The World Tourism Day 2019 is hosted by UNWTO in India, and we’re taking this opportunity to bring attention to the work being done by ECPAT members in the country and India’s tourism industry to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. Many businesses, not only in India, are taking this step and on the World Tourism Day 2019, we invite you all to follow.
In a lodge in Baruipur, West Bengal, six girls were recently rescued from a situation of sexual exploitation. This was one of several simple-looking lodges – still under construction, with minimum amenities and no paintings on the wall. A lodge that is typical in the area and often out of the public eye. As sometimes is the case, when there are no child protection policies nor training on child protection, members of staff accepting tips and bribes in exchange for their secrecy. They were also providing additional services such as pornography, liquor, or sourcing the children themselves.
Community members who suspected what was going on reached out to ECPAT member Sanlaap for help. They promptly responded, together with the Baruipur police, in rescuing the girls, providing them with ongoing support and arresting six men.
Following a case of rape of a 6-year old girl, a daughter of a vegetable vendor, the ECPAT member Equations and the local government, tourism service providers, vendors and community members took action. They arranged training on how to spot sexual exploitation of children and hotels, lodges, guides, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers participated. They have now begun to play a crucial role in developing a local mechanism to protect children. Following the training, several suspected cases of child sexual exploitation have been reported.
As a result, the local government has started a process of developing a district-level child protection policy to address issues related to child protection.
West Bengal and Khajuraho are two of many regions in India, and in the world, where sexual exploitation and trafficking remain taboo and unspoken of in local communities. This leads to significant obstacles in reporting cases and protecting children.
Raising awareness is crucial – all individuals should recognize that sexual exploitation of children is a crime that cannot be tolerated. We should know the importance of speaking up, as well as who to report to. Reporting to the ECPAT members was fundamental to rescue the girls in West Bengal and to kick-start the work to prevent child sexual exploitation in Khajuraho.
Both of these cases from India reveal the protective potential of the travel and tourism industry. Organizations and law enforcement are increasingly working with companies to train staff and raise awareness of these issues. For example, Equations acts as a representative of The Code, an initiative working to engage businesses to implement child protection policies and procedures, to train staff on how to spot signs of child sexual exploitation and how to report it.
The travel and tourism industry has a responsibility to ensure that there is zero tolerance to sexual exploitation of children on their premises. Children are increasingly safe with educated, informed and proactive staff. Many businesses are taking this step and on World Tourism Day 2019, we invite you all to follow!
In India, cases of child exploitation can be reported to CHILDLINE 1098 or the local police, call 100.