So, I know that I promised I was going to do my best to not talk about the negative things that are taking place in the tourism industry but this is one that I just cannot ignore. I am taking a sustainable tourism course at my college, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and on Tuesday we had a guest speaker that opened my eyes to this very issue of Orphanage Tourism.
So, what is it? The best way that I know how to put it into my own words is the exploitation of children in organized orphanages to gain a profit from tourism dollars. Some of these children may very well have families and are essentially taken by the orphanage to give them a “better life”. This thought of giving your child up may seem completely unrealistic but in many cases these families are already immensely struggling with providing their children with basic necessesties let alone guaranteed food, shelter and even education. Another major problem with orphanage tourism is the impacts it is creating on the children. In some cases many are abused, mistreated and not allowed to go to school/eat. Additionally, these children are being exposed to a new group of tourists every day/week/month. Not only is this creating severe attachment issues but is also creating abandonment, trauma, and instability in the childrens’ lives. Even more intensely, in some cases, this is creating a link to human trafficking. Many of these children do not have a lot of options when they become adults and typically are not highly educated. They also tend to have developmental and psychological issues. The combination of these things may lead to reliance on prostitution as a means to survive.
By visiting this type of orphanage, with the best intentions of helping the children and providing donations to the center, is the very thing that is fueling the demand for this industry to keep doing what it is doing. I genuinely urge you before you decide to volunteer or donate to a childrens shelter, DO YOUR RESEARCH! I have attached a link from Friends International that gives you list of questions when evaluating an institution. Here are a few:
1. Is the orphanage legally registered with the government
2. Does the orphanage have a child protection policy
3. Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to the children
4. Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program …
Before making the decision to volunteer your time or give up your hard earned money to such a beautiful cause of helping orphaned children please keep this issue in mind. Yes, there are very helpful and legitimate organizations in the world that do deserve your time and money. One by one, we can change the demand for this industry by consciously choosing not to support them. Remember, “Children Are Not Tourist Attractions”
Once again, sorry for the downer post. However, I feel that this is a major issue that needs a voice and needs to be shared and exposed. After reading this, next time you think about volunteering or traveling to volunteer you will do your research? Is this something that you believe can be stopped?
http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/en/content/tip4/qna.html (link to research questions)
http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/ (more info on orphanage tourism)