2017 marks progress for protecting children from travelling sex offenders

As 2018 is welcomed by the White House continuing to proclaim January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, 2017 provided some positive news in relation to the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.

Last November, the U.S State Department began a policy of revoking the passports of convicted child sex offenders and issuing new ones which will indicate the holder’s conviction, thus targeting those who are likely to travel for the purpose of sexually exploiting children.

Australia passed a similar law that goes even further and requires registered child sex offenders to seek permission from law enforcement to leave Australia, with failure to do so possibly resulting in the cancellation of the offender’s passport.

A more inconspicuous area that increases the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation is voluntourism, the practice of volunteering in a developing country as part of a holiday package and has become a recent popular trend. While it can be beneficial to the local population, a particular form of voluntourism, working in an orphanage, brings with it dangers of child trafficking and exploitation.

Several NGO’s dedicated to the de-institutionalisation of children, including Lumos and Better Care Network, have found that most orphans are trafficked into orphanages for making a profit from the high-fees that volountourism agencies charge. The volunteers rarely have the qualifications or even background checks necessary to work in such close proximity to children.

In light of such research, two major travel companies this year, Projects Abroad and World Challenge ended their volunteer programmes involving orphanages. Similarly, last month, the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade issued a report which recognised orphanage tourism as a form of modern slavery. Earlier in the year, the US published their Trafficking in Persons Report, which also recognised orphanages as destination points for trafficked children.

The Code also took steps to eliminate this hidden form of child exploitation by introducing new guidelines for its members which expressly forbid the inclusion of voluntourism activities within orphanages or other forms of residential care for children in settings with minimal support or supervision.