Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade yesterday released its report on modern slavery – "Hidden in Plain Sight" – which revealed the extent of orphanage tourism and Australia’s role in the problem.
The report makes 49 recommendations to improve Australia's efforts to combat modern slavery here and around the world.
Latest estimates suggest more than 40 million people around the world (including 4300 in Australia) are victims of some form of modern slavery including human trafficking, slavery, debt bondage and forced labour.
Save the Children Australia and ReThink Orphanages – a coalition of child rights agencies formed to prevent the institutionalisation of children – presented to the Joint Standing Committee in August this year to help shine a light on the epidemic of orphanage tourism.
Save the Children Australia Child Protection Advocate Karen Flanagan said the inclusion of orphanage tourism in the definition of modern slavery was an important step in ensuring vulnerable children were not unnecessarily institutionalised.
“Right now there are up to eight million children living in residential institutions around the world that are not actually orphans, but are removed from their parents for the purpose of ongoing exploitation, particularly through orphanage tourism,” Ms Flanagan said.
The Committee heard serious concerns about orphanage trafficking – particularly in developing countries. The report revealed these institutions were designed to “take advantage of ‘voluntourists’ seeking to support ‘orphans’, but did little to assist children.
It is estimated the ‘voluntourism’ industry has grown in recent years to an estimated value of US$2.6 billion, involving 1.6 million people each year.
“What we want is to shift the way Australia engages with overseas aid and development to prevent voluntourism from hurting children,” ReThink Orphanages co-founder and coordinator Leigh Mathews said.
“We support the inquiries recommended measures both to stamp out Australian support for orphanage tourism and to divert aid funding to keeping families together.”
The report also included recommendations including more training for the federal police and immigration department officials to better detect and handle the modern slavery.
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