Australia’s Parliament formally recognizes orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery

Australia’s breakthrough in the fight against orphanage (volun)tourism


Great news from Australia! Australia’s Parliament formally recognizes orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery and will introduce a new legislation before the end of 2018.

The modern anti-slavery legislation will be introduced into the Australian Parliament in 2018. Australian Parliament accepted the Committee’s recommendations in the inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. Click here for the final report “Hidden in Plain Sight”.

Senator Linda Reynolds, a leading supporter that has raised the issue of orphanage trafficking in the parliament, celebrated this milestone on the 15th 2018. For many children rights organizations it is a big success, that it has been now formally recognized that volunteering in orphanages is contributing to child trafficking. 

But will this have an effect on the volunteering industry in general, for Australian travel and tourism operators, future volunteers and overseas residential institutions?


Global debate and awareness-raising

Yes, it will.

Just by bringing the issue of orphanage trafficking on the political agenda, Australia is contributing to the global debate about the risks of volunteering in orphanages. As a result the problem receives the attention that is needed. The report of the inquiry committee with its 42 recommendations concerning orphanage trafficking has initiated a debate that will affect the volunteer travel industry. Several companies already stopped offering to send their volunteers into orphanages. Orphanages will hopefully be seen as a last resort to support children.


Role model: Formal recognition of orphanage trafficking as modern slavery


It is the first time that a government acknowledges the connection between orphanage voluntourism and human trafficking. Until now, the phenomenon has only been mentioned in the U.S. Anti-Trafficking Report 2017. At the same time it sheds light on political shortcomings concerning orphanage trafficking – all over the world. The plan to introduce a new legislation might serve as a global role model. But on the other hand the planned measures can also be discussed controversially.


New regulatory framework


Every regulatory framework is only as good as its implementation. Now the Australian Government has to implement the Committee’s recommendations and it will be exciting to see how the Australian Parliament will implement them. It is great challenge to set efficient and sustainable provisions for such a complex scenario like orphanage trafficking.

The heart of the new legislation is the introduction of a registration duty for overseas residential institutions. Furthermore, the residential institutions that register have to change over to a family based care concepts. Penalties might be introduced for  australian individuals, businesses, organizations and other entities that work with residential institutions that are not officially registered.


What change will it bring?


The discussion has already affected how many people look at orphanage tourism. But if the new laws will have an long-lasting and sustainable positive impact on the grassroot level cannot be answered yet. Alternative ways to tackle the orphanage tourism problem could have been a total ban of voluntourism in orphanages. But the Committee decided not take this path as it appeared to be to “difficult to implement”.


Risks and challenges


  • The database needs to go hand in hand with a strong and efficient control and monitoring system
  • Australia is one of the main supplier of orphanage tourists. Still, there is a chance that non-Australian donors and volunteers might just replace the Australians. The Asian voluntourism market is growing quickly.
  • The focus on overseas institutions as primarily responsible parties can be seen critical. Especially as the demand by mainly western voluntourists, donors and missionaries lead in the first place to the increase of orphanages and orphanage tourism.

The new legislation will not be introduced before a two year transition period. In the meantime we will keep you up-to-date and report about new developments in this pioneering political process.


About Sarah Heilmann

Sarah works as a lawyer at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Berlin. She is responsible for measures and legislation in the fields of gender equality, women’s rights and protection of women against violence. During her legal clerkship she gained working experience in the international development cooperation. Sarah worked in the country unit for South East Asia at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn where she supported the resumption of the international cooperation with Myanmar. After her Second State Exam Sarah worked with the Society for International Cooperation (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ) in Bangladesh. There she joined the program Rule of Law and strengthened her intercultural understanding. In her free time Sarah volunteers as a translator for Child Fund and as a communication advisor for an NGO that supports the integration of young refugees. She loves to travel and is a real foodie.

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