World Tourism Day 2020: Child protection is key to sustainable tourism
The COVID-19 crisis has and is still affecting economies and disrupting travel and tourism businesses worldwide. The situation is pushing many families further into poverty and making children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. On this World Tourism Day, ECPAT International and the Down to Zero Alliance are urging the travel and tourism industry to maintain or make child protection a key priority as the sector recovers.
This year’s World Tourism Day unites us to celebrate tourism and drive recovery in rural communities. In the last decades, the travel and tourism sector has seen an extraordinary growth which has significantly contributed to economies, particularly in Asia and Latin America. However, it has also brought challenges to child protection, including for rural communities, indigenous people and other marginalised groups. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 is increasing risks to the implementation of a wide range of children’s rights, including the protection of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Travelling offenders who sexually exploit children travel can be foreigners and nationals, men and women. It is anticipated that some offenders who are grooming children online during the COVID-19 related travel restrictions, may travel to meet them as restrictions ease, or continue to sexually exploit them online. Child sex offenders keep adapting their approaches as opportunities arise, and while foreign travel is limited, some offenders may be encouraged to offend domestically.
To protect children from sexual exploitation in the context of travel and tourism, their rights must be a key priority as the industry develops experiential, community-based, rural and eco-tourism alternatives to mass tourism. To reach this goal, it is crucial that businesses, local communities and civil society organisations collaborate to ensure that children are not used as “tourist attractions” and are protected at all times.
The Code members committed to protecting children
Travel and tourism businesses that are members of The Code, an initiative hosted by ECPAT International, are all committed to ending the sexual exploitation of children. One member company illustrates and encourages others: “Travel should improve people’s lives – both for the travellers and for the local people. Contribute to this.”
Apart from businesses playing their part, the capacity of social services must be strengthened to identify children at risk of being separated from their families, both as a result of poverty and other protection issues caused by COVID-19. It’s also important that governments provide economic assistance to low-income families and communities to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and child labour.