Action Against ‘Orphanage Tourism’

The Australian Government has signalled it will take action to prevent shonky overseas orphanages seeking support from Australian schools.

Momentum is building to prevent schools and universities unwittingly sending students to volunteer in overseas orphanages that profit from ‘orphanage tourism’ and ‘voluntourism’.

Both are forms of child exploitation and trafficking, where orphanage operators in poor countries convince families to give up their children for money. These organisations then profit from overseas donations and volunteer support for the ‘orphans’.

The Australian Government has signalled its intention to act, as a parliamentary committee investigates the problem ahead of the possible introduction of an Australian Modern Slavery Act.

The Minister for Education Simon Birmingham has said he plans to seek the support of the states and territories, non-government school authorities and universities to ensure due diligence before groups embark on trips.

‘It disgusts me that well-meaning students seeking to help vulnerable children overseas might be unwittingly signed up for scam volunteer programs and orphanage tourism that risks further child exploitation,’ Senator Birmingham told Fairfax Media in September.

The issue is also being addressed by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. In February 2017, the Attorney General Senator George Brandis asked the committee to inquire into modern slavery in Australia, and report on establishing a Modern Slavery Act.

The committee has heard extensive evidence from groups campaigning for action against the scam operators. You can view a video of the opening statements in a briefing to the committee from the Cambodian Children’s Trust and the Forget Me Not Foundation.

While many schools are involved in ethical programs supporting communities (see our recent post), the target is shonky volunteer programs.

Ahead of the legislation, the Save the Children Fund has prepared a briefing paper for the education sector on the issue.

The briefing paper says that about 14 per cent of Australian secondary schools engage in fundraising and visits to orphanages overseas – and this is likely to be an underestimate.  Among Australian universities, 57.5 per cent advertised orphanage placements through international volunteering opportunities.

The paper notes that individual donors and volunteers are not accused of exploiting children in the orphanages, and are predominantly good people who want to help vulnerable children.

The paper provides the background on the issue, and includes advice for education providers to ensure they are not inadvertently harming children overseas.

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