A Traveler’s Guide to Stopping Child Labor in Tourism

One of the joys of vacation is having reduced responsibilities. No laundry to wash, someone cleaning your room and making your bed for you, someone cooking your meals and choosing between an array of beautifully made crafts local to the region.

But think for a moment… who is doing all this for you? If you don’t know the answer, you’ve likely been contributing to child labor while not even knowing it.

It is easy to feel removed from child labor while traveling, until you are aware of the signs. In India alone, it is officially estimated that 13 million children are working in the tourism industry in some fashion, while unofficial estimates range from 60-100 million children.

It’s important to note the distinction between child work, and child labor. Children may work in a variety of capacities (helping parents in their store, working on a family farm etc.) and still attend school and develop functionally. Child labor, on the other hand, is when the labor itself means that the child is deprived of an education, may be away from a family setting, and have their childhood rights stripped from them.

While child labor may bring to mind sweatshops, mining, street beggars or other visible tasks children may be engaged in, the truth is that much of child labor is not as visible.

Bringing awareness to and promoting Child Labor Free Tourism is something every traveler can do, fortunately! Here are three ways to start with.

1) Become Involved

Volunteer with organizations that directly combat Child Labor in Tourism such as ECPAT – End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking – (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Pacific) or with ECPAT International to work on projects involving child exploitation in tourism. HOWEVER, a caveat to this is to also avoid becoming involved in exploitative volunteering, i.e. ‘voluntourism’ at an orphanage or slum for a day, after paying hundreds of dollars to do so. This is a waste of your money, and direct exploitation of children.

2) Educate Yourself
Look up, before you go, if your destination has any instances of child labor and, if so, take steps to avoid engaging in activities that exploit children (or staying at an establishment known for using child labor). Also, despite your best efforts, you may see suspicious behavior….report it!

3) Educate Others
So many good resources are out there to share with fellow travelers who may not have even thought about how their travel may be directly tied to child labor and exploitative practices.

Intrepid Travel is one of the few travel companies that have signed the United Nations Global Compact to uphold the abolition of child labor in tourism.

What to do if you see child labor in action? Contact an NGO (don’t give money directly, as it might not stay with the child). UN World Tourism Organization is a great one and they have a lot of materials for travelers as part of Friends-International Child Safe Movement as illustrated below with some great tips.

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