Children's rights

Risks for children related to tours and excursions are twofold: children may either be viewed as a tourist attraction, e.g. when tourists visit schools or orphanages, or they may themselves work in excursions as guides or helpers.

Children as tourist attractions

With the aim of gaining an insight into local day-to-day life and culture, some tour operators organise visits to schools, orphanages or slums, often paying small amounts of money to the institutions. Whereas school visits by tourists are strictly forbidden in most Western countries because of the high risks for children, such visits are common in many other regions of the world, such as South East Asia, but also in Sub-Saharan Africa. School visits are often offered by local guides. Visits to schools may disturb the schools’ routines and may harm the educational development of children.

Reports have shown that up to 80 percent of children living in orphanages are not orphans. As orphanages often attract lots of funding and have become a lucrative business in some countries, children in orphanages may have been deliberately separated from their parents and sometimes trafficked to those institutions for commercial purposes. Money paid to orphanages often does not directly benefit the children but goes into the hands of orphanage managers or traffickers.

Furthermore, visits to schools, orphanages or private homes (e.g. in slums) interfere with the children’s right to privacy. The frequent contact to tourists (strangers) also increases children’s vulnerability to verbal, physical or sexual violence and harassments.

Children working on excursion and tours and in the entertainment industry

Children may work on tours and excursions as helpers, guides, or porters. Furthermore, children are often engaged in the entertainment industry. While a child’s support to a family business may be legitimate if it does not interfere with his / her schooling and development, children must not be forced to work full-time or under hazardous working conditions.

Tourists should be aware of potential violations of children’s rights when they are in contact with them on tours and excursions. Money received by tourists may not only not directly support children, but could even make their situation worse as it may motivate their employers to make them work more.

See also the risk card on Retail and sales / Children’s rights for more information.

Campaign to end orphanage tourism in Cambodia

The NGO Friends International, with the backing of UNICEF, has launched a campaign to end orphanage tourism in Cambodia. Orphanage tourism is widespread in Cambodia, with children sometimes being sold or trafficked to institutions. Orphanages often promise parents that children will go to school or have a better life. Instead, children are often forced to perform for tourists and are held in poor conditions to attract higher donations.

Exo Child Safe Policy

Since 2013, Exo travel has banned any interaction between foreign visitors and children under 12 years old – such as through school or orphanage visits - in its offers. In its child safe policy, the company highlights the guiding principles of its engagement for child protection, which are based on recommendations by Friends International (see other tab). The policy also outlines measures and activities Exo travel has already implemented towards protecting children, such as the development of policies, communications towards customers and in newsletters, as well as training and awareness raising of guides and sales staff.

No questions asked before school visit

A UNICEF staff member writes about his experience when travelling to Dala in Myanmar. Being approached by a local guide and taken for a tourist, he was let into a school and even encouraged to take pictures from the children. He writes: “(…) it was a disturbing experience, and there were no checks on who I was or what I wanted to do with the children.”

Furthermore, the article highlights that orphanage tourism – comparable to the widespread orphanage tourism in Cambodia – is on the rise in Myanmar.

UNICEF is working with the governments and civil society to reintegrate children living in institutions with their families.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clauses on young workers / child labour in contracts / Supplier Code of Conduct with excursion providers.
  • Develop a child safeguarding policy.

Supplier assessment

  • Assess if young workers are involved in tours and if they receive special protection.
  • Ensure that there is no abusive child labour through second- and third-party audits.

Communication and reporting

  • Inform your customers about the risks associated with visits to schools/orphanages.
  • Provide communication material on children’s rights to customers (e.g. 7 Tips for Travellers Brochure by ChildSafe Movement).

Responsible product development

  • Do not include visits to schools and orphanages when developing new products.

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

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.