21 October 2011

Ending Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia

A more concerted effort to discuss the shortcomings of voluntourism is picking up steam. A program by the Friends Network and ChildSafe Network that is also sponsored by UNICEF seeks to change this in Cambodia. The "Think Child Safe" campaign provides tips to travelers on how to ensure the safety of children when traveling to Cambodia.  Their tips are:

1) Support ChildSafe Network Members
2) Avoid buying from children and refrain from giving to the begging children
3) Purchase products made from parents and youth in training
4) Avoid situations and actions that could be exploitative including visit to orphanages
5) Taking children back to your hotel room for any reason is not a good idea
6) Avoid places that tolerate prostitution
7) Keep your eyes wide open

I would bet that numbers 2 and 3 will raise some eyebrows. Number 2 will get some push-back, but it is the issue of orphans that I am betting will lead to strong reactions. ChildSafe writes:
A recent report into Cambodian residential institutions (orphanages) has revealed that tourist visits, despite tourists' best intentions, cause more harm than good. The report shows that orphanage tourism, often conducted by unscrupulous business operators, does more to harm, rather than help child protection, rights and education standards. Further, it is shown that this industry contributes to the separation of Cambodian families.
They list a series of questions and answers on the topic here. Additionally, a group of 'case studies' are provided, but anecdotes are not enough for people who support the idea of visiting orphanages in Cambodia. Their advice to be careful about orphanages is good, but more information will strengthen the claim.

It is a good thing for a large organization like UNICEF to be a sponsor. Maybe they will step up to take the lead on the issue of orphanage tourism and voluntourism at large.*

What do you think about the campaign?  Will it work?  Are they right?


*To be clear, I am not saying that voluntourism should be eliminated.  Rather, it should be carefully considered.