National Consultation on Advancing Responsible Business Practices for Child Protection from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (SECTT), organized by Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere (PEaCE), was successfully conducted on December 12 at Hotel Galadari with highly productive outcomes. A dedicated child protection organization with an eventful history of over 25 years, PEaCE organized this important Consultation in partnership with ECPAT International in association with Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), International Labour Organization, SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI), The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and SriLankan Airlines. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism in Sri Lanka (ASMET) too participated in the consultation, expressing their interest in PEaCE objective. Partnership with Terre des Hommes Netherland also supported PEaCE immensely in this regard.

The objective of the Consultation was to discuss responsible and ethical business practices as well as administrative and regulatory practices for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism while promoting the idea of ‘sustainable tourism’ that ensures the protection of children. With the participation of over 60 representatives of key stakeholders. It was a full day consultation and a number of way forward actions were accepted at the end.

The Consultation was inaugurated with opening remarks by Mr. Mohammed Mahuruf, Executive Director – PEaCE with a brief overview of the organization’s commitment to combat sexual exploitation of children. He further emphasized the country’s obligation to take serious action based on the UNWTO Framework on

Tourism Ethics, which contains specific provisions on child protection, as a member state. Dr. Rinchen Chopel, Director General of SAIEVAC too addressed the Consultation highlighting key role of the industry stakeholders in strengthening the protection of children. “Without addressing the industry sector and key business stakeholders, no action in this regard would sustain”, said Dr. Rinchen. It is also a good sign on behalf of the nation’s child generation that Mr. Malraj B. Kiriella, Director General – SLTDA expressed the country’s need for developing tourism and travel industry to greater heights with due care towards child protection. The success of the programme was witnessed by the active participation and interest of both government and private-sector stakeholders in the topic in question. Other resource persons who made insightful presentations on various aspects of the protection of children in travel and tourism discourse include Ms. Hina Saeed, Secretary General – SAARC CCI, Ms. Junita Upadhyay, Deputy Executive Director, ECPAT International and Prof. Savitri Goonesekere. 

 

Prof. Goonesekere who is an internationally acclaimed child rights activists and a renowned academic made a thought provoking presentation on the impact of SECTT on the lives of Sri Lankan children with focus on the past and present tourism related legal and administrative landscape of the country. She was of the opinion that a strong political will and interest is essential to end sexual exploitation of children not only in travel and tourism but also in all spheres. She further stressed that both the public and private institutions, especially the corporate sector, have an equal responsibility towards eliminating sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. For this, she said, “a ‘culture’ of responsible behaviours” against child abuse” needs to be created.

In the morning session, three presentations were made by expert resource persons on the evolution of tourism and travel in the Sri Lankan context, Insights on the Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, and the impact of SECTT on Sri Lankan children in the past and the present. These presentations were followed by a panel discussion with four eminent panellists namely, Ms. Simrin Singh, Country Director (ILO), Ms. Madhu Munasinghe, Clinical Psychologist (NCPA), Ms. Carmeline Jayasuriya, Head of Operations, John Keells Foundation and Mr. Chandila Colombage, Senior Programme Manager, World Vision. After the panel discussion, all the participants were divided into four groups for a group activity where they came up with interesting ideas on creating a safe environment in travel and tourism to combat SECTT, based on the above presentations and panel discussions. 

The after-lunch session also included another fruitful panel discussion with four other panellists: Ms. Junita Upadhyay – Deputy Executive Director, ECPAT International; Ms. Sumnima Tuladhar – General Secretary, CWIN Nepal; Ms Lakmali Karunanayake – Senior State Counsel, Attorney General Department of Sri Lanka and Mr. Rohan Abeywikrama – President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism in Sri Lanka (ASMET) Sri Lanka. This second panel discussion also paved the way for another activity where the members of the same groups again sat together to discuss ethical and legal aspects and necessary improvements to uplift the protection of children in travel and tourism. 

Participants from a variety of fields in both public and private sectors and in the NGO sector were very much keen in discussing and developing actions that might in their opinion, would be important to protect children in travel and tourism.

The Consultation did not confine to mere discussions, presentations and knowledge-sharing group works. Rather, the necessity of moving beyond round table discussions and thinking of a solid way forward action came out and several suggestions were made to be further discussed and followed up. Those suggestions include: increasing formal and informal teaching of sex education and the rights of the child, establishing a Code of Ethics applicable to industry stakeholders which they should adhere to as a regulatory requirement, enforcement of law and reviewing the existing legal framework, coordination and close monitoring of stakeholders in the private and public sectors, developing a Registry of Child Sex Offenders to block them entering and activating in the country, child safeguarding policy mandate etc.  

Having observed the active participation and keen interest of these business stakeholders, Mr. Ponpandian Thangam, Programme Manager – Terre des Hommes, Netherlands commented that “it was really encouraging to see the commitment of the private sector to make their business sphere a child-friendly environment”.

In response to a suggestion made by Dr. Rinchen, PEaCE Executive Director Mr. Mahuruf in his final remarks emphasized the need for taking follow up actions based on these suggestions, for the Consultation to be productive and meaningful. As everyone agreed at the final session, a working group will be formed and the participant private sector stakeholders will meet together to discuss further actions to be taken at PEaCE office on December 20. This Consultation will inevitably be a model for other regional countries to develop their own national actions, which will form the basis for a strong regional level child protection framework.

For more photographs of the Consultation, please click here.