How to be an ethical traveller

Spending months on the road with just a backpack and no fixed itinerary has become a rite of passage for Australia’s youth. Seeking both adventure and affordability, it’s not too surprising that developing countries, particular those in our region, are a popular destination.

For many young travellers, this may be the first time that they come face-to-face with child poverty. More often than not, they will also want to do something to help – whether that’s making a donation to a local orphanage, volunteering, or sharing their loose change with street kids.

But good intentions can inadvertently have a negative impact, says James Sutherland from the ChildSafe Movement. “Going on a tour of an urban slum area, watching a show put on by orphans, or giving money to child beggars … these are behaviours which can keep children in poverty or even in abusive situations.”

James adds: “During a visit to a developing country, it is not unusual to see children at risk – perhaps begging in traffic, selling postcards or fruit at tourist sites, or shining shoes in train stations. So we’ve put together some useful tips to ensure that travellers can play a part in keeping children safe from harm.”

Around 10 million Australians travelled overseas in 2016, with those aged 25-29 travelling the most of any age group.

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 travellers 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.

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.

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.

Tip 6: THINK! Children should not be at work instead of school – report child labour

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.

Tip 7: THINK! Protect children – be a ChildSafe traveller

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!

Finally, don’t forget to treat children and families with the same courtesy that you would use at home. Wanting to document your adventure and the people you meet is completely understandable, and makes for some great memories, but always ask permission before getting your camera out. And where children are involved, take the time to get consent with a parent or guardian in the first instance. Good manners will always go a long way no matter which part of the world you find yourself in.

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