Responsible tourism with children. When child labour becomes abuse

by Ale Werner
Kids with skirts in Bagan

A topic that is present in all countries is child abuse, and seeing child abuse traveling is not something strange. We want to help you identify situations of abuse so you can act as a responsible traveler. In our case, we saw a lot of child labor in Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Here many children walk the streets selling all kinds of items: bracelets, t-shirts, stones from the beach, whatever you can imagine and they can carry with their little hands! You can also face these situations by traveling:

  • A child serves you food in the restaurant
  • A child helps you carry your bags to your room in your hotel or hostel.
  • You are going to buy something from a store, and a girl takes care of you.
  • You want to rent a motorcycle, and the shop owner sends a child to look for it.


Kids in Inle Lake, Myanmar

Niños en las afueras de un negocio en Inle Lake, Myanmar


Their parents look at them from afar, or many times they are not even there. Yes, it rages and makes you sad to see them, so we have to think twice before buying something from them to not be encouraging this bad parenting.

Child labor: is it abuse or is it part of the culture?

In many cultures, child labor is considered a necessary part of their development and growth. Children participate and contribute to the household economy, but they must do so in a dignified manner and that does not affect their development as a person. It should be done outside school hours and should not involve great physical effort or psychological abuse.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO): “Not all the tasks performed by children should be classified as child labor that has to be eliminated. In general, the participation of children or adolescents in jobs that do not threaten their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is considered positive. “

Little girl entertaining tourists in Varanasi, India.

Fotografía tomada por la tarde, la niña se veía feliz y realizando una actividad supervisada por un adulto. Varanasi – India


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It will be child abuse when it means harm to the child and its development. For example:

  • That children do not attend school because they are working for their parents
  • That is a risk to their health. Like having to lift very heavy objects or use parts of their body incorrectly.
  • That the child does not agree to do the work, being forced to do so.
  • Involving sexual activities or related to drugs and alcohol.

What to do then?

Find out the school schedules, and buy things outside these hours to make sure you are not encouraging them not to go to school.


Child posing for photos in Varanasi, India.

Muchos niños usan ropas llamativas para perdir dinero a cambio de fotografías / Varanasi – India


Carry things that they may like and fit their age, like sweets or colored pencils. You can even give them cookies or a bottle of water. That way you will contribute to their happiness and not only to the parent’s money.


Entregando cepillos de dientes a niños / Bagan, Myanmar.

In Myanmar there is also the custom of kids asking for money bills, claiming that they collect them. The truth is that they then find tourists from the same country, and exchange the bills for dollars. Do not fall into in the trap!

Use your common sense to identify situations of child abuse. Do not contribute to it keep happening and always be careful how you react to this. Always put the safety of the children first.

Niña vendiendo postales pintadas por ella misma / Bagan, Myanmar

Do you want to know more about Responsible Tourism?

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