On 16 October 2023, law enforcement agencies, civil society organisations, the private sector, and experts from UN Member States convened in New York for the high-level event “Placing Child Protection at the Core of Sustainable Travel and Tourism”.
Hosted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, the World Childhood Foundation, and the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations, participants gathered to discuss the way forward for a sustainable travel and tourism sector that prioritises child protection.
In attendance was Guillaume Landry, Executive Director of ECPAT International, who offered valuable insights into crucial aspects demanding immediate attention and action. In the following summary, explore the key points outlined by Mr. Landry as he delved into the trends, challenges, and opportunities for enhancing child protection in the ever-evolving landscape of sustainable travel and tourism.
In recent years, there has been a significant shift towards the decentralisation of tourism, with travellers seeking unique experiences such as interacting with local communities. While this offers more employment opportunities for local communities, it also exposes children within these communities to risks. The challenge we are seeing lies in mitigating these risks in increasingly remote destinations now central to tourism packages.
“How careful are we in making sure that volunteering is indeed a positive experience, both for the people travelling and for the communities and the children living there?”
The notion of purpose in travel has evolved, with more people seeking meaningful experiences beyond traditional holidays. Voluntourism packages have become a profitable feature for travel operators, but the risk is that children can become touristic attractions, which may lead to voluntourism becoming an avenue for sexual exploitation. Thus, ensuring voluntourism a positive experience for both travellers and communities is a key concern.
“The blurring of lines is really critical to understanding how it’s not just the most vulnerable children who are exposed to sexual harm in travel and tourism, but different categories of children.”
The dramatic change in connectivity has transformed all aspects of life, including travel and tourism. Tourism has become a conduit for transitioning from online to offline sexual exploitation. With widespread internet usage, all categories of children may be at risk of sexual harm.
Effectively tackling the sexual exploitation of children necessitates a collaborative, multi-sectoral strategy. Within the travel and tourism sector, it’s crucial to extend this approach to include the often-overlooked travel dimension. There is a need to involve actors including the Ministry of Transport to effectively address child sexual exploitation in transportation environments, including taxis and transit spaces.
Moreover, engaging the financial sector is of paramount importance. Through vigilant tracing of suspicious transactions and following money trails, the financial sector plays a pivotal role in establishing effective detection and reporting mechanisms to combat the sexual exploitation of children.
“We tend to do too much for [children] and not with them.”
Child participation is a necessity, not just a nicety. Recognising the changing nature of tourism, engaging children directly can provide valuable insights and ideas. Their participation should not just be for the sake of it, but to understand their realities and formulate appropriate and effective strategies.
“Yes, there is the aspect of convicted offenders who travel for the purpose of sexually exploiting children. But we must remind ourselves that the majority of those who do so did not travel with that intention but ended up doing so in the circumstances of their travel.”
Addressing the issue involves not only convicting offenders but also building a preventative approach. Understanding that a significant proportion of offenders are circumstantial abusers emphasises the need to educate travellers on the consequences of their actions. Building social intolerance for such crimes is crucial for long-term prevention.
“[We have to] deliver on earning [children’s] trust that if they disclose [sexual exploitation], things will get better for them, we’ll trust them, we’ll listen to them, we’ll care for them.”
A critical aspect in addressing child exploitation is recognising that the majority of children either don’t disclose or disclose to their most trusted peers, not to authorities. Building trust is vital, assuring children that disclosing will lead to positive outcomes. Creating an environment where children feel heard, cared for, and supported is essential for effective protection.