How can the World Bank mainstream child SEA/H prevention into its tourism projects?

    Published: February 23, 2024

    Amidst a sector-wide reckoning following the pandemic's dramatic impact on tourism and travel, the World Bank released a policy note highlighting the need to invest towards "a more sustainable and resilient tourism industry post-COVID-19". Yet while recent projects have increasingly focused on acknowledging climate-related and environmental risks associated with travel and tourism systems, they often fail to address another major risk endemic to the tourism sector: child sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEA/H).

    Children living in travel hot spots that receive a continuous and large-scale influx of visitors are made significantly more vulnerable to sexual abuse and trafficking. Not only can large tourist populations contribute to the demand for commercial sexual exploitation of children, but the sector itself can unintentionally play a part in facilitating child SEA/H. As the UN Special Representative on Violence Against Children noted in her annual report, sexual offenders can misuse travel and tourism infrastructure, including transportation systems and accommodations, to traffick vulnerable children. Risk of SEA/H is exacerbated in areas with a high prevalence of child labor in service roles at hotels, restaurants, or public areas that expose them directly to tourists as part of their job.

    World Bank projects that look to rebuild, diversify, and strengthen "sustainable tourism systems" must acknowledge that truly sustainable tourism must include the protection of children from any type of violence against children (VAC), SEA/H, and child labor. While some World Bank tourism projects acknowledge the sector's potential negative impact on children's safety and well-being in project documents, others fail to consider specific impacts on children and to include corresponding preventive measures in project design.

    Below are four recommendations for the World Bank to mainstream child SEA/H prevention and response measures specific to the tourism sector:


    • Draw from the Bank's own best practice guidance for preventing and addressing child SEA/H in projects by including child-specific concerns in mitigation measures. Project documents for the Resilient Tourism and Blue Economy Development in Cabo Verde project explicitly acknowledge the sector's "risk of sexual abuse of minors, such as prostitution and child pornography… especially in the tourist islands." Yet, there is no indication that the project will employ child-specific measures to prevent SEA/H. For example, while the project plans to conduct "training on GBV standards in tourism" amongst stakeholders, it is unclear if this training will include the particular risks facing children in the sector or how to identify and respond appropriately to child SEA/H. The Bank previously published Good Practice Notes to provide detailed guidance for staff on how to support Borrowers in identifying and mitigating SEA/H risks in large infrastructure projects and human development operations. These notes advise Bank staff to pay particular attention to the risks faced by marginalized groups such as children, and recommend a variety of prevention and response measures informed by SEA/H risk assessments. Tourism projects should draw on this guidance to implement best practices around SEA/H prevention and adapt such measures to contain child-specific information and accessibility features.
    • Utilize the stakeholder engagement process to conduct safe and meaningful consultations with project-affected children, and sensitize those especially vulnerable to SEA/H risks. The World Bank's Tourism Diversification and Resilience project in the Gambia was rated as having "substantial" SEA/H risks, partially due to the vulnerability of children linked to the informal tourism sector. The project's Stakeholder Engagement Plan outlines plans to consult with the Gambia Child Protection Alliance on industry-specific recommendations for preventing child abuse. The project also plans to hold sensitization sessions with children working as street vendors on topics such as the GRM reporting process for project-related SEA/H. Other World Bank projects should follow this example and continue to work with Borrowers in tourism projects to create stakeholder engagement plans that include children, and CSOs that work with children, throughout the project cycle in safe, age- and culturally-appropriate spaces where their concerns can be heard and used to inform implementation.
    • Equip institutional coordination platforms to address tourism-related child SEA/H through a multi-sectoral approach. Tourism projects in Fiji and Zambia aim to improve coordination between various sector stakeholders, including through the creation of multi-sectoral mechanisms to harmonize activities and address gaps in the sector. However, these projects do not specify the inclusion of relevant government authorities on child protection, gender, trafficking, and child labor prevention in these coordination platforms, missing an opportunity to facilitate multi-sectoral collaboration on child SEA/H in tourism. The Bank should prioritize the participation of child protection actors in its sector-strengthening mechanisms, so that these bodies can build capacity on child SEA/H issues, raise awareness among representatives from other government agencies and the private sector, and create a multi-sectoral approach to addressing child SEA/H within the sector.
    • Acknowledge risks and assess capacity gaps when planning for the long term. As part of its work to build a more resilient and sustainable tourism industry, the World Bank uses some tourism projects to support countries such as Fiji and Cabo Verde in creating or updating long-term, sector-wide development plans. These plans are intended to address the social, cultural, and environmental risks of tourism growth. The Bank should work with Borrowers to integrate an assessment of context- and sector-specific SEA/H risks, especially towards children across its sector strengthening projects. Sector development plans should include long-term measures designed to prevent and mitigate all forms of violence against children across the sector.