During my travels in Cambodia, I visited many social enterprises. These social enterprises were passionate about a variety of causes and promoted responsible travel and educated on travel ethics, with an in depth focus on children and tourism. During my visit to Siem Reap, I attended a presentation run by Friends International, an NGO organisation bringing marginalised youth out of poverty through support in communities and job creation at their 6 student run cafes. These cafes donate 92% of their profits towards their student training development program, providing grants for children to attend public school and the Child Safe Movement.
During the presentation I was confronted with these startling facts:
- 72% of children living in Cambodian orphanages have parents.
- 80% of 8 million children living in institutions across the world are not orphans and have at least 1 parent.
- Families in poor communities and poor families are promised that the orphanage will provide education, housing and food for their children.
- Some children don’t live at the orphanages at all and are instead ‘rented’ with a deal amongst families to have the children attend during the day when tourists are visiting in exchange for money or food.
- These children should stay with their families, this can be done by supporting the families to solve the problems that prevent them from raising their children: generate more income, solve health issues, be supported to get rid of addictions, etc.
- Not all institutions have bad intentions, but many are run like businesses with children as their ‘product’.
The Child Safe Movement works with tourists, communities, businesses and NGO’s to educate and create awareness of children’s issues. Their main office is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, but they have support services and companies across the world. Their dedicated to providing resources and information that prevent child endangerment, and to support and enrich marginalised youths lives by offering a 24 hour hotline for locals and travellers to report child abuse or endangerment which can be found below. They provide the tools that allow anyone to take part in child protection by advertising all their tips online which they insist on promoting to ensure responsible tourism.
Today I wanted to utilise my platform to spread awareness of their resources and their program by listing their 7 Tips for Travellers.
Tip 1 – THINK! Children are not tourist attractions – let’s not treat them like they are.
Children living or studying in schools, orphanages or slums shouldn’t be exposed to tourist visits. These places are not zoos. Imagine a bus full of foreigners visiting schools in your home country. Would you find this acceptable?
Travel ChildSafe – Put child protection first and do not visit these places.
Tip 2 – THINK! Volunteering with children feels good but could be harmful – look for better ways to help them.
Working with children in institutions such as orphanages is a job for local experts, not for travelers who are just passing through. Children deserve more than good intentions: they deserve experienced and skilled caretakers and teachers who know the local culture and language.
Travel ChildSafe – Make sure your volunteering is a great experience and has the best impact possible. Do not work directly with children; instead, share your professional skills with local staff. You can also explore other ways to put your talents to use.
Tip 3 – THINK! Children pay a price for your generosity – don’t give to begging children.
When you give money, food or gifts to begging children, you encourage them to continue begging, which prevents them from going to school and locks them into a cycle of poverty.
Travel ChildSafe – There are better ways to support children and youth: use businesses with a social impact, such as training restaurants and shops, or donate to organizations supporting children and their families.
Find such organizations and businesses here.
Note: Child begging is very predominant in India. During my visit I saw many children begging, and I was educated as to why I must not support the practice by donating money. In India and many other impoverished countries children are kidnapped from families and forced to beg and raise money for cartels. According to Save the Children India ‘Children are regularly inflicted with wounds, even maimed so that they became more pitiable, and therefore draw more alms from a sympathetic passerby on the streets. These kind-hearted men and women often don’t know that the money they give isn’t used to buy food, medicine, or access to education, but alcohol and drugs, and also given to their traffickers.’ Read more on this topic here.
Tip 4 – THINK! Professionals know best – call them if a child needs help.
Helping children directly can cause problems because you don’t know the local culture and laws. For instance, never take a child back to your hotel room – it’s dangerous for both you and the child.
Travel ChildSafe – When you see a child in need, the best thing to do is to contact local professionals. Call a child protection hotline, contact a local organization or call the police. You won’t bother anyone – it is their job to check and help. Just call. You could save their life and give them a first chance to build their future.
Find a list of hotlines here.
Tip 5 – THINK! Sex with children is a crime – report child sex tourism.
Sex tourism involving children is a devastating reality. It happens in hotels, in bars, etc. You may also be offered to have sex with children.
Travel ChildSafe – When you see such a situation, don’t put yourself at risk. Call a child protection hotline, contact a local organization or call the police so immediate action can be taken to protect the child and investigate the situation.
Find a list of hotlines here.
Tip 6 – THINK! Children should not be at work instead of school – report child labor.
Some children sell goods at tourist sites or offer their services as guides. Others are hired in tourism businesses like hotels or restaurants, and this is a problem when it hurts their education and development.
Travel ChildSafe – Do not buy goods or use services offered by children. If you think that a business employs underage children and prevents them from going to school, call a child protection hotline, contact a local organization or call the police. They will check the child’s situation – many children are just helping out their parents after school, but some may be exploited.
Find a list of hotlines here.
Tip 7 – THINK! Protect children – be a ChildSafe traveler.
ChildSafe raises awareness about how you can help children during your trip. It also trains and certifies many businesses in the tourism industry (such as hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, and taxi services) to actively protect children.
Travel ChildSafe – Use ChildSafe-certified businesses when planning and throughout your trip to avoid being involved in harmful situations for children. Every action described in these tips can make a big difference. Join the movement and together, let’s protect children!
Tip Number 2, is apart of an important conversation I wish I had had back in 2015 when I volunteered in India. I signed up for childcare, and was placed in a slum school as a teacher instead. As a fresh graduate at only 18, I was not prepared or physically capable to teach students and provide them with a suitable education. This experience left me very disheartened, and as a group after sharing our concerns and feedback with the organisation lead to myself and fellow volunteers being kicked out of our volunteer homestay, which you can read about here. This situation has brought me much shame after discovering the industry behind some slum schools and orphanages involved with volunteerism, information that I only came head on with in Cambodia thanks to the presentation lead by Friends International about the Child Safe Movement, and a flyer and conversation shared with This Life Cambodia during my time with them. Instead of keeping this experience quite out of embarrassment of participation before education, Id instead like to leave myself vulnerable to criticism or to be viewed as ‘hypocritical’ in the hopes my story can be used to spread awareness. Volunteering is of course not a bad thing, but as Child Safe explain it isn’t always within the best interests of children when they are involved.