Each year the travel industry braces itself for the onslaught of millions of families heading off for their holidays. But for every excited child heading for the trip of their dreams is another child filled with dread at the exploitation that travellers can bring.
Children are the most vulnerable group in our world, but can face untold horrors of sexual exploitation, molestation, rape, trafficking, hard labour, being killed for their body organs, and the effects of war and misery routed more often than not in poverty and the disparity of wealth. The abuse of children in many countries is a direct result of tourism, and this is most especially true when it comes to sexual exploitation. According to UNICEF, for example, one in three children in Kenya are involved in prostitution, mainly with tourists.
Paedophiles who may be rooted out in Western countries are less likely to be criminalised in other countries, where money talks or laws are more relaxed. But there is no longer a stereotypical offender or a typical victim, and reports by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimate that over two million children are sexually exploited each year, with millions more in danger.
The Code (The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism) – set up by the travel industry – is working with hotels and travel providers to combat sexual exploitation of children. It informs travellers, trains staff and sets examples of corporate responsibility. Other major organisations include ECPAT, which was set up in 1990 with the aim of ending child prostitution in Asian tourism, and provides training for the travel industry with 95 members in 86 countries; and Defense for Children, a worldwide movement which aims to protect children and eliminate child trafficking. Read more.
Members of The Code and ECPAT include international hoteliers ACCOR, Carlson, Hilton, Melia, Iberostar and Palladium, as well as big tour operator Kuoni and travel company Tui – which this year announced its own strategy to prevent slavery and human trafficking in its business.
Accor Hotels is acutely aware that exploitation can occur in hotels and for many years has developed its policies around its social conscience, urged on by their guests, 68% of whom believe that this is an important action that must be undertaken by hotels. Its WATCH programme (We Act Together for Children) trains 60,000 staff a year in how to spot abuse and what to do about it. It aims to have 100% of its hotels on the programme by 2020, and says that efforts to eradicate sexual exploitation of children is its top priority for the future.
Governments are also taking initiatives. Australia is leading the way with a proposed ban on allowing convicted paedophiles to travel overseas. The UK can restrict convicted paedophiles from travelling for up to five years with a Foreign Travel Order.
Travellers too have the power to save a child. Many of us are still happy to visit countries where customs and cultures are in conflict with our own consciences – female genital mutilation, for example, may be outlawed in large parts of the world, but this horrific practice is still happening. We can’t solve problems like this on one holiday, but we can be sensitive to what is happening around us – and tell our children about it to educate the next generation.
Abuse of children in travel doesn’t have to include sexual practices. Any traveller will be aware of beggars, especially in India, and stories of using children as beggars or pavement appeal are rife. Whether you give money or turn the other cheek here is a personal matter. But tourists do have a moral responsibility towards the people and places they visit.
Do some research, support businesses and stay in credibly sustainable hotels that take a stand against abuse and exploitation of children, and if you see anything askew, speak out. Your actions could make a huge difference – sometimes the whole difference – to a child’s life.