Thailand Religious School TripsBlog

The Case of Richard Huckle

We discuss the case of Richard Huckle and responsible tourism.

This is part two of this week’s blog post surrounding travel headlines in the news this week. With both of them based around such key issues, we wanted to give them separate posts in their own right. You can read part one questioning Thailand’s Tiger Temple here.

Today, we focus on the case of Richard Huckle. The 30-year old’s sentencing hearing began on Wednesday and today it is expected that he will quite possibly be facing a life sentence for his systematic abuse of up to two hundred children between 2006 and 2014. The critical feature in this case though, which has compelled us to blog about it, is that these atrocities occurred while Huckle was volunteering with children in Malaysia.

He first visited Malaysia aged 18 on a teaching gap year and went on to groom hundreds of children while taking part in voluntary work during subsequent years. 

Here in the office, we are constantly debating the ethics of Voluntourism. Orphanage work (which can never be justified in our view – see below), building projects, teaching, conservation work - Whatever the nature of the volunteering, who are these first world volunteers and are they really qualified to get involved? If you wouldn’t be able to work in that capacity in the UK, why should you be able to do so abroad? Consider the experience and background checks required to work or volunteer with children in the UK and it suddenly makes unchecked orphanage work overseas quite a frightening prospect.  

What’s more, it brings to light the fact that these good deeds may not be benefiting the communities they are aimed to help at all. At best – they are often a means to make the volunteer feel better for having done ‘something’ – at worst, well, Richard Huckle.

You may be surprised to learn that many countries have checks in place which are not dissimilar to the British DBS. And if not there are extensive background and reference checks which can be made – we know this from experience as it is one of our top priorities with regards to our in country leaders.

If you’re struggling with whether to volunteer or not, consider turning the tables: would you be happy with volunteers coming to the UK in the same capacity? Volunteers visiting your school, with no experience, qualification or background checks and disrupting our children’s education, only to flood Facebook with their photos?

There has been a lot in the news in recent years about the ‘business’ of orphanage volunteering. In Cambodia, it was found that nearly 75% of children in orphanages had at least one living parent or family. It’s something which we’ve blogged about before and feel very strongly about here at the STC.

While the Huckle news story may not seem it at first, it is essentially about irresponsible tourism. Huckle should never have been able to work in such an operation in the first place – primarily because there should be a vetting system that takes into account the overall welfare of the children involved. The responsibility for that lies with the tour operators or charities organising any placements. There are plenty of things we can to do help those who really need it, but two weeks on a ‘do-good’ holiday will help no-one in the long term and can potentially, as this case shows, cause serious harm instead.

It is part of the reason we refuse to organise placements which involve our groups working with orphanages and schools. Instead we prefer for them to undertake activities which allow them to understand the local way of life on a far deeper level and in a way which benefits both parties in both the long and the short term. Something more like our trips to Morocco where groups take part in everyday village life, working alongside local people in activities which they have voted in and decided upon themselves.

We can only hope that with increasing public awareness, education and continued campaigning, tragic stories such as those of the abused Malaysian children will become a thing of the past.  We also appreciate that this is an incredibly difficult situation to discuss and hope that we have not offended anyone in doing so. However, we at the STC feel strongly about responsible tourism and the duty that those involved have to keep people safe.