I had the privilege of spending a couple of years in Cusco, Peru in 2009. At that time, there were many street children and child vendors. I knew it was better not to give money to street kids (more on this later), but I often bought artwork or finger puppets from kids selling them on the streets.
Looking back on it, I did the wrong thing. The street kids in Cusco knew a few facts about just about every country where tourists came from - "New Zealand's capital is Wellington. You have a lot of sheep!" etc. It was impressive and engaging, but it also shows that tourists were at least in part responsible for keeping these kids on the streets.
So as GOOD travellers, what can you do to ensure that you are helping children when you travel and not accidentally harming them? We're thrilled to have connect with the ChildSafe movement to share their 7 Tips for Travellers with you to help ensure you make the right choices on your next trip.
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 "tours". They are not zoos. A good way to think about this is to think about what would be acceptable in your own country. Would you want a bus load of tourists visiting your child's school every day during class time for example?
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. Think about your end goal - empowering children to rise out of poverty - and how best to achieve this. This could mean donating to a local project working with children or volunteering in a different capacity but not directly with children. You can read more about our five questions to ask yourself before volunteering abroad here.
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. I know how hard this can be, but next time a child asks you for money or food, remember this tip! Think about how much money you would like to give that child and instead give it to a local non-profit organisation working with street children and their families. Another great way to channel your desire to help kids is to spend your money at GOOD tourism businesses working directly to help youth and families such as training restaurants and shops. ChildSafe or GOOD Travel can help connect you with such organisations and businesses.
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. 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 organisation or call the police.
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. When you see such a situation, don’t put yourself at risk. Call a child protection hotline, contact a local organisation 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 labor.
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. Many children are just helping out their parents after school, but some may be exploited. If in doubt, 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 organisation or call the police.
Tip 7 - THINK! Protect children – be a ChildSafe traveler.
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. GOOD Travel will soon be going through their training too!