Tourism does not only bring positive development to the poorest and most vulnerable part of populations living in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Protect Childhood Prevention Pillar look at educating both tourists and locals about the potential danger of children exploitation for tourism purposes…
GUILIN/BANGKOK – Looking at the delicate balance between tourism and child protection has been a regular feature of any Mekong Tourism Forum edition in the last couple of years. Guilin was no exception with a presentation by Afrooz Kaviani Johnson, Regional Technical Director of Project Childhood Prevention Pillar, an initiative of the Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAid). The agency was set up back to 2011. Project Childhood brings together World Vision, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and INTERPOL to address the serious issue of sexual exploitation of children in tourism in a dual prevention and protection approach.
“We need to step up prevention and inform more people how to practice a tourism safe for children. The remarkable growth of tourism in the Mekong countries offer real opportunities to people and help alleviating poverty. However, it can also have a harmful effect on children. With World Vision, we want to take responsibility to minimize tourism negative impact on vulnerable children”, said Mrs. Kaviani Johnson during a presentation in Guilin.
Project Childhood conducted an online survey in 2012 which was answered by over 300 international travellers to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, countries where Project Childhood is active. “The results provide only an instant and necessarily limited picture of tourists travelling to that region. The survey was indeed in English language and could be downloaded on websites targeting independent travellers. But it provides a good starting point to develop strategies for a Child Safe Tourism.
While most of the 361 participants to the survey indicate to have observed and interact with children met during their trip, over half of them (57.1%) also admit to have witnessed situations involving the exploitation or abuse of children while travelling. 85% admit to have been approached by kids selling souvenirs and 81.2% percent by children or youth who were begging. Almost half of them saw also children collecting rubbish (49%), working in a restaurant or hotel (48.5%) and perform in the street (38%). Sadly, 20.5% of the respondents also witnessed children or young people involved in the sex industry. People asked in the survey said to feel mostly sad, disgusted, concerned but also helpless and guilty.
A very annoying detail is that 28.8% of the respondents to the survey believe that children exploitation is an accepted normal fact for locals or that locals turned a blind eye to those abuse. This has for consequence that few tourists would then dare to intervene as they would feel powerless. But also the fact to think that locals are blind to children abuse has an extremely damaging image to the local tourism industry. In the survey, some of the respondents indicated to have shorten their stay when witnessing this kind of scene or to have decided not to come back again.
While 49.5% felt empathic and shared responsibility towards abused children and youth, they were only 19.5% to feel that they had enough information to protect local children.
A public campaign is now under development with prevention posters looking at bringing awareness to travellers to the region. “We hope to be able to display the posters at airports or areas where they are large tourist gatherings”, told Afrooz Kaviani Johnson. She also agrees that measures could be enforced by countries where sex travellers with youth have been detected. “In Australia for example, authorities will immediately alert local police forces if they are aware of someone already with a criminal record is going to a specific country”, stressed Mrs. Kaviani Johnson.
Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.