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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) recently announced that 84 minors were recovered and 120 traffickers were arrested as part of Operation Cross Country XI, a three-day, nationwide effort to curb child trafficking in the United States. The youngest child rescued in the efforts was three months old, and the average age of the victims recovered during this operation — the eleventh of its kind — was 15.
This cross-border effort involved dozens of state and local task forces, and coordinated operations took place in several other countries around the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. If it sounds like child trafficking is a complex and global problem, that’s because it is. And it’s due to the issue’s global, interconnected nature that those working in travel and tourism can and should step up and play a part in helping tear the child trafficking industry down.
In light of the United Nations Universal Children’s Day on 20 November — a day established in 1954 to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare — we wanted to share the latest campaign news from ECPAT, a network of organizations working to end the sexual exploitation of children around the world and of which the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has been a part since 2012.
One of ECPAT-USA’s latest campaigns, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, focuses on the role hotels play in curbing child trafficking. Many professionals in the adventure travel industry work directly with accommodations when designing itineraries, and there are a few factors to be mindful of when choosing where to house clients, whether in hotels with global brand recognition or local B&Bs, small boutique hotels, or lodges.
“People rarely think about the influence they can have while booking travel,” said Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA. “If you inquire about the policies and training about human trafficking and child exploitation of your suppliers, you can influence them to get involved in fighting human trafficking and child exploitation.”
Many major hotel brands, including Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide, and Carlson, have signed The Code, which means they have agreed to implement a set of six guidelines that put policies and programs in place designed to protect children. Additionally, ECPAT has worked with Marriott International to develop an online training module for hotels to understand the issue, the indicators, and how to respond to suspicious activity. This is particularly relevant for hotel and accommodation brands as 45% of youth victims say they were exploited in hotels, according to ECPAT’s No Vacancy report.
To address child trafficking, ECPAT has the following recommendations for accommodation owners and those working directly with accommodations in the private sector:
- Adopt policies and procedures related to the sexual exploitation of children and have resources available to employees. Educate all employees — whether they work in a hotel or in some other aspect of the travel industry — on child trafficking travel indicators.
- Mandate that all associates working in all hotel properties within their portfolio have training.
- Increase transparency about training and implementation of policies in hotels.
- Encourage reporting, so that associates feel comfortable reaching out to management. This is true regardless of an employee’s role in the travel and tourism industry.
- Develop and sustain relationships with trained law enforcement to respond to cases, and nonprofit organizations working in the field.
- Use travel suppliers that have policies and training on child sexual exploitation. ECPAT notes that Marriott and Accor Hotels in particular have gone above and beyond in regard to educating employees about human rights and anti-trafficking training.