Our Child Protection Policy
*Last updated May 2023
Children are not tourist attractions and we have a responsibility towards children; especially in keeping them safe. Unfortunately, though, exposure to tourism has the capacity to increase the risk of harm to children. Even though we or our guests may not witness it, it doesn’t mean that Mongolia or the communities in which we work are immune to the risk of the exploitation or abuse of children.
As a company working in tourism, we have a responsibility and obligation to do no harm in the places we visit. Although we’re small and don’t have the financial resources to employ a Child Safeguarding Officer, we can follow formal international guidelines that allow us to follow best practice child protection and to help us ensure that children and their families are protected from harm.
Although we work in long-term local community partnership with families and projects throughout Mongolia we do not arrange ‘voluntourism’ experiences that involve children or school or orphanage visits or children’s villages or centres unless for qualified educators.
Children are not tourist attractions and they have the right to privacy. Also, we are not a specialist volunteer agency and we do not possess specialised expertise that would allow us to arrange and offer short-term volunteering opportunities. We do not want to be responsible for allowing untrained foreigners access to vulnerable children – this is a major child protection risk. Also, a rotation of adults coming in and out of vulnerable children’s lives can create attachment disorders and emotional impacts. And, when children are at school, they should be free to learn and play in a safe environment. Tour groups who visit schools or educational centres can disrupt children’s ability to learn.
We are also aware that:
- Hiring international volunteers could result in a loss of jobs for local Mongolians which would impact the health of the local economy and also place families at risk.
Child labour is illegal. Child labour is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. And, evidence points to a strong link between household poverty and child labour, with child labour perpetuating poverty across generations by keeping the children of the poor out of school and limiting their prospects for upward social mobility. However, due to local and global inequalities, many children continue to work in spite of international guidelines.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards on child labour (the Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182) are the two legal pillars of global action to combat child labour. According to the ILO child labour refers to work that:
- is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
- interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
Eternal Landscapes Mongolia works according to the guidelines of the ILO and our policies include:
- We do not employ children (14 years or younger) to complete work which is normally undertaken by adults such as working as porters carrying heavy loads, working in the entertainment industry or working as guides.
- We adhere to minimum age provisions of national labour laws and regulations and, where national law is insufficient, consider international standards.
- We use adequate and valid mechanisms for age verification upon recruitment.
- We pay our team a living and respectful wage so they can support their families and provide education to their children. Our office is available to any member of our team who need free space for their children to do homework or play.
However, not all work done by children should be classified as child labour which is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive.
Our horse, camel and foot treks are led by herding families we work in long-term local community partnership with. Mongolia’s unique geographical location and the dependence of the nation’s rural population on animal husbandry make it one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. In recent decades climate and economic changes and challenges have resulted in an increase in urban migration as Mongolians move to Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s capital city. However, not all rural Mongolians want to move to Ulaanbaatar – sometimes necessity forces them – and our long-term local community partnerships with rural families help to give them more financial security and put more direct financial support back into the local community. The local knowledge of each herding family allows them to offer horse, camel or foot treks. Herders often bring their older children or relatives on such treks as an apprentice. This is not exploitation but a form of apprenticeship. These are children that have grown up in the environment and who have been riding since a very young age.
This form of apprenticeship helps to create a space where traditional Mongolian knowledge can be passed from older to younger generations, as it always has been. The younger generations get to know the routes, water sources and place names. This helps to keep the stories of the land alive, in a real, breathing way for the future.
The sexual exploitation of children remains a global problem with children in developing countries particularly being vulnerable. At Eternal Landscapes Mongolia we:
- Condemn all forms of sexual exploitation of children and support all acts of law made to prevent and punish such crimes.
- Expect that our guests, partners and team refuse to take part in sexual exploitation of children, and that they report all cases of sexual exploitation of children of which they become aware of. Breaching this policy may result in dismissal, reporting to the police and the end of ongoing collaboration. We are in the process of implementing preventative measures and procedures to protect children from tourism-related sexual exploitation and all potential forms of abuse.
- We are in the process of working towards the six criteria of The Code (the Tourism Child Protection Code) – an industry-driven responsible tourism initiative for tourism companies in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
Our Next Steps
- Having created our Child Protection Policy, our next step is to develop guidelines for our team, guests and partners that address the areas where our trips pose a risk to children – whether for Mongolian children that our guests encounter or for the children of our international guests.
- We need to have a reporting protocol that specifies step by step what should be done and who should be informed if anyone has suspicions of sexual exploitation of children such as submitting a report to ECPAT Child ALERT.
Poverty In Mongolia
According to the 2020 Household Socio-Economic Survey (HSES), the national official poverty rate in Mongolia in 2020 was 27.8 percent. This translates to about 903.4 thousand people of Mongolia living in poverty in 2020. However, poverty in Mongolia is most prevalent among young children. Two in five poor people in Mongolia are children under the age of 15 (World Bank, 2020).
As part of our responsible tourism philosophy, we have created partnerships with established local projects working within Mongolia. Our project support is not about financial donations (although we do make donations) but looking at the bigger picture and at how we can incorporate the work of the projects into our trips so that the experiences we offer our guests can have a greater positive local impact and help put additional support back into the local community beyond just a financial donation. We have been working with a majority of the projects for over a decade including Buddhist NGO Asral.
Asral is the Mongolian word for ‘care’ and Asral NGO (https://www.asralmongolia.org/) was founded by High Tibetan Lama, Ven. Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche. In 1994 Rinpoche was invited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to assist with the plight of Mongolian people after the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus Asral NGO was created. Since its foundation, Asral has helped with the ever-present levels of poverty and social problems in Mongolia – specifically in the Bayangol ger district – one of the largest ger districts in Ulaanbaatar.
The core aim of Asral is to help keep Mongolian families under stress together thereby helping to prevent children from ending up on the street – whether that be they are running away from their home life or they have no home. Asral’s multi-purpose centre (the Kunchab Jampaling Buddhist Centre) located in the Bayangol ger district of Ulaanbaatar, houses many of Asral’s social initiatives, training projects and community activities.
Rather than arranging visits to the homes of families supported by Asral or to the areas of Asral that work specifically with children, we have created alternative ways we can provide long-term help but in a way that is safe and beneficial for those that Asral work so hard to support:
- 10% of the fee from our one-day cookery experiences goes towards Asral’s Hot Meal Project the focus of which is the education and health of children who cannot be cared for by their parents or guardians. It provides support and protection against challenging living conditions, neglect, and street violence.
- We invite our guests to ‘stuff their rucksacks‘ for Asral. As a company, we are always touched by the kindness and generosity of our EL guests who are always keen to bring gifts with them for the Mongolian people they meet. We mentioned to Bumaa – the Director of Asral – how EL guests are often keen to bring items from their home countries as a way of offering support and assistance … and thus the ‘stuff your rucksack for Asral NGO’ idea was born.
- We offer half and full-day felting experiences with another of Asral’s social initiatives – the Made In Mongolia project which provides long-term training and employment for women and provides wider support for the communities in which they live.
Mongolia is known for its hospitality and many of our guests like to bring gifts to give to the families that host them as a thank you. We provide a suggested gift list as a way of highlighting responsible gifting and highlighting that we do not support or encourage travelers to bring or purchase gifts for local children.
- We ask our guests to practice responsible gift-giving. In Mongolia, generations still live under one roof, even in more affluent households in Ulaanbaatar. Typically, Mongolians consider everyone under one roof as the family so it can be impertinent as a visitor to try to define everyone’s role. Rather than providing gifts for specific family members such as children, consider bringing a mix of gifts for different sexes and generations. Also, this is safer for any children within the household as giving gifts to children directly promotes a belief that all tourists are safe.
- We remind our guests that the gift must remain a symbol or a token. If they wish to offer multiple items or a more substantial gift then we ask them to get in touch with us directly as there are many formal Mongolian associations that we can point them towards.
- We also remind guests not to bring, buy or give sweets. Mongolian families often live a long distance from any form of dental service and although our guests may think that one bag of sweets can’t hurt, they are just one of many visitors. Also, to not give vodka or money. (And yes, we are very aware that the local shops in Mongolia are full of sweets and vodka. And also that Mongolians give each other sweets, money and vodka as gifts. However, as visitors to the country, we ask our guests to follow the guidelines for responsible gifting.
Immersive homestay experiences and community visits have become a major part of authentic and sustainable tourism. However, both pose specific child protection risks to both travellers and the communities themselves.
For our own homestay and community experiences, we go direct to host families and form long-term local community partnerships with them. We do not work through any agency. We make sure to work with families who have had previous contact with tourists/foreign travellers as they have an awareness of the challenges and potential risks involved in hosting international travellers and will have already had exposure to different cultures, customs and social norms.
However, children in these communities remain vulnerable to the impacts of tourism and specific risks to children in homestay communities include:
- Risk of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from travellers who sleep, live, and wander freely around communities;
- Risk of exposure to inappropriate behaviour/behaviour that is not age appropriate.
We also need to protect the children of our international guests who are staying in homestays.
It is important to be aware of any risks, and ensure that travellers are not alone with children in the host community and that travelling children are always supervised by their guardians when in host communities.
We’re not a specialist photography company but we do provide the logistics for photographers and photography companies who benefit from the long-term community partnerships we have created countrywide. We have our own set of guidelines for responsible photography which highlight the need to respect the rights of children.
‘Children have the right to privacy. Permission should always be sought from the subjects of photographs if they are identifiable, and in the case of children, permission should be sought from their parents. And, be aware of how you share any images of children, including on social media. Where possible, keep images of children in your private collection. Do not film children, cuddle or pose with children or use them as props in photos.’
Working With The Eagle Huntresses
Since the release of the film documentary The Eagle Huntress in 2016, many visitors to Mongolia have requested to visit or photograph one of Mongolia’s young female eagle huntresses. However, although they are the subject of many media images, they are also young women who enjoy going to school, posting selfies on social media, and meeting with their friends. They also have the right to privacy.
We only work with eagle huntresses through their adult guardians – families that we form long-term local community partnerships with. And we never guarantee that our guests will get to meet any of the eagle huntresses we work with as all are at school and schooling is important to their future. We like to support rather than impose so never stipulate that the eagle huntresses must be at home or attend a specific festival. As a company bringing international guests into their homes, we have a duty of care.