Abta is urging travel companies to avoid visits to overseas orphanages as part of a new child safeguarding initiative.

Misdirected donations, visits by holidaymakers and volunteer projects in orphanages can help to fuel corrupt businesses that exploits children for commercial gain and exposes them to abuse.

The travel association has joined international charity Hope and Homes for Children in establishing a taskforce to encourage UK tourists and volunteers to stop such visits.

Other members include Tui, Intrepid, Exodus and Projects Abroad. 

Hope and Homes for Children CEO Mark Waddington said: “What many tourists, volunteers and even some travel companies don’t know is that 80% of the eight million children trapped in overseas orphanages today are not orphans. 

“Most are separated from their families because of poverty, disability or discrimination. But increasingly, children are also being targeted to pose as orphans, to meet the demand of travellers from wealthy countries who want visit orphanages while overseas. 

“Often these children can be forced to perform or beg for funds from these tourists and volunteers.” 

He added: “The tragedy is that many dangerous orphanages are operating as profit-making businesses.

“Some even employ professional child-finders to go into impoverished communities to persuade vulnerable parents to give up their children with the promise of schooling. This is child trafficking.

“The more children the orphanage has, the more funding they receive, or the more well-meaning visitors they attract from Western countries.

“It’s a lucrative industry, with the money too often ending up in the pockets of orphanage owners, instead of benefiting children and their families.”

Visits can also leave children vulnerable to abuse where child protection regulations are lax. 

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer added: “Abta has been taking an active role in supporting child safeguarding for many years and advising its members to move away from supporting orphanages. Travel companies have policies not to visit or support orphanages, but there is more to be done because the issue is still concerningly prevalent. 

“Working in partnership with Hope and Homes for Children, The Orphanage Tourism Taskforce will increase traveller awareness of orphanage tourism, provide evidence to government to inform advice and engage with tourist boards and local suppliers to transition away from any orphanage visits. 

“It is well meaning travellers that are trying to help but by raising awareness of the reality we can safeguard children’s’ futures.”