Protecting Children in Voluntourism

Protecting Children in Voluntourism

ECPAT International has partnered with ECPAT Sri Lanka on a short-term project to develop policies and procedures to regulate voluntourism in Sri Lanka thereby contributing to the development of its international advocacy.

Voluntourism combines both the terms “volunteering” and “tourism”. It describes volunteering assignments of tourists as part of their overall vacation or travel. These are mostly designed to provide an experience to tourists without considering its possible harmful consequences or its benefits to the surrounding community.

Sri Lanka’s popularity as a tourist destination and its post-war development struggles encouraged an increase in tourism both locally and internationally. According to paid voluntourist packages, tourists can decide to contribute by way of skills, knowledge and/or labour in many forms in diverse sectors. However, volunteering at children’s homes, orphanages, schools, child-centred societies, associations and other institutions demands regulations and observations to protect children from possible risks and other forms of abuse.

The exploitation of children in unregulated voluntourism is both a global as well as a local problem and requires integrated efforts on a national level to protect children. Hence, the project unveiled on voluntourism entails three main components as follows;

ECPAT Sri Lanka conducted one-to-one interviews with key informants to obtain first-hand information regarding the benefits, repercussions, lessons learnt, best practices etc. We also organised a National Consultation on 31st August 2022 as a critical step to engage stakeholders who joined hands and are committed to ending the risks and abuses connected with Voluntourism on children. The aims of this consultation were two-fold.

1. Raise awareness on the scope of Voluntourism and its implications on children and

2. Contribute effective suggestions towards formulating a draft National Ethical Code of

Conduct and Practices that will guide us to protect children in Sri Lanka.

As a country where tourism is increasingly a key focus area, Sri Lanka contributed to the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children on Regulating Voluntourism as part of child protection standards for the travel and tourism industry. This report was unpacked by the Special Rapporteur on 10th October 2023 in New York. The report calls upon all countries to regulate voluntourism and gives a strong basis for advocacy at country levels. In this regard, a short case study gathering key experiences from Sri Lanka and documenting a comprehensive picture of the absence of voluntourism regulations and standard practices in the country was compiled and is currently under review.

These case studies will be used as the base for developing advocacy material to call upon policymakers, the corporate sectors and civil society organisations to implement proper systems in sending and receiving countries.

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