Planning that long-earned adventure overseas? These travel tips could help you avoid the dangerous trend of ‘orphanage tourism'.

1. Remember, children are not tourist attractions

Around the world, the popularity of poverty tours including orphanages, slums or even dumpsites is increasing. These types of tours exploit children and their families for the financial gain of the organisers and can lead to further exploitation.

In Cambodia, for example, it’s estimated nearly three out of every four children in the country’s orphanages have at least one living parent.

However, despite there being fewer orphans in Cambodia, the number of orphanages is increasing. According to UNICEF Cambodia, the number of known orphanages rose two-thirds between 2005 and 2011 - neatly mirroring the jump in tourist numbers over the same period. Tourists donating time and money, with the best intentions, may in fact be contributing to separating children and their families and, worse, putting children at risk.

UNICEF and its partner organisations Friends International and the Child Safe Network have compiled a guide of what to consider when planning a volunteer experience in an orphanage located in a developing country. The guide lists why visiting an orphanage can do more harm than good and what you can do to ensure your volunteer experience is not going to harm children.

If you are looking to volunteer your professional skills or donate, look for reputable programs that support and promote family and community-based care, reintegration of children into family and community-based care, and provision of social services to vulnerable children and their families within a community setting, and which prevent family separation.  

2. Don’t buy for or give to children asking for money

Many parents feel compelled to put their children on the streets to work because they are unable to earn an income themselves. By buying products, giving money or food to children you are maintaining this unsafe daily life and preventing them from accessing school or training, which, in turn, locks them in a cycle of poverty.

UNICEF works with governments, community organisations and parents to keep children in school and out of exploitative labour like begging. Make a donation today to help children everywhere break out of poverty and shape their own futures.

3. Think about how you can protect children from exploitative labour

168 million children are involved in work each day, which can keep them from attending school. If you see a potential forced labour situation during your travels, report it to local authorities or contact Child Safe hotlines.
girl smiles and writes on chalkboard girl smiles and writes on chalkboard
girl smiles and writes on chalkboard

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Every child deserves to grow up safe, healthy and happy. You can keep children in school and safe from exploitation by donating to UNICEF today.



4. Know how to react when faced with a situation of potential sexual exploitation of children

When you travel you might be offered to have sex with children or might witness a situation where a child is at risk of sexual exploitation. Globally, a high percentage of sex workers are minors.

UNICEF reports that 30 to 35 per cent of all sex workers in the Mekong sub-region are between 12 and 17 years of age.

If you witness a sex worker who appears underage offering sex, if you see an adult propositioning a child or if you are offered sex by a child, refuse and report it immediately to local authorities or contact ChildSafe hotlines or use apps like this one produced by UNICEF Brazil.

Don’t just avoid orphanage tourism - prevent it


Children in orphanages are incredibly vulnerable to trafficking, child labour, abuse and poverty. There is also increasing evidence that growing up in institutions can stop a child’s brain from fully developing - with irreversible impacts.

Institutions like orphanages are never better environments for children than at home with a loving family UNICEF helps protect children from the exploitation, abuse and violence of orphanage tourism by:

  • Working with governments and local organisations to stop the reliance on orphanages among families
  • Teaching tourists and volunteers not to lend financial and physical support to orphanages that aren’t properly accredited or registered
  • Helping keep families together by facilitating education and community support

You can help continue this vital work, wherever children in the world need us most. By signing up with a monthly gift, you'll join our Global Parents in making a powerful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we'll give them a life, a chance, a choice.