When you're travelling around the world, you will often see street children and youth working and begging to bring in an income. Sadly, buying from or giving to these children can actually add to their problems and expose them to danger, despite your best intentions.
So how can you help? Here's the advice from a group of Cambodian child-protection organisations:
1. Think carefully before giving money or food and buying from children. This not only encourages them to stay on the beaches, temples and streets and not attend school, but also places them at high risk. By giving, you are often undoing the work of trained social workers who work hard to get children off the streets, into school and back to families.
2. Use the help of trained volunteers. In Cambodia, many motodops, tuk tuk drivers, beach sellers, restaurant and hotel/guesthouse staff, internet café employees and tour operators have been trained to protect children from high risk situations. Support dedicated volunteers by using their services and encouraging them to continue to protect children.
3. Do not take the problem on yourself if you see a child at risk or in danger. Instead seek out an organisation who deals with these issues. In Cambodia, for example, there's the ChildSafe hotlines which are managed by English-speaking Khmer social workers that can find safe services for each individual child.
4. Buy certified products instead of buying from children. There are support services whose mission is to help these children have a better future, and they can provide you with certified supplies, usually made by parents or former street youth in training. In Cambodia, you can find products at shops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
5. Avoid places that tolerate prostitution. UNICEF statistics show 30-35% of sex workers in the Mekong sub-region are between 12-17 years old. By going to places that tolerate prostitution, you are supporting an environment that places children at risk.
6. Be aware of the dangers of orphanage tourism. Many orphanages do not have child protection policies in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children in their care. Allowing visitors to have direct contact with children can place them at risk, especially when visitors are unsupervised. Good organisations will not allow people to drop in and have access to children.
7. Do not take children into your hotel room. It is illegal for unaccompanied children under 18 years old to stay in a hotel without their legal guardian. Instead refer children to safe services through the hotlines.
For more detailed explanations of these tips – and numbers you should call if you see a child in danger – check out www.thinkchildsafe.org.
This advice has been written in collaboration with Friends International and M’Lop Tapang, programs working together to protect vulnerable children and their families in Cambodia. Further details on helping children in Cambodia can be found at: www.mloptapang.org, www.friends-international.org and www.childsafe-cambodia.org.