As part of the Responsible Tourism Programme at World Travel Market last November we organised a panel on Child Protection with panellists talking about the issues which affect the children of holidaymakers and children in destinations – child abuse is an issue in all societies. When children are away with their parents or guardians they are more isolated with the accompanying adults than they may be at home and more alcohol may be consumed, the holiday experience can amplify problems between parents and between parents and children. Ask any resort manager or rep and they’ll have examples. TUI and Thomas Cook train their staff to deal with the issues of child protection which arise among families abroad.
The children’s charity Barnardo’s has reported this month an 84 per cent rise in children trafficked for sex abuse in the UK One in four of the victims of sexual abuse it worked with in September 2012 had been trafficked, an increase from one in six in September 2011. Its annual report reveals that 140 of the children it helped in September had been trafficked, up from 76 a year earlier.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, said “We are shocked at the rise in the number of children reporting they have been moved around the country by abusers.” She is calling for more to be done to identify the victims of child sexual exploitation who are being internally trafficked and to intervene to stop the activity.
Barnardo’s aid workers have identified ‘a growing trend’ of victims being taken to hotels with only online check-ins to avoid detection by staff. No one is arguing that the travel and tourism industry causes child abuse but the transport and accommodation facilities which are part of the industry are used by paedophiles.
Unless the industry is vigilant, and trains staff to spot child abuse and intervene effectively, it risks facilitating the sexual exploitation of children and a broad range of child abuse. There needs to be an expectation in the industry that staff will intervene whenever suspicions are raised, and staff need to be trained in what to look for and what to do if they have suspicions.
The sexual exploitation of children is not merely a developing country issue, as Barnardo’s report illustrates the challenge exists in all destinations. There were four times as many travel industry people at the wildlife panel discussion as there were at the one on child protection – that does not reflect well on the industry. The idea that the problem has been successfully tackled and that it is no longer a problem appears to have taken root. Unfortunately this is not the case.
The industry needs to address the issue to avoid playing a significant role in facilitating child abuse. There are strong ethical and reputational risk management reasons to prioritise the issue. It is time to take responsibility.