ECPAT conducts national programme on ‘voluntourism’

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Every Child Protected against Trafficking (ECPAT) Sri Lanka is conducting a national consultation on child protection in ‘voluntourism’ focusing on how to provide an experience to tourists that reduces harmful consequences and benefits local communities.

“A recent research conducted on Benevolent Harm: Orphanages, ‘Voluntourism’ and Child Sexual Exploitation in South-East Asia outlined institution-based sexual exploitation, including within orphanages, is on the rise in South-East Asia. It summarised practices that led to child sexual exploitation and related harms within or facilitated by orphanages,” said Mohammed Mahuruf, Executive Director of ECPAT Sri Lanka.

Dhinush Jayasooriya, the Education Director of SOS Children’s Village shared his experiences where voluntourism can be misused. He further explained the good practices organisations can follow to ensure children benefit from voluntourism while minimising the potential risks to them.

“They (volunteers) come ready to help in various ways. Sometimes we see that when talking about volunteering, they come with only one thing in mind. But after coming, they do something else,” he further remarked.

Adding insights to the current context, Thanuja Dissanayake, the Commissioner of Probation and Child Care Services shared the on-going activities of the department and the upcoming course of action to strengthen child protection measures, especially in the travel and tourism sector.

“While talking to many people here, today I found out that there are many organisations that work with us. So, with the support of all of them, we are doing a difficult job, said,” DIG Renuka Jayasundara.

She further explained the duties of the Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women and how the general public can involve more with the efforts taken by the Police. She also shared insights on the current legal context of child abuse and exploitation.

Director (Legal) of the National Child Protection Authority, Preethika Sakalasooriya also provided valuable insights on the laws applicable in voluntourism as well as travel and tourism.

She further shared insights on why certain complications arise while dealing with child abuse and exploitation incidents.

“We look at certain incidents; there are some cases that we have received as complaints. Sometimes the child does not know that those incidents are abuses,” Sahan Wiratunga, Senior Project Officer of ECPAT Sri Lanka also talked about the code of conduct in voluntourism. 

This is known as The Code, he said and re-elaborated on the aspects a good and ethical code of conduct should have, and how service providers in the travel and tourism sector could connect with this international code of conduct.

Compiling all the insights shared by every participant, a way forward was discussed. The participants proposed to form an Action Committee consisting of representatives from government, civil society, law enforcement agencies and the private sector for policy making on Voluntourism and act upon the recommendations that emerged from the consultation. The event was attended by 67 participants representing various stakeholders.

Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere (PEaCE) is a non-profit organisation that was launched in 1991 and has taken the initiative to organize this consultation.

The primary focus of PEaCE is to protect children from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation.