Australia has a long and proud history of volunteering, with the Australian Government supporting international volunteering for more than 60 years. Australian volunteers selflessly give their time, money and lend their skills and experience to help others across a range of countries and sectors. Volunteering done well will benefit both the volunteer and the communities they serve and build enduring friendships and people-to-people links.
Research has shown that orphanage tourism (holiday tours and short-term un-skilled volunteering at orphanages) can encourage harmful practices, and can, in some cases, put vulnerable children at risk. The number of orphanages in certain popular tourist destinations has increased dramatically yet many of the children living in them have at least one living parent. The quality of care varies dramatically. The worst orphanages retain and exploit children with the aim of making money. Orphanages should be an option of last resort for children, who are generally better off living with their families and communities.
For these reasons, in 2018, the Australian Government launched a campaign to prevent Australians from inadvertently contributing to child exploitation through the practice of orphanage tourism, including by participating in misleading volunteer programs.
The Australian Government discourages short-term, unskilled volunteering in orphanages.
When planning to volunteer overseas, Australians should be:
- an informed volunteer
- a child safe volunteer
- a prepared volunteer
Learn about the Australian Volunteers Program.
What is smart volunteering?
To assist you in your volunteer activities overseas, we have developed some guidance and a checklist.
Be an informed volunteer
The Australian Government discourages any form of short-term, unskilled volunteering in orphanages.
- Constant strangers coming in and out of children's lives can be harmful to a child's development.
- Some orphanages are created to get money from tourists, rather than providing care to children.
- This can encourage an over-reliance on orphanage care, separate families and may put vulnerable children at greater risk of harm.
Be a child safe volunteer
Avoid any activity where children are promoted as tourist attractions.
- Care for vulnerable children should aim to reintegrate children into their family or community settings where it is safe to do so.
- Thoroughly research any overseas organisation offering opportunities to volunteer with children to check they are acting in the best interests of the children.
- Find out if the organisation has a Child Protection Policy, and how it is put into practice.
Be a prepared volunteer
Be a smart volunteer when you are overseas.
- Your activities should 'do no harm' and address a need in a local community.
- Do your homework to make sure you are the right person in the right organisation, making a positive contribution to the community.
- Find out any country specific advice, requirements or restrictions on volunteering activities.
Smart volunteering checklist
This checklist is just a starting point to help you choose your volunteer activity. There are many more resources available – please see the list below for some other useful information.
- Is the organisation trustworthy, transparent and reputable?
- What can you learn about their mission and financial information from their website and other independent materials?
- Does the organisation have a proven track record?
- Does it comply with the laws and regulations of the country where you will volunteer?
- Is volunteering the right fit?
- Have you been given clear information about what activities you will be doing as a volunteer?
- Do you have the right skills and experience to do the proposed activities?
- Will you be sharing your skills with local staff?
- Is the organisation child safe?
- Do they have a Child Protection Policy?
- Are volunteers asked to read and sign a Code of Conduct which includes guidance on their Child Protection Policy and procedures?
- Do they always put the best interests of the children first?
- Are visitors registered on arrival and always supervised?
- Are staff and volunteers required to have general background checks?
- Are staff and volunteers who have regular contact with children required to have child protection screening?
Ways to support vulnerable children
- There are many worthwhile Australian and international volunteer organisations and programs which are making a significant difference to people's lives overseas.
- Consider volunteering with or donating to reputable organisations that work with communities to reduce the vulnerability of families. Community-based projects can help to address the causes of poverty.
- See a list of non-government organisations accredited with DFAT's Australian NGO Cooperation Program
- You can see signatories to the Australian Council for International Development 's (ACFID) Code of Conduct (which includes Child Protection Standards) on the ACFID website.
- The Australian Volunteers Program provides opportunities for skilled Australians to contribute to the Australian Government's aid program. See current volunteering opportunities at www.australianvolunteers.com.
Other resources on child safe tourism which may be of interest include:
Other resources on international volunteering include:
Some resources for faith-based organisations: