Abta has partnered with the Hope and Homes for Children charity to spearhead an effort to discourage well-meaning UK tourists and volunteers from visiting overseas orphanages.
The association says the move comes in response to the “global issue” of the “burgeoning orphanage industry”. Members of the Orphanage Tourism Taskforce include Tui, Intrepid Travel, Exodus Travels and Projects Abroad.
According to Abta, misdirected donations, visits by holidaymakers and volunteer projects in orphanages can fuel corrupt orphanage businesses that tear families apart and exposes children to exploitation and abuse for commercial gain.
“What many tourists, volunteers and even some travel companies don’t know is 80% of the eight million children trapped in overseas orphanages today are not orphans,” said Mark Waddington, chief executive of Hope and Homes for Children.
“Most are separated from their families because of poverty, disability or discrimination. But increasingly, children are also being targeted to pose as orphans to meet the demand of travellers from wealthy countries who want visit orphanages while overseas.
“Often these children can be forced to perform or beg for funds from these tourists and volunteers.”
According to the taskforce, 37 out of every 100 children living in orphanages may suffer violence or sexual abuse.
The lack of individual love, care and attention can also result in lasting emotional, physical and neurological damage.
“The tragedy is many dangerous orphanages are operating as profit-making businesses,” said Waddington. “Some even employ professional child-finders to go into impoverished communities to persuade vulnerable parents to give up their children with the promise of schooling. This is child trafficking.
“The more children the orphanage has, the more funding they receive, or the more well-meaning visitors they attract from Western countries. It’s a lucrative industry, with the money too often ending up in the pockets of orphanage owners, instead of benefiting children and their families.”
Abta is reminding members of the importance of moving away from offering donations, volunteer projects and tourist trips to orphanages, and the need to educate well-meaning travellers.
Chief executive Mark Tanzer added: “Abta has been taking an active role in supporting child safeguarding for many years and advising its members to move away from supporting orphanages. Travel companies have policies not to visit or support orphanages, but there is more to be done.
“Working in partnership with Hope and Homes for Children, the Orphanage Tourism Taskforce will increase traveller awareness of orphanage tourism, provide evidence to government to inform advice and engage with tourist boards and local suppliers to transition away from any orphanage visits.
“It is well-meaning travellers that are trying to help, but by raising awareness of the reality we can safeguard children’s futures.”