Action against orphanage (volun)tourism


Oh joy, oh joy! Responsible Travel has chosen to remove orphanages voluntourism trips from its products. Based on the below issues of concern (among others) as taken from their website:

Importance of family setting vs. residential care
There is overwhelming evidence to show the detrimental impacts of residential care on the physical and emotional well being of children (UNICEF). The UN Convention of Rights of Children states that the family must be afforded the necessary assistance so that it can assume its responsibilities (of caring for children). Residential care should be the last resort.

Fuelling demand for orphans
Inadvertently, well intentioned volunteers are fuelling the demand for orphans. In Cambodia 74% of children in orphanages are not orphans. Almost all orphanages are funded by overseas donors, many of whom turn to volunteer tourism and train children to perform and attract donors ( Watch the Al Jazeera documentary on ‘fake’ orphans here.

Volunteers are therefore creating a surge in orphanages, because parents are tempted to give up their children in response to the western ideal of education and upbringing. For example, with a population of less than 100,000, the town of Siem Reap, gateway to the famous ruins of Angkor Wat has 35 orphanages. Watch a documentary on this here. One even parades children late at night behind placards reading ‘Support Our Orphans’ as visitors drink and dine.

This UN report from West Africa identifies the need to protect children from ‘Orphan Dealers.’
“A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans and 140 of the 148 orphanages around the country are un-licensed.”

Emotional disturbance to children
Reseach from South Africa (‘AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young children in residential care’) reveals the negative impacts of volunteers on the children.

“Institutionalised children will tend to manifest indiscriminate affection towards volunteers. After a few days or weeks, this attachment is broken when the volunteer leaves and a new attachment forms when the next volunteer arrives…repeated disruptions in attachment are extremely disturbing for children, especially very young children”.

Very few tourists are qualified to interact with traumatised or vulnerable children. Most volunteers do not have these skills or the training required.

This report from the BBC about Bali found that “As tourism has boomed in Bali, it has had a strange side-effect, doubling the number of orphanages on the island in 20 years. Tourists’ donations keep the orphanages going – but some are effectively rackets, exploiting children and holidaymakers alike”.

Displacing local staff from jobs
Volunteers are unintentionally crowding local people out of their jobs. This Human Sciences Research Council report concluded that … “there is a real danger of voluntourists crowding out local workers, especially when people are prepared to pay for the privilege to volunteer.”

Further reading and viewing:’s blog post
The Replace Campaign
Save The Children. Keeping Children out of Harmful Institutions
UNICEF Report from Cambodia
Watch a debate on the issues from World Travel Market Responsible Volunteering here.

My first reaction was obviously “it was about time”, maybe because organisations like Tourism Concern and Thinkchildsafe have tried to raise concern over this issue for a long time. Check for example this page:


However, I can’t say how glad I’m to finally be able to TAKE MY HAT OFF for Responsible Travel to pioneer as a travel agency on this crucial topic. BRAVO and KUDOS.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Orphanage tourism – an issue of concern! | The Gipsy Giraffe

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