Child Safe Tourism

September 26, 2011

World Tourism Day: Do more to protect children in South East Asia from sexual exploitation

Bangkok, Thailand – 26 September 2011.

As South East Asia’s tourism industry explodes with huge increases in arrival numbers, more needs to be done to protect vulnerable children from sexual exploitation by travellers, warns international aid agency World Vision.

The warning, issued as the world marks International World Tourism Day (Tuesday Sept 27), comes as the latest figures from countries like Thailand show arrival numbers growing at annualized rates of 26% (11.17 million visitors) for the first six months of 2011. Even off-the-beaten track countries like Laos last year hosted 2.5 million visitors, on par with Cambodia, while Vietnam had five million arrivals.

World Vision says despite the growth in visitor numbers and the consequent risks to children, it believes responsible tourists are part of the solution. The agency is now looking to enlist tourists in efforts to look out for children’s safety and protection when they travel to the region and it will be asking the travel industry and tour operators to play their part in creating a ‘Child Safe Tourism’ environment. The aim is to make the whole tourism ecosystem safer for vulnerable children in the host countries.

Significant commitments to ending the sexual exploitation of children have been made by Mekong governments, especially in apprehending foreign offenders. In continuing to support this progress, World Vision believes the ‘Child Safe Tourism’ approach supports the Mekong governments’ goal to welcome visitors to their countries, whilst ensuring children stay safe.

World Vision’s Child Safe Tourism manager, Aarti Kapoor, said: “Thanks to green activism, tourists are much more aware of the impact of tourism on the environment and hold tourist businesses accountable. We need the same approach when it comes to protecting children. Tourists need to be vigilant about their actions that could inadvertently be putting children at risk, and make sure that tourism businesses are safe for children.” However, she said the issue was complex and needed many sectors to work together.

World Vision will work with other agencies and tourism-related media and businesses to promote ‘Child Safe Tourism’ and to make people aware of the risks facing children and take responsibility for the impact of their own travel.

A combination of factors puts children at risk in the Mekong countries including: desperation driven by poverty and social exclusion; conservative yet modernizing cultures where parents fail to understand youth curiosity about sex and the risks their children face; and video, internet and mobile phone technology that is allowing the proliferation of pornography, sexualizing youth in harmful ways and potentially enabling child sex offenders to gain access to children via chat and gaming rooms.

Children also become vulnerable when they run away from broken, abusive or poor homes and end up on the street in places like the seaside resort of Pattaya, Thailand or Cambodia’s Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat where they are at risk.

Ms Kapoor, said there had been numerous initiatives to end the sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism industry in Southeast Asia, which has lead to some good progress. Going forward the keys to ending this abuse are empowering children and their families, helping Mekong governments to strengthen their child protection systems, and making tourists more aware of the dangers children. While arresting child sex offenders is important in ending impunity, building a protective environment for children is ultimately the most sustainable way of helping the vulnerable.

Ms Kapoor said: “Preventing child sexual exploitation in tourism must be about making tourists part of the solution. This is essentially what ‘Child Safe Tourism’ means. Responsible travellers interact with children in travel destinations on a daily basis. For example, giving money to a child begging or selling postcards in red light districts might seem like a good way to help but it keeps children on the street, where they are at greater risk from sexual exploitation. Tourists have the consumer power to impact the services provided by the travel industry, hotels and restaurants and ensure their businesses do not permit practices that harm children or put them at risk.”

How to be a child safe traveller

1. Your actions – Don’t encourage touching, or taking children out alone. If you see something suspicious, report it.
2. Your contribution – Contribute to child protection through a reputable local organisation, rather than by giving money directly to children who beg.
3. Your government – Ask what is your government doing about child sex offenders who travel to abuse children?