Children For Sale

The Dark Side Of Tourism

End Child Slavery

These boys, living in a slum near Phnom Penh’s night district, often band together against travelling sex offenders who approach them. World Vision has helped them organize a daily meeting to share news of sightings.

There are some memories you just want to block out.

For me, one of these was a visit to the seaside resort town of Pattaya in Thailand this May. I had travelled to Asia with World Vision, to learn as much as I could about child slavery.

I’ve heard Pattaya referred to as “a Disneyland for travelling sex offenders.” Agencies like World Vision work relentlessly in places like this, to protect and empower boys and girls—and we did meet children whose stories buoyed our spirits. That said, finding a child to sexually exploit in Pattaya is still as easy as making a few inquiries.

My colleagues and I went down to the beach one night, pretending to be tourists out for a stroll. We parked the van and walked to where dozens of young people were lined up for sale. I think I knew that if I really looked at them, I’d totally fall apart. What shocked me was how overt the sex trade was. Even more horrifying was learning that much younger children were being sold in the shadows.

Carleen McGuinty meeting with village chiefs in Battambang, Cambodia, which is a source point for human trafficking. Many traffickers come to these villages to find workers to take to Thailand and Malaysia where they are exploited.

Back in Canada, I’ve used this memory to understand how Canadians manage their feelings while vacationing in developing countries. We have big hearts, and that doesn’t change when we travel. It’s incredibly upsetting to see a little boy out alone after midnight, selling trinkets to tourists. Or to find that the chambermaid in your hotel is barely out of puberty. But surely we’re helping somehow by contributing to their economies? There’s nothing much else we can do about it, right?

There’s plenty we can do about it. And as an Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by World Vision Canada indicated, many Canadians are ready to do it.

Some suggestions:

Ask your travel agent, tour operator, or hotel if and how they help protect children

Half of all Canadians surveyed said they’d be willing to spend an average of 27 per cent more if tour operators, hotels and airlines could guarantee that their companies don’t use or support child labour.

If you see it, report it

Any time you speak up, whether to the hotel manager, the restaurant owner, or the local police, you apply pressure for change. Another great option—one that 80 per cent of Canadians we surveyed said they’d take – is to report any incidents to a tip line for child exploitation. World Vision recommends

Speak up to fellow travelers

As a Canadian, you have the power to encourage others to travel responsibly.


Carleen McGuinty lives in Toronto and is World Vision’s child protection expert. She has met with children and families in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh and the Philippines to talk about how to keep children safe.