Child Labour in Tourism: Who’s really behind your holiday? – Sustainability Story of the Week
It is estimated that 168 million children worldwide are involved in child labour. Child labour is defined as any work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity. It includes any work that:
• Is physically or mentally harmful either because of its nature or the conditions it is carried out
• Interferes with a child’s education
• Is a form of slavery such as trafficking of children and forced labour
Child labour is a very well known issue in the manufacturing industry. From clothing to carpets through to food items such as chocolate, the list of products manufactured by a child’s little hands around the world doesn’t seem to end.
However, often invisible to the consumer’s eyes are the millions of children working in the tourism industry. Child labour is present throughout the whole spectrum of the tourism industry: hotels, restaurants, guided tours, transportation, souvenir production and selling, recreational activities and the entertainment industry…
In fact, child labour in tourism is so widespread, particularly in the developing world, that it is likely that children contributed to your last holiday. This is a painful thought that us travellers don’t like considering. The same as it is hard to resist low priced products that are made in far-away lands thus making it easy for us to forget the realities behind those products. I have been guilty of that myself…
However it is important that we do. Children have rights and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they are protected. Here’s the good news, when it comes to tourism, there are fairly straightforward ways of doing this at pretty much no extra cost to you.
Spread the word
The lack of visibility of child labour in tourism means that companies and travellers are less likely to ask questions and take action. Raising awareness and spreading the word about child labour in tourism is therefore the first step. Tell your friends and family that their dream holiday can also be the nightmare of local children. It is easy to be unknowingly complicit so to avoid that, do some research, stay informed and ask questions. Check out the ChildSafe Movement for a great source of information and inspiration on how to be a “Child Safe Traveller”.
Don’t give money, food or gifts to children or buy souvenirs from them
It is not uncommon to see children selling souvenirs or begging in the streets of tourist destinations. Don’t be fooled by their smiles. In many cases, they are forced to leave school and used by adults to attract tourist sympathies. Giving money to child beggars is encouraging them to keep begging rather than go to school, thus confining them into poverty.
Moreover, human trafficking is common in developing countries and sadly many of the children selling goods or begging on the streets are victims of trafficking and modern slavery. By giving money to children or buying souvenirs from them, you might be funding human trafficking and condemning children to a life of hardship. Instead consider supporting local initiatives and organisations that strive to fight child labour in tourism and in any other industries, protect children and improve access to education.
Don’t visit orphanages
In recent years, well-intentioned tourists and volunteers have flocked to orphanages around the world. They spend a few hours, sometimes a few days with the children and give a donation to the institution before leaving with the feeling of having done something good. Little do they know that they have been nothing but pawns in the growing orphanage tourism industry. This type of tourism, while posing as a child’s guardian angel, is in fact one of the biggest danger to children’s welfare.
It has been shown that 80% of the children in institutions around the world are not, in fact, orphans! A whole industry has emerged where children are bought from families under false promises of a better future or trafficked to fill orphanages. They will then work for the orphanage by attracting tourists and sometimes dancing or singing for them in order to raise money. The money however does not go to improving their life at the orphanage but rather to fill the pockets of the people who control them. Their lives are punctuated by tourist visits and the deprivation of the love and care from their family.
Moreover, children in orphanages allowing tourist visits are often victims of abuse by both staff and visitors. The lack of regulation and proper background checks means that the doors of the orphanage are open to pretty much anyone – paedophiles and traffickers included…
Report child labour and abuse
If you come across a company that employs children or a situation where children are being abused or put into harm’s way, the best thing to do is to call a child protection hotline. You can find a list of hotlines here.
Travel with responsible tourism companies
A lot of the work that supports the tourism industry is done behind closed doors. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for governments and companies to monitor working conditions. However, travelling with a company that has a no child labour policy and that can provide evidence that it is taking actions on the ground to fight child labour is a good way of limiting the risk of your holiday benefiting from child labour. At Eco Companion, we only promote companies that have a true commitment to having a positive impact on the world. Check out here how we make sure that the companies on our site are responsible and sustainable.
We need to keep in mind that whilst child labour in tourism is particularly prevalent in developing countries, it is not absent in developed countries and is thus a global issue that governments, the tourism industry and travellers alike need to address. As citizens of the global world it is our responsibility to protect children, wherever they are.