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Students urged to avoid orphanage work

Young Australians who want to travel and help the world’s poorest children are being urged to make sure they don’t end up doing more harm than good.

inThe federal government on Thursday is launching a smart volunteering campaign, working with universities and state authorities to make sure school groups and students are not unwittingly visiting or volunteering in programs that exploit children.

The boom in “voluntourism” around the world has seen some Australia volunteers unwittingly contributing to harmful practices when they go to work in orphanages.

A UNICEF report released last year found the number of residential orphanages in Cambodia increased by 75 per cent between 2005 and 2010, with most children living in them neither orphans nor abandoned.

Half the institutions were in popular tourist locations.

The UN organisation found children could be exploited to attract funding and donations from tourists, including being forced to beg, interact and play with visitors.

In the past, more than half of Australia’s universities have advertised orphanage work as one of the international volunteering opportunities students can take up.

The new campaign, launched by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Education Minister Simon Birmingham, discourages any form of short-term, unskilled volunteering in overseas orphanages and provides guidelines on how to be a child-safe volunteer.

Those considering volunteering can find information on the DFAT website about how to make sure they won’t be harming the very people they are trying to help.

Labor MP Lisa Chesters said the opposition would study the campaign details closely.

“When you go to another country, particularly a country that may need extra support like Cambodia or Myanmar, you’ve got to be able to do your research,” she told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“What we hear from a lot of the not-for-profits and organisations in this space, particularly Save The Children, is people need to know who they’re volunteering for and what kind of organisation.”

AAP

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