Tourists coming to Cambodia are aware of some forms of child exploitation but many do not understand that seemingly innocent interactions with children could make the youngsters more vulnerable to sexual abuse, a new study by World Vision has found.
Researchers, who spoke to visitors to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, found that while some tourists considered “sex tourists” to be the most likely to exploit children, “fewer tourists were aware of the multi-faceted nature of abuse and the fact that different tourist behaviors (such as giving money to begging children or ‘orphanage tourism’) could also leave children and young people vulnerable to exploitation.”
Researchers said that tourists reported feeling sad or guilty after encountering children begging, for instance, “but many were confused about what action to take” in order to help.
“Tourists tended to make conscious internal assessments about how to best respond,” the study says.
“Their assessments were based on situational factors and their emotional response, as well as principle. A number of tourists were confused about what actions they could take to assist and queried how effective they would be.”
While the practice of “orphanage tourism” is frowned upon because it exposes children to a number of risks and denies them a right to privacy, the study found that many of the respondents “were also not aware of how visiting children in an ‘orphanage’ could be detrimental to the well-being of children and that such tours increased access by strangers to the most vulnerable children in society.”
Child-protection NGO Friends International already operates a child safe publicity project around Cambodia, using the tagline that “children are not tourist attractions,” while Unicef has found that up to 70 percent of children in so-called orphanages have living relatives.