of children and young people abroad; child labour; begging; ‘unnatural’ orphans , as well as sexual exploitation of children.
We had some concern when planning the panel and discussion that we may appear to be suggesting that the problems which arise in child protection in tourism arise primarily in the developing world, child protection is a global issue. In fact most of the initial discussion during the panel was about the situation in the UK and Europe and the originating or source market issues. The NSPCC has research data on abuse which reveals that abuse is often known only to the victim and the perpetrator. Of those physically hurt by a parent or guardian, in over 1 in 5 cases (22.9%) nobody but the child and perpetrator knew about it. Of those who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult, in over 1 in 3 cases (34%) nobody else knew. They found that 5.9% of under 11’s and 18.6% of 11–17’s in the UK had experienced severe physical maltreatment, severe maltreatment by a parent or guardian, or contact sexual abuse.
It is difficult to identify perpetrators
“Child sexual abuse is committed by men, women, teenagers, and other children. There isn’t one ‘type’ of person. Offenders come from all parts of society, and all backgrounds.
Contrary to the popular image, abusers usually seem quite normal to other people. In many cases friends, relatives and co-workers find it hard to believe that someone they know has abused a child.
But it’s more likely for a child to be sexually abused by someone they know, like a relative, a peer, a family friend or a person in a position of trust, rather than a stranger.
Because so much abuse goes undisclosed and unreported, the majority of perpetrators in our communities aren’t known to the authorities.”
Box 1 What research tells us about adult sex offenders
The majority of child sexual abuse is committed by male abusers, according to NSPCC research (Radford et al, 2011) and criminal statistics. Other research suggests women could be responsible for up to 5% of sexual offences committed against children (Bunting, 2005). Abuse by females is almost certainly under-reported, and research into female offenders has been hindered by the belief that women don’t behave this way towards children (Ford, 2006).
Children contacting ChildLine tell us that girls are much more likely to be sexually abused by a male abuser (Mariathasan, 2009).
Boys are less likely to be sexually abused (Radford, 2011) but they are equally likely to be abused by men and women (Mariathasan, 2009).
Source, www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-abuse/what-is-csa/ accessed 2015.01.24
Notes of the Discussion at WTM
This note on work in progress presents the main points made in the discussion and suggests an agenda for the industry, one which may be pursued at WTM shows over the next few years. The session in November 2014 at WTM London addressed the issues of Child Protection in general. We took a welfare approach, asking what more the industry can do to protect children. Bharti Patel of the ECPAT UK argued that there is also a rights issue at the heart of the child protection agenda. Children’s Rights and Business Principles form part of the UN Global Compact and it is clear that they are of increasing importance. Whilst we do not dissent from that view, and clearly the industry does lobby governments, our focus in the Responsible Tourism session is on what the industry can do, alone or with others, rather than on campaigning to get others to act.
Since UNWTO published on the Protection of Children in Tourism in 1997 and established the Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism its mandate had broadened to preventing all forms of youth exploitation in the tourism sector (sexual exploitation, child labour and child trafficking).
The development of the Code by ECPAT International with the support of UNWTO has helped raise awareness, and reduced levels of denial of the issue, it was widely agreed by the panel that there is still lots to do. Collaboration and partnerships between business, NGO, governments and inter-governmental organisations in campaigning for recognition of the issue means that there is less flat denial, the response “that does not happen in my country”, is heard less often. There is more recognition of the issue but the work is far from complete. In 2014 UNWTO published 15 Years of the UNWTO World Tourism Network on Child Protection: A Compilation of Good Practices” which contains 16 examples of good practice.
The need for child protection arises from a range of causes: neglect and poor care, physical abuse, emotional deprivation, sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking across international boundaries and within countries, and removal from the family when a child is recruited into an orphanage despite having living relatives. Child protection is required in all societies – it is not just a developed or developing world issue. There is therefore a wide range of issues which arise in many different societal contexts.
It is important to consider both intentional abuse and unintended consequences. A parent, guardian or older sibling leaving a child unsupervised by the pool, or incapacitated by drink whilst being responsible for a child, is unintentionally putting a child at risk. A holidaymaker taking an excursion to an orphanage or a tour operator selling an orphanage excursion and encouraging donations is creating demand for orphanage experiences which encourages the creation of unnatural orphans, “orphaned” but with living parents.
In the context of tourism there are some particular challenges and opportunities. There is a real and common risk of
• facilitating access to children in ways unacceptable in the originating market – access which puts children at risk.
• facilitating a flow of money from tourists and/or tour operators to orphanages creating a demand for orphans which results in child trafficking and the creation of unnatural orphans – tourism may unintentionally fuel orphanages through casual visits or volunteering. In orphanages there are issues of poor care, sexual and physical abuse and deprivation of family relationships. Separation of children from their families is “not at all a good thing”.
• child labour which arises in the industry both directly in ‘employment’ of family members in the provision of accommodation and food & beverage and less directly in craft and souvenir production.
• encouraging begging and the child abuse associated with it – ranging from tempting children to skip school to physical harm to increase the value of child as a beggar.
The prevalence and scale of these forms of child abuse and the degree to which they are associated with the industry is difficult to determine or even to estimate, given that many of these activities are criminalised. There is therefore a lack of official data. At Heathrow, Border Agency staff stop about 500 children a month who are travelling alone or without their parents. In 20% of those cases further action is taken with a referral to social services or police intervention.
There are three principles at the heart to of child protection:
1. Do not harm – good intentions are not enough, it is important to think carefully about unintended consequences. The orphanages issue is an example of this.
2. Think child safeguarding – think of the child and not just of the customer. It is important to look at places and situations from the perspective of the child. Children form attachments quite quickly with people who are kind to them – a volunteer or air steward, for example – and may not be very discerning about authority figures. Trust is often quickly built, trust which may be deliberately or unthinkingly abused. When a volunteer leaves, the child suffers from a sense of rejection – the air steward, who the child trusts, may have enough of a relationship from a brief encounter to begin grooming.
3. Constant vigilance and management is essential if attractions and facilities are to be child safe – just signing up to a code is not enough.
Recently in the UK we have seen errors which have been made, children ignored or disbelieved when they made complaints, authority figures determining that children were making lifestyle choices and denying their responsibility to intervene. For effective child protection:
1. the world has to be seen from the perspective of the child;
2. policy and procedures are not enough – there has to be a culture which not only does not tolerate inaction but also demands action;
3. children have to be listened to and believed;
4. people need to know what to do – they need to be enabled to take responsibility and to act effectively. They need to know who to contact and how and the culture needs to support them in taking action when they are concerned.
There is some evidence that people feel that they don’t have enough information about what to look out for and what to do if they have suspicions about child abuse, through dedicated local phone numbers or within the business. People generally want to be proactive and to contribute towards ensuring that children are not at risk. Begging and selling souvenirs often involves missing school and can be the first step into sexual exploitation. Businesses in destinations and incoming tour operators can contribute a lot by discouraging holidaymakers and travellers from giving to beggars and encouraging them to go to the right shops and restaurants, the ones where, if there is child labour, the children are attending school and the labour is not excessive.
The experience of TUI in the Netherlands extends from signing The Code in 2002, through action on the supply-side in NE Brazil with vocational training and job-seeking skills for vulnerable young people, to working on the demand side. TUI worked with the border police on a national campaign to raise awareness amongst travellers so that they could be the eyes and ears of child protection – travellers and holidaymakers can be part of the solution if or when they see something suspicious. To enable travellers and holidaymakers to take appropriate action, they need the right information: what number to call, what is required for a useful report that can be actioned. There were 27 reports and 5 good leads in 2014, 3 Dutch and 2 international.
In businesses where staff had taken effective action against trafficking and/or paedophilia, there was some discussion about why the businesses sought to maintain secrecy about the issue and the staff’s actions. It appears that the tendency is still to protect the business rather than to protect the children. It was argued that this is changing and that keeping an incident secret begins quickly to look like a cover-up and that this carries increasing reputational risk: covering-up may cause more damage to a company’s reputation than being transparent.
Orphanages raise a number of child protection issues:
• Estimates of the number of children in orphanages with living parents range as high as 80 to 90%. Orphanages are not the right place for children to be. Parents are tempted to let their children go by offers of money which enable them to feed the other children or assurances that the child will receive a good education. The child would be better in the family with charitable support towards keeping the children in their families.
• Orphanages create opportunities for abuse. Many orphanages are run as businesses and the children are neglected or physically abused within them. There is also a significant risk of children in orphanages being sexually abused by staff or volunteers – the orphanage may have been established for these abusive purposes.
• Volunteers working in orphanages allow and/or encourage children to form attachments with them. The child is needy and craves attention, and the volunteer enjoys being needed. When the volunteer leaves, the child feels a real loss of attachment, and it hurts. Children can be quite damaged by this experience, an experience which may be serial. Volunteering in orphanages should be “completely discouraged”.
On the surface everything may look wonderful – behind the scenes the picture may be very different, with the pain of separation, squalor, violence and abuse.
Child abuse in families travelling outbound is also an issue. Given the prevalence of neglect and physical and sexual abuse of children in the UK and other originating or source markets, it is to be expected that the abuse will travel with the families. It is also likely to be more visible when families are together for long periods of time, unbroken by school and work. There may be more likelihood of abuse being visible when families are on holiday as they let their guard down and perhaps consume more alcohol than usual.
It was argued that airlines could do more to raise awareness through inflight magazines and films; that travel writers and journalists should not ignore these issues; that travellers and holidaymakers, employees and employers should not turn a blind eye to suspicious activity and behaviour. Airports could provide more information and raise awareness of what to do when suspicions are aroused.
The statutory sector alone cannot tackle child abuse and achieve child protection; we all have to do more to act as the eyes and ears of the professionals and to report. Destinations need to do more but they need to be supported by the industry, by their staff and contractors, and by travellers. The scale of the problem is under-estimated and no one wants to talk about it, but if we turn a blind eye and don’t talk about the issues of child abuse and child protection, some would argue that we are in fact colluding with the abusers through our silence and inaction. It is important to avoid becoming fatalistic about an issue where the individual and the industry can and should make a difference.
The Border Force in the UK has a single unique intervention point, but the officer has seconds to observe behaviour and make a decision about whether or not they need to ask questions and how hard they need to probe. On the inbound flight the crew have a much longer period to observe the behaviour as do holidaymakers and travellers.
Take responsibility “don’t turn a blind eye to child abuse.”