“While the concept of volunteering is premised on noble intentions, the manifestations of exploitation and sexual abuse of children within this domain are by now well acknowledged, owing to the fact that children are increasingly vulnerable, particularly in settings where legal protection is weak and child protection systems are inadequate or contain loopholes.”
In her recent report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, Mama Fatima Singhateh, brings to the forefront the impacts that voluntourism can have on children globally. The report focuses on the exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism, and emphasizes the urgent need for action to safeguard vulnerable children.
The thematic study is the product of contributions from States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, academia, and other stakeholders. As part of the consultation for this report, the Special Rapporteur put out a call for input, for which Lumos and Hope and Homes for Children produced a joint submission.
The report provides an overview of the prevalence and adverse effects of voluntourism, relevant international policy and legal frameworks, and examples of good practice for safe volunteering and voluntourism. The Special Rapporteur ends the report by providing recommendations for States and other stakeholders to help them to work towards the effective protection of children, including in the context of voluntourism.
It incorporates findings from Lumos's "Cycles of Exploitation: The Links Between Children's Institutions and Human Trafficking," a comprehensive review exploring the interconnections between child institutionalisation and human trafficking. It also highlights the impact of Lumos's #HelpingNotHelping campaign, which aims to educate people on the dangers of voluntourism to the children it was supposed to be helping.
The report concludes that: “While the benefits of voluntourism are many, the adverse effects of unregulated and unmonitored volunteering have wide-ranging repercussions, which include the sexual abuse and exploitation of children."
Lumos stands in support of the Special Rapporteur's commitment to shedding light on these critical challenges that impact children globally. We sincerely hope that governments, the private sector, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders take on the recommendations of the report in order to tackle some of the harm that voluntourism can cause children. We also wish to underscore the importance of partnership between different actors on this issue, to develop robust solutions aimed at stopping harmful voluntourism practices, while supporting volunteers to find meaningful, positive ways to help others and enact change.