Travel is often seen as a great way to immerse yourself in the beauty of a foreign country. New food, people and a different way of life can make us feel more connected and informed. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves questioning certain practices or behaviors that we see along the way. Is it okay for that child to be working in the store at such a young age? Why are there so many children begging on the street? What may seem like harmless behavior can actually be the product of some seriously sinister motives. As informed travelers, it’s our job to take a stand against the unethical practices and the exploitation of children in the tourism industry.
Exploitation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is, unfortunately, not free from unethical behavior and child exploitation. Travelers may not even be aware that they are witnessing or party to these practices, and upon discovering their role feel angry, humiliated and sad. In an attempt to protect the children of Costa Rica, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has launched a campaign called “Sucede” or “It’s Happening.” They hope to bring the issue of child sexual exploitation to the forefront so they can make an impact, inform and educate residents and visitors to Costa Rica.
Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct was developed as a social responsibility project of the national tourism industry. It specifically addresses the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Costa Rica. There are two ways that this exploitation manifests itself in the country:
- The commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in travel and tourism.
- The human trade of children and adolescents for sexual exploitation.
A topic that is often difficult to discuss, the ICT strives to bring commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents to the forefront. They ask signatory companies agree to comply with the Code of Conduct model, which includes zero tolerance towards Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. There are currently 450 tourism companies (including Gecko Trail) that have vowed to adhere to this the Code of Conduct.
Travelers Making a Difference
You can make a difference. Whether you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica or you’re currently a resident, there are countless ways to help. Share information with fellow travelers, friends and family regarding the sexual exploitation of children. It IS happening, and the issue begs to be brought into the open! Sign up for the Campaña Sucede newsletter to stay up to date on events and opportunities to volunteer. If you see a child that is in danger, report it. Tell officials and be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Most importantly, research your lodging, tour operators, vehicle rentals and theme parks before giving them your support. Ask if they know about the Code of Conduct, and question their business practices and their behavior prior to your visit. Remember: a company should earn your business, and it is your right to ask for a detailed account of how they run their company.