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In the best interests of children. Keeping children’s best interests in mind through tourism and volunteering.

One of the most wonderful and rewarding opportunities that we have is to travel and learn about new cultures, communities and countries. Often travelling and tourism involves ‘giving back’ to those we meet through volunteering our time or supporting those in need. But how can we ensure that we are travelling responsibly and keeping children’s best interests in mind as we go? WTMY has combined some of our top tips for travelling ‘child safe’.

Get to know the real story of street based children

Education3 250 x 250Children and young people on the streets are now being termed ‘street based’ or ‘street connected’ to reflect a more real picture of how they live and work. Street based communities are made up of a wide variety of situations not only those who sleep rough. Being street based includes those who are living, working or spending time on and off the streets; it can also mean those who are on the edges of street life and those who are at risk of homelessness because of poverty, war or disasters. Some street based children have families that they spend time with; some stay in shelters, others make ‘pseudo’ families in communities, some have no one, some have nice clean clothes, some have no shoes, some have jobs and some go to school regularly.

The reality is a more complex picture than we think, but they still need very much need our investment. By shifting our mind-set from negative and narrow portrayals of street connected children and families, we are empowering those we assist and representing them with respect and dignity; helping them to claim their full range of human rights.

Not giving directly to street based children or taking them out to lunch

It can feel so good to directly give to those with less than us, however giving to street children can cause further harm and keep them in the same situation you hope to help them out of. Children might be forced to beg or sell goods and handover their earnings to others.  Spending time with street children that you meet along the way also discourages them from joining programs, education and seeking help with established organisations working hard to support them into more positive situations.

Children need to develop safe relationships with adults over the long term and whilst you may be a very safe person, the sad truth is that there are many who aren’t. Approximately 75% of street based children are sexually abused by peers and adults. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and women through tourism is growing globally at an alarming rate with domestic and foreign predators seeking out vulnerable children to groom and harm them or engage in the sex trade.

We need to send a clear message as child safe travellers. We need to teach children not to take gifts from strangers, or go with unknown people and about what to do when they are feeling unsafe with anyone. Let a professional or helpline know if you see a child who is unsafe. At WTMY we are teaching ‘protective behaviours’ which builds children and young people’s safety networks with people and organisations supporting over the long term. You can do a world of good by giving funds or goods to your chosen charity or community organization, by raising awareness in your country and by giving your skilled support, over spending time directly with children on the street.

Supporting families not orphanages

Education2 250 x 250There is a growing concern over the number of orphanages and children’s homes being created in developing countries like Nepal. Reports by UNICEF, Save the Children and others show that many orphanages lack adequate facilities and appropriate care for children and that up to 85% of children in orphanages have families elsewhere that can care for them. Research shows that some children are being trafficked and sold into orphanages for profit and that many families feel pressure to place their children into children’s homes because they believe their children will be better off.

Well-meaning donors are inadvertently fuelling a negative situation in their best wishes to support those in need. Not all orphanages are like this and not all children can stay at home but it makes a lot of sense to thoroughly check out where you plan to support before doing so. In most cases the most appropriate place for a child is with their families and communities and this has the best outcomes for children. Consider making a positive impact by investing in organisations and communities who are finding solutions, building family capacity and reunifying children when safe to do to know that you are putting your hard earned money and support to positive options.

Ethical volunteering means being skilled and mindful

As ethical volunteers, we want to work on the basis of ‘do no harm’. Why isn’t it just enough to want to volunteer anywhere, for anyone, doing anything? The answer is that volunteering can sometimes be more harmful for the children or community in which you work, or for the volunteer themselves if not done in a mindful way. Volunteering is a big commitment, and you should go into it with eyes wide open and make educated choices. Knowing your own skills, personal limits and capabilities, being realistic about how long you are willing to commit for and what your personal and wellbeing needs are will help.

Make sure your host organization has a good reputation, is transparent about how it supports people, where your funds will go and that it is providing quality recognized programs run by suitably skilled and qualified staff in the field you are volunteering in. Often, genuinely supporting an organisation might be about helping out in other ways rather working directly with children. Make sure you are already suitably trained, qualified and skilled to work directly with children (in your home country), particularly where there are traumatized children, otherwise consider a different type of placement. Vulnerable and traumatised children may be experiencing complex emotional and psychological issues and need stability, consistency and to be able to create secure attachments with safe adults.

Short-term volunteer placements discourage children’s healing because children are building relationships over and over with people only to see that person leave, which has destabilizing and damaging consequences. If you only have a few weeks to help out- why not consider helping in the back office, doing strategic support, training and capacity building, help with fundraising and awareness raising, or offer your many other fantastic skills? Providing skilled support genuinely helps organizations to make a difference to those they are assisting and many organizations are crying out for all types of support not only working directly with children or teaching English.

Responsible children’s organizations should have child protection policies and codes of conduct and should request international volunteers to gain clearance to work with children in their home countries before commencing work.

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Children are not tourist attractions

These days there is a good chance that you may get offered to visit an orphanage or go on a ‘slum tour’ as part of an organized trip to new communities. We would not be allowed to pop into our local foster home, therapists office, childcare Centre or be taken on a tour of impoverished areas in order to take a few snapshots in our own country, so why should going abroad be any different? Children need safety and privacy and communities deserve dignity. Think twice before visiting for fun.

Keep child labour out of the supply chain

Child labour is when a child is when a child is employed or forced into dangerous work that deprives them of their rights, their ability to gain an education or their childhood and is causing emotional, physical or psychological distress or harm. Not all labour is considered to be child Labour (for example an adolescent with a non hazardous part time paid job that is suitable for their age and abilities and allowing them to gain an education and which does not disturb their development).

Child Slavery exists when a child is forced to work and becomes owned by their employer, they have been sold into that trade and then perhaps sold on to others. Examples where child labour has been an ongoing concern include factory work, the carpet industry, agriculture, mining, domestic servitude and the garment trade. Look out for fair trade options when travelling. #shoppositive

Protect children’s and young people identities and stories online

There are so many wonderful opportunities when travelling to take incredible photos of the places and people we meet and children are often at the forefront of this, especially when they are delightfully screaming ‘one photo, one photo!’ When taking photographs first check if there might be any cultural restrictions on taking photographs and ensure you have the permission of the person or parent that you wish to photograph. Reject images that expose children in vulnerable situations (such as as children sleeping in doorways or taking drugs) and avoid publishing children’s personal stories and names online.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself  ‘what is the purpose of publishing this? or ‘Would it be appropriate to take this photograph or publish this child’s story in my own country?’ and just follow the same principles. There may be other ways to get across your message or to raise awareness. Let’s assist children and young people to claim their rights to respect, dignity and privacy no matter where they live or what situation they are in.

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Check out these sites and resources for more information on ethical volunteering, child safe travel and its importance.