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Trafficking Aware Travel Guide 2021
May 27, 2021

After more than a year grappling with all the disruption the pandemic has brought to our lives, people are itching to travel and get out into the world again. However, as the world opens up, so too will opportunities that traffickers can exploit. Families who’ve been hit hard financially by the pandemic may have incurred significant debt, and so they may be especially vulnerable to the lures of traffickers. It might be time for a reminder on how to be more “trafficking aware” when you travel.

Being More Aware When You Travel

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • The issue of child beggars is a phenomenon that can have links to trafficking. Children roaming intersections, outdoor restaurants, and cafes offering flowers or other trinkets are often raising money for their families. However, they may also be working for a trafficker, and it’s impossible for a bystander to tell the difference. Regardless, as the children get older, it becomes harder for them to sell trinkets – whether they were trafficked from the beginning or not, it becomes a gateway to other forms of selling on the street.

  • Be wary of “voluntourism” opportunities, especially ones involving orphanages.
    “Some forms of such ‘voluntourism’, despite the best of intentions, can have a range of harmful consequences, including increasing the risks to children of sexual exploitation. Research and media reports about this in countries such as Haiti, Nepal, and Uganda have documented the damaging effects that can occur. Children may be actively recruited into orphanages, often with the complicity of owners or staff of child institutions, to meet the demand from tourists and donors for voluntourism experiences – this practice is referred to as ‘orphanage trafficking’.” (Source: ECPAT)

  • Though online exploitation of children is on the rise and has garnered more recent attention, minors are still sold for sex in places like red light districts. Patrons are not always able to tell if someone is underage, even if they want to. Red light districts thrive on the pretense that everything is a party and that everyone is there to have fun. The reality can be difficult to discern.

  • Not that long ago, the prevailing wisdom was that if you see something suspicious (for example, a potential trafficking situation as you travel in airports or on a plane), you should say something. However, one should be aware of how damaging this can be when what we think is “suspicious” is actually informed by racial biases. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned piece of advice has led to mixed-race families or families who’ve adopted children who don’t look like them being harassed. A misguided “tip” can incur a lot of harm. Truthfully, the chances are relatively slim that the average citizen would see an actual trafficking situation and be able to identify it by mere surface cues. Meanwhile, professionals in the airline and tourism industry are being trained to identify these situations and know how to respond to them appropriately. Many anti-trafficking organizations still promote the “see something, say something” mantra, though there are organizations like Polaris that encourage people to focus their attention instead on the trafficking that happens closer to home: as they say, it’s less about knowing the signs and more about knowing the story. 

Do You Know About The Code?

“The Code” refers to an initiative sponsored by ECPAT, co-funded by the Swiss government, in conjunction with UNICEF and the UN World Tourism Organization. It’s a set of principles that businesses in the tourism sector can voluntarily pledge to implement to prevent child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. If you want to support hotels and tour companies that have shown a commitment to joining the fight against child sex trafficking, you can find a list of signatories here at ECPAT-USA’s page on code members.

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