Volunteering

Children's rights

Projects that include working with children, be it in schools, play clubs, recreational camps, or orphanages, are very popular among volunteers. However, volunteering, and “voluntourism” in particular, holds many risks for children.

Many tour operators offering volunteering projects have lax recruitment systems and do not carry out sufficient background checks when selecting their volunteers as customers usually pay considerable amounts of money for the experience. Volunteers are often not properly trained or prepared to work with children but still get to spend a lot of time alone with them. Furthermore, without proper preparation they may lack the cultural knowledge and understanding of traditions, behaviours and customs in their travel destination. The same applies for volunteers working with children in refugee camps.

Unqualified volunteers working with children can have adverse impacts on children’s development. Short-term assignments, as included in many voluntourism packages, may have negative effects on children as they are constantly given new reference people. Furthermore, there have been many reported cases of sexual and physical abuse and exploitation of children by volunteers who have taken advantage of the lack of control mechanisms and supervision on-site.

Several studies have shown that about 80% of the children who live in orphanages have at least one living parent. Orphanages have been found to create a demand for child trafficking. Some families sell their children to orphanages as a means of moving out of poverty. In some countries, fake orphanages created for the purpose of voluntourism have become a lucrative business. In some cases, parents, mostly living in rural areas, are deceived into paying for their children to go to an orphanage in the city, thinking that they will receive a good education there. Some tour operators have responded to this phenomenon by no longer offering volunteering in orphanages. 

Volunteer travel: Experts raise concerns about unregulated industry.

In the article linked below, child protection experts warn about the adverse effects of sending untrained young people to volunteer with vulnerable people.

The video shows the potential harm that short-term orphanage volunteering may have on children and local communities.

Volunteering and child trafficking into orphanages

The Australian NGO Forget Me Not writes in its study about the opaque orphanage system in Nepal and Uganda and the exploitation and trafficking of children related to orphanages in these countries.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Develop a clear company policy (Code of Conduct) stating a commitment to protect children potentially affected by volunteering activities.
  • Integrate clauses on child protection and safeguards in agreements with local partner organisations.
  • Develop selection criteria for volunteers (including background checks and police clearances). Establish standards such as letters of motivation, CVs and police clearance certificates.
  • Define clear rules of conduct for volunteers, particularly when dealing with children.
  • Develop a Code of Conduct for departing volunteers. This includes rules on how to deal with children, procedures to report observations of any actions against the well-being of the children, as well as information on how to handle photos of and with children. (cf. Brot für die Welt / Working Group Tourism & Development (akte) / ECPAT Germany (2018): From Volunteering to Voluntourism)

Supplier assessment

  • Visit partner organisations regularly to assess the situation on the ground.

Training and capacity building

  • Conduct training for partner organisations on the topic.
  • Conduct mandatory preparatory training including issues around children's rights for volunteers before they volunteer.

Impact assessment

  • Evaluate the potential and actual impact the volunteering activity might have on children through consultation with people on the ground and by systematically gathering feedback from volunteers when they return (de-briefing).

Grievance mechanisms

  • Promote helplines and hotlines, where incidents of human trafficking can be reported (e.g. ECPAT campaign "Don't look away" to report on the sexual exploitation of children).

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.