The first time I visited Africa, many years ago, I remember waltzing into both a school and then an orphanage, amongst a stream of fellow tourists, on an organised excursion. We all took out our cameras and started clicking away while the children looked back at us. Most were smiling but some looked bewildered. In the orphanage many picked up the children and gave them cuddles. I took more photos. Eventually all the children were put down and most probably soon forgotten. Is it right for children to be used as tourists’ attractions in this way. Of course not. It just took me a while to realise this.

Over the last few years I’ve spoken to a number of charities and organisations about these issues and written articles promoting child safety awareness. So when I was invited by Better Volunteering Better Care to join their blogging blitz, happening throughout May in the run up to International Children’s Day, I was more than happy to share the following tips, based on the advice of experts in this field.

Top 5 Tips for being a responsible, child safe aware traveller

1. Don’t visit schools and orphanages

We would never allow tourists to wander into schools or orphanages, snapping photos as they go, here in the UK, so please don’t do this when you travel. Children should not be used as tourist attractions. Even dance shows with children performing are not always as harmless as they seem. These children may be being kept out of school in order to make money for unscrupulous people. Many orphanages have been set up solely as a business funded by well-meaning tourists and in the worse cases children, who are not even orphans, are often trafficked there. When the horrific earthquake hit Nepal last year, within days local charities saw children being trafficked away from their homes to so-called orphanages, as it was known that donations would soon come flooding in. Read more, Don’t fuel the orphanage industry in Nepal.

2. Don’t volunteer to work with children in orphanages

Working with vulnerable children is best left to local experts who can make a long-term commitment. Local, because they speak the same language and know the culture. Experts, as only skilled carers and teachers should work with vulnerable children. Long-term, as a constant cycle of volunteers turning up and then leaving is extremely damaging to already insecure children. Rather than working with children directly consider sharing your professional skills with local staff. Read more Justifiable bad press for orphanage tourism.

3. Don’t encourage begging

Please don’t give to children begging or selling things on the street. The more profitable it is for children to stay on the streets, the more incentive they have to do so. Instead, find out which local organisations support street-living children and support them instead. You can find a list of such organisations here Support these Organisations.

4. Don’t buy from or use services offered by children

Children are used to work selling goods at tourist sites, offering their services as guides, making local crafts or working in hotels and restaurants. This hurts both their education and development. Never buy goods or use services offered by children.

5. Report it

If you see anything that makes you suspicious that children are being exploited or abused or are in need of help, report it to the local police or child protection hotline. You can find a list of numbers to call on the Think ChildSafe website. Bookmark it, just in case you need it one day. You can also email them at childsafe@friends-international.org. And if you know of a number not yet listed please let them know.

Think ChildSafe Hotline

 

I’m pleased to say that the orphanage I visited in Africa has long since stopped visits from tourists, they also never take on short-term volunteers or even volunteers from outside of the local community. This ensures that the children are looked after by people who speak their language, know their customs and can offer a continuity of care and of course love that temporary volunteers could never offer.

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Children are not tourist attrations. Read how you can be a responsible child safe aware traveller

What you can do to help

The “Stop Orphanage Volunteering” Blogging Blitz organized by Better Volunteering Better Care. has been running throughout May, during the run-up to International Children’s Day on 1st June.. As well as the aim of stopping orphanage volunteering the blitz wants to show that children should not be treated as tourist attractions. I and many others have written about this before but still most travellers, volunteers and holiday-makers are unaware of the issues involved. Please help spread the word by sharing this and other articles from the campaign across social media with the hashtag #stoporphantrips.

Sign the Avaaz petition

The petition is calling for travel operators to remove orphanage volunteering placements from their websites by the next Responsible Tourism day at World Travel Market in London in November 2016.
To see more blog posts in this program, please search #stoporphantrips on social media.

A few further articles from this campaign:

Image source: Friends International

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