This morning, Save the Children, Intrepid Travel, ReThink Orphanages and Boston Consulting Group co-hosted an Orphanage Tourism panel in Sydney to promote discussion around child safe travel.
With the help of some very notable experts, including Karen Flanagan A.M. Save The Children, Leigh Matthews, Cofounder of ReThink Orphanages and Liz Manning, Responsible Business Manager, Intrepid Group, a robust discussion ensued.
According to the Save the Children, 8 million children live in institutions, including orphanages, globally, even though over 80 per cent of them have living parents or family.
Growing up in an orphanage, even in the best-run facility, damages a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing, with the effects being lifelong and inter-generational.
Orphanage tourism is now big business, driven by well-meaning tourists who simply aren’t aware they’re supporting orphanages that are doing more harm than good.
The Intrepid group have been active in their support for best practice child protection and work to ensure children and their families are protected from harm.
“Until May 2016 we visited a handful of orphanages. As a result of feedback we made the decision to not include orphanage visits,” said Manning.
“More than a third of people in a given group trip would say they felt really uncomfortable and they weren’t sure why they were doing it.”
According to Manning, this raised many questions about the ethics of orphanage tourism.
“It’s not something we’d ever be allowed to do at home. The opportunity is to say no that isn’t something that we do and have the conversation about why,” she said.
Matthews said that it’s never appropriate to visit an orphanage as the scope of the problem isn’t limited to a handful of countries – it’s happening all over the world.
“Definitely orphanages are set up to cater for demand of orphan experiences. We need big companies to come out and say no to these practices. Reputational risk does get it over the line,” Matthews said.
Kate Van Doore, Program Director, Griffith law school and Forget Me Not co-founder told the panel that the children in the orphanages where Forget Me Not first opened, in Nepal and Uganda were recruits, not orphans.
“The poor conditions were to elicit more funding and sympathy. It’s a form of human trafficking and this is modern slavery,” she said.
“The wheels came off when we were approached to take over an orphanage in Uganda – 39 children in dire straits – children with malaria, sugar in water for lunch to keep them going. It was heartbreaking. We left and decided to fund the orphanage.”
“The children started saying: can I just go home to mum and dad? We were always told don’t ask the children about the parents. But we could contact families quite easily as the children were 10 or 11.”
“The modern slavery act is set to drop next week. The government’s position last week is that orphanage tourism trafficking is criminalised under the code. Companies with turnovers of $100m must report on supply chains and any contributions to residential care institutions.”
Manning said Intrepid helped partners transition to the model of Save the Children with child protection training, funded completely in East Africa, and intend will do the same with Latin America and Asia before the end of the year with their TIF partners.
“Our stance is to have a conversation about how we can do things better. It’s a heavy topic but let’s start having a conversation. We have a responsibility to do something about it. My advice to travel companies is to evaluate who you’re working with and creating a code of conduct. Use the modern slavery act as a driving force with partners.”
The adventure travel company also provided a handy booklet with tips on child protection in travel:
Featured image credit: Child in Nepal by Ben McNamara for Intrepid Travel