I first became aware of the ChildSafe movement when I was awarded a Fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in the United Kingdom. The international travel associated with this Fellowship, for life, allowed me to visit the USA, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia to write a report, Living on a Railway Line, aimed at turning the tide of child abuse and exploitation in the UK and overseas.
It was whilst in Cambodia that I gained first-hand experience of the ChildSafe movement. I have personally seen how ChildSafe protects communities in which it is operational and also how, I believe, it could be transformational if implemented in the UK. This initiative is both inspiring and original in its nature, objectives, resource management and results. It highlights very clearly to me that tourism can be, and is, a strategic tool to help ensure protection of human rights in countries through sustainable social development.
ChildSafe informs communities about risks that their children and young people are facing and how to be actively involved in their protection including:
- Training vulnerable communities on how they can protect their children and young people from specific risks and to prevent them from involvement in these and being a visible scheme within the whole community.
- Providing training for travel, hotel, transport and food businesses (all of which have been found to be relevant in UK child sexual exploitation investigations) to allow their staff to immediately recognise and protect children and young people at risk of abuse.
- Identifying and training key people in communities who want to volunteer their help in protecting children and young people. These are trained, certified and continuously monitored whilst being ChildSafe members.
- Informing travellers on the most effective ways to protect and support children and young people and to be respectful of the communities that they interact with. This model, which I have seen work so successfully overseas, is very easily adaptable to an intra-country UK setting.
We have repeatedly seen the difficulties that have been faced protecting children and young people around the world, which have become publicly apparent through recent investigations, and ChildSafe offers a real alternative to a traditional delivery model. It overcomes some of the issues that children and young people have come up against when trying, and failing, to access agency systems. It works particularly well with communities and groups that have been considered, in the past, to be “hard to reach” when, in reality, the difficulty is that the agencies have not been able to, or not known how to, reach them effectively. The scheme is aimed at better protecting children and young people from all forms of abuse. Recognising child protection as a key public health priority and using ChildSafe as a vehicle to give more strategic direction to the protection of children and young people gives a renewed focus on the importance of protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of children and young people throughout the regions where it operates.
I have seen the creativity and authenticity of the scheme demonstrated in a very visible and public way in Cambodia and I know that the work the ChildSafe organisers have done to promote the concepts with international travellers before they enter at-risk areas will be a superb contribution to the protection of children and young people living in those regions. In focussing, currently, on the special needs of countries that are, to some extent, still in a development phase, ChildSafe is a perfect example of how Target 8B of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is being implemented in reality.
It is clear to me that the principles underpinning ChildSafe are highly inspirational which have already made a significant impact in the areas where the scheme is functioning, but which are competitive and sustainable enough to be replicated throughout the tourism sector at local, national, regional and international levels. Looking specifically at the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, ChildSafe promotes tourisms contribution to mutual understanding and respect between people and societies and, in particular, the international human rights aspects of tourism and the protection of children and young people. In promoting those human rights and, in particular, the individual rights of vulnerable groups, ChildSafe shows how tourism can be a vehicle for individual and collective fulfillment.
In setting out so clearly how the exploitation of human beings, in any form, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism, ChildSafe is a model example of how tourism can be used to improve human rights in societies throughout the world.
In making transparent that under no circumstances should “sex tourism” be promoted, encouraged or tolerated, ChildSafe underlines the obligations of all stakeholders in the development of tourism.
In implementing the principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, and in particular the protection of human rights, ChildSafe demonstrably stimulates knowledge creation amongst travellers and communities, disseminates good practice throughout societies and in different countries, and is having transformational, inspirational effects in communities where some of the most vulnerable children and young people live, and work, in the world.
My first hand knowledge of how ChildSafe operates, the effects it has on the sustainable protection of the communities where it is placed and the significant impact it has had on the tourism sector, which is replicable world-wide, makes, I believe, the ChildSafe scheme an ideal candidate sustainable rolling-out to other communities throughout the world.
In the UK, ChildSafe could offer us something different, something not reliant on statutory services and something that would empower communities to better protect the children and young people living within them.
The question is, which organisations are forward-thinking enough to recognise the benefits that a UK trial of ChildSafe could have…?