Well-meaning Australian tourists will be warned against travelling to South East Asia to work with “fake orphans”, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launching a crackdown on “voluntourism” today.
With short-term volunteering placements, particularly in Bali and Cambodia, becoming more popular with young Australians, research shows that a new industry has boomed to feed the demand.
This means Australian travellers could be unwittingly contributing to a supply chain of people, money and resources, with children who are not orphaned being used to lure the tourist dollar.
Amid warnings that the industry could be engaged in child-trafficking and even slavery, Ms Bishop said the new Smart Volunteering Campaign would discourage Australians from any form of short-term, unskilled volunteering in overseas orphanages, and any activity where children were promoted as a tourist attraction.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is warning travellers about the possible hidden pitfalls of volunteering in Asia.Picture: AP
“Australia has a long and proud history of volunteering,” Ms Bishop said.
“For decades, thousands of Australians from all backgrounds have given their time and skills selflessly to help communities overseas. The work of our volunteers builds skills and supports economic growth in developing countries.
However, some Australian volunteers have unwittingly contributed to harmful practices by participating in the ‘voluntourism’ industry and engaging in orphanage tourism.”
Universities advertising placements will be targeted to ensure students do not unwittingly visit or volunteer in programs that exploit children.
Research by UNICEF last year showed the number of residential care institutions in Cambodia almost doubled between 2005 and 2010, but most of the children in these institutions were not orphans or abandoned.
The agency found that some orphanages had encouraged parents to give up their children by promising an education and a better life, but then prevented family reunions.
Children can also be exploited to attract funding and donations from tourists, including being forced to beg, interact and play with visitors.
About half of all residential care institutions are in Cambodia in the tourist hot spots of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but Bali is also popular.
The Smart Volunteering Campaign will encourage Australians who want to volunteer overseas to avoid short-term, unskilled volunteering in orphanages.