Anne Majumdar

The Australian Government’s new campaign to tackle the issue of orphanage tourism has been welcomed by organisations working to protect vulnerable children overseas.

Yesterday, foreign minister Julie Bishop revealed details of the “Smart Volunteering Campaign” to discourage Australians from “any form of short-term, unskilled volunteering in overseas orphanages”.

Involving states, territories and educational institutions, it also provides guidelines on how to be a “child-safe” volunteer.

Julie Bishop

It’s a major step in the fight to bring an end to the practice, but there is still more work to be done, according to Leigh Mathews of consultancy firm Alto which is a founding member of ReThink Orphanages. The organisation has been at the forefront of the awareness movement and was consulted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) regarding the new campaign.

“We are very proud of the Australian Government for leading the way in taking steps to educate and inform Australians about the harms of orphanage tourism and volunteering,” Mathews told KarryOn.

“This campaign is the first step in what we hope will be a range of mechanisms that the Australian Government will implement to better protect vulnerable children overseas from harm.”

Recent months have seen the travelling public become increasingly aware of the issue, with a  growing number of charities, travel and voluntourism companies moving away from orphanage voluntourism.

Could orphanage tourism by outlawed KarryOn

“Unfortunately, there are a small number of companies intent on continuing their activities,” Mathews said.

“We hope to support them to change their approach to supporting orphans and vulnerable children.”

ReThink Orphanages will continue to build its network and offer support to companies and individuals “to better care for vulnerable children”.

The organisation will also be working to support orphanage trafficking being part of a Modern Slavery Act, following its inclusion in the final report on establishing the act in Australia last year.

The next step is to push for similar strides in other countries such as New Zealand, the US and the UK.


“Australia is leading the way on this at a Government level, and we are very proud to have played a major part in seeing this issue gain the traction it deserves,” Mathews said.

But as long as other countries continue to send large volumes of travellers to take part in orphanage tourism, it undermines the efforts made both here and in receiving countries such as Cambodia and Nepal.

“Ideally, Australia can act as a model for other sending countries in how to reduce demand for orphan experiences through a mixture of legislation, education and awareness raising,” Mathews said.

orphanage-tourism-hansel-regrettal Intrepid KarryOn

Meanwhile, the Intrepid Group, which has also been vocal on the issue, also welcomed the new campaign.

“The commitment from the federal government is a great way to reach a wider audience and raise awareness of the negatives around orphanage tourism,” responsible business manager Liz Manning told KarryOn.

“With more content going on to the government’s Smart Traveller website, we’re confident it will help towards a shift in consumer demand for these types of experiences.”

However, Manning identified a major challenge as ensuring that companies who move away from offering these kinds of experiences do so in an ethical manner, to prevent putting children at further risk. As a result, Intrepid encourages its travellers and staff to support organisations like Forget Me Not that help reintegrate children with their families and keep families together. To date, Intrepid has donated more than $90,000 to Forget Me Not.

READ: Why orphanage tourism could soon be outlawed

READ: Travellers urged to “help not harm” vulnerable kids overseas

Where do you stand on orphanage tourism?