Vulnerable kids need us to keep talking about orphanage tourism

The message is getting out there that we shouldn’t be visiting orphanages on our travels, but there is still work to be done to put an end to the practice.

The message is getting out there that we shouldn’t be visiting orphanages on our travels, but there is still work to be done to put an end to the practice.

To keep the momentum going, a panel discussion on the topic took place in Sydney yesterday with speakers from a range of organisations such as Save the Children, ReThink Orphanages, Intrepid Group, Forget Me Knot and RMIT University.

Its aim was to raise awareness of the child protection risks of orphanage tourism, while discussing better solutions for children.

In attendance were over 45 representatives from a range of travel businesses, corporate businesses, government and non-profits.

It’s a difficult issue because people involved in orphanage tourism think of themselves as “problem solvers” while they are actually “problem creators”, according to Kent Goldsworthy of RMIT University.

“As a society we love to endorse people with good intentions,” he explained.

“Good intentions are uncritically accepted. It’s a tough conversation to be critical of good intentions.”

But it’s definitely a talk worth having, according to Intrepid Group responsible business manager Liz Manning said.

“Our stance is to have a conversation about how we can do things better,” she told the panel.

“It’s a heavy topic but we have a responsibility to do something about it.”

She advised travel companies to “evaluate” who they choose to work with and create a code of conduct.

Image credit: ABC

Intrepid stopped visiting orphanages in 2016 as a result of feedback from its customers which revealed that more than a third of those on one of the visits felt “really uncomfortable”.

It prompted them to reassess their position. Then, working closely with ReThink Orphanages, it phased the visits out while being careful not to stop funding “overnight”.

While Cambodia has been highlighted as a particular hotspot, ReThink cofounder Leigh Mathews warned that it is a much bigger issue with the number of orphanages often correlating to the number of tourists, catering to demand for orphan experiences.

“This is happening all over the world, in every place where there are vulnerable children,” she said.

“We need big companies to come out and say no to these practices.”

With growing awareness around the issue, the risk of damage to their reputations is helping to get companies over the line, she added.

Forget Me Not co-founder Kate Van Doore explained how she had witnessed shocking conditions and examples of fraud at orphanages in India, Uganda and Nepal.

“The poor conditions were to elicit more funding and sympathy,” she said.

“It’s a form of human trafficking and modern slavery.”

She highlighted the modern slavery act as “set to drop” next week.

“The government’s position last week is that orphanage tourism trafficking is criminalised under the code,” she explained.

“Companies with turnovers of $100m must report on supply chains and any contributions to residential care institutions.”

Intrepid’s Manning advised travel companies could use the modern slavery act as a “driving force” with partners, she advised.


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Have you been following the campaign to end orphanage tourism?