#PATASustain interviewed Clarissa Elakis, Project Coordinator for ChildSafe in Cambodia. In this interview, Clarissa tells us about the ChildSafe Movement and shares how the travel and tourism industry can do its part.
1. Hi Clarissa, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell us a little bit about Friends-International and the ChildSafe Movement?
Hi Chi, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and your members today. Friends-International is a leading social enterprise focused on saving lives and building futures of the most marginalized children and youth, their families and their communities in South East Asia and across the world.
ChildSafe is an award-winning global child protection movement established by Friends-International in 2005. The ChildSafe Movement creates protective and supportive networks for children by collaborating with citizens, communities, government programs, NGOs, schools/universities and businesses – in particular the travel and hospitality industry – through training programs and raising awareness of how to protect children from various forms of abuse. Through this collaboration we have a presence in twenty-five countries, where we aim to promote behavior change among the international community, in particular to the tourism industry and travelers, to reduce their social footprint through responsible tourism.
2. What are the main issues the ChildSafe Movement hopes to address?
ChildSafe grew out of the need to directly address child protection issues in communities, and one of those key issues is the behavior of visitors, including tourists and volunteers. While tourism offers communities many opportunities, often guidance is needed to ensure tourism activities are sustainable for children and that travelers and businesses do not unknowingly engage in behaviors that could be harmful to children – such as why you shouldn’t visit orphanages or schools, why short-term voluntourists shouldn’t work directly with children and how giving to begging children or sellers perpetuates the cycle of poverty. For the past decade ChildSafe has been developing tools and resources for travelers and the industry, such as the 7 Tips for Travelers, Children are Not Tourists Attractionsand Don’t Create More Orphans,to raise awareness on these issues and to encourage positive actions and alternatives from travelers and businesses to ensure children are safe and protected.
3. What is the difference between ChildSafe and The Code?
Both The Code and The ChildSafe Movement advocate for the prevention of sexual exploitation of children and for the overall protection of children by raising awareness and providing safeguarding measures for businesses to encourage behavioral change globally. Our approaches are complementary where we’ve collaborated on projects together and both provide a range of tools and resources for our partners and ensure the organizations we work with follow best practices relating to the protection of children.
Whereas the primary focus of The Code is the commercial sexual exploitation of children within the travel and tourism industry, the ChildSafe Movement addresses this plus a broad range of risks and abuses that children may face in tourism and every-day life that prevents them from having their internationally recognized rights as children fulfilled. We partner with businesses as a ChildSafe Supporter or Certified Business, providing training, interactive workshops and consultation to help mitigate potential exploitative behaviors across all interaction points and how they can contribute to creating protecting environments in the broader community.
4. How are you funded?
We are funded by a combination of institutional donors, such as overseas aid programs, foundations, trusts and individual donors. Part of our program costs is met through our social businesses, which also positively impact upon our overall sustainability.
5. What are some of the things your organization does to protect children while helping marginalized populations become active contributors to society?
Honestly, our actions are very multifaceted. In a nutshell, we take a holistic approach that not only involves multiple stakeholders but, also combines global advocacy and awareness with localised community and emergency supports. This way we can encourage best industry practices internationally, while ensuring that at a local level children and their families have access to the supports they need to thrive, and that community members are empowered as agents of change, or as we call them, ChildSafe Agents – citizens trained to intervene and respond to children at risk.
Agent actions are supported by ChildSafe’s 24/7 hotlines and our dedicated social workers who respond to hotline calls, provide outreach support and connect children and families with long-term social support, such as schooling and educational support health care, rehabilitation or income generation programs, to become thriving members of society. Many of these services are provided by Friends-International and partner child welfare organisations.
Friends also powers our social businesses and employment services to assist the reintegration of marginalised populations into the workplace to be actively involved in the development of their society. To better understand our scope of activities and impact, I encourage you to check out our websites: www.friends-international.org and www.thinkchildsafe.org.
6. How does this link to the tourism and hospitality industry?
As the industry grows (almost 1 in 10 people are now employed in tourism!), and in particular the demand from clients for ‘something different’, with products involving experiential travel and community based tourism coming to the forefront, so do the opportunities for the industry to have a truly positive impact upon children growing up in the destination communities. For example UNICEF found that 2005 there was a 75% increase in orphanages in Cambodia, but as we now know approximately 80% of children in these institutions are not orphans, whereby the increase reflects traveler trends.
You have the ability to influence children in those communities, and also your staff and the children who are your clients. ChildSafe offers training, consultations and certifications to enable you to do ‘good business’ in all senses of that phrase.
7. What can the industry do to do our part to protect children?
I can’t stress enough how important the industry is to protecting children globally. By being a good role model and demonstrating good practice, travel and tourism businesses can help build a positive environment that really benefits and protects children, and strengthens families and communities. Whether you are multinational or solo tour operator, booking platform, association, accommodation provider or industry consultant, I encourage your members to join the Movement and adopt the ChildSafe 7 Standards. We are constantly overwhelmed by how passionate our new ChildSafe business partners are once they have completed training and how they want to be more involved.
For organisations interested in becoming a ChildSafe Business, we provide engaging in-person training programs for all levels of staff so they are aware of what to look out for and how to respond, as well as, other tools and resources to continue their awareness and advocacy in this area. By becoming a ChildSafe partner, businesses demonstrate a leading role in child protection, emphasising to their customers a responsible commitment in contributing to a sustainable future for their staff, business and wider community.
You can contribute in other ways also – these include supporting youth employment in your business, supporting social enterprises in your communities, and knowing your local child protection reporting mechanisms. You can ensure that child welfare is integrated into your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) strategies, and be part of the ongoing conversation. Being a sustainable business is not only about the environment, it’s also about creating protective environments for children!
8. Can you share some specific resources for us to help communicate with travelers to help protect children?
Absolutely! The ChildSafe Movement has many tools resources for businesses and travelers depending on their level of involvement with the ChildSafe Movement.
One stand-out resource I encourage your members to check out is the ‘Child Welfare and the Travel Industry – Global Good Practice Guidelines’. Developed in partnership with G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation it’s a fully comprehensive, practical international guideline that any travel business can follow to enhance child welfare in their own companies. Specifically designed as a working tool with contributions from industry leaders and child welfare experts, it contains a plethora of useful tips for all areas of business, as well as implementation guidelines, real-life examples and templates.
Our website has many other great resources, including our traveler campaigns, ‘ 7 Tips For Travelers’, ‘Children Are Not Tourist Attractions’ and ‘Don’t Create More Orphans’. These campaigns are a great starting point for any business looking to learn more about the key issues and what information to provide to their customers.
9. Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers – do you have any last thoughts?
Thank you Chi and PATA, it’s been great speaking with you. I also would like to thank the industry and those that support the ChildSafe Movement. I encourage your members to reach out to us to discuss how they can do their part to protect children and support the Movement by becoming a ChildSafe traveler, Supporter or Certified business. Whether you are a major player or a smaller operator, you can have a truly positive impact in creating and nurturing protective environments for children, so please get in touch and get involved!