"Workations" are becoming increasingly popular. More and more freelancers are working from the most beautiful places in the world, but also employees started moving their home office to a hotel or holiday flat. This trend poses risks in the destinations, also for children.
Workation - a trend for high earners
In its "Global Digital Nomad Study 2022", the travel blog "A brother abroad" surveyed 4,000 digital nomads from all over the world. The study concludes that 35 million people worldwide currently combine work with travelling. This number roughly corresponds to the population of Morocco. On average, digital nomads spend six months in the destination of their choice. But who can afford this fancy lifestyle between beach and hotel desk? The most popular workation spots are in Southeast Asia with 34% of all stays, followed by Latin America with 29%. The highest-ranking countries are Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, and Vietnam. So, while the hotspots are in countries of the Global South, digital nomads themselves mainly come from Western Europe and the United States. With a monthly budget of 1,875 US dollars, digital nomads usually have considerably more income than the average inhabitant of the country in which they spend their working hours. If all digital nomads would found a state, their country would even be in 38th place among the wealthiest countries – right after Saudi Arabia and Portugal.
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Risks for children remain unrecognized
In their Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism of 2016, ECPAT International already drew attention to the fact that expats, who live abroad for a long time, are a relevant group among travelling sex offenders. The long duration of their stay and their high level of wealth enables them to gain the trust of children and young people. The digital affinity of the new workationers increases the risks even more. Since the pandemic, being online became part of many children’s everyday life, and sexual exploitation has become more frequent. For example, a study by the child rights organization Thorn shows that in 2020, one in seven children between the age of 9 and 12 sent a nude over the internet, 41 per cent of them knowingly to an adult. In 2019, it was one in 20. Sex offenders who spend a lot of time alone in a country as digital nomads are particularly a risk as they have the opportunity to contact children online and meet them just around the corner. In their guesthouses or rented flats, they are anonymous and can commit crimes undetected – also against children and young people.
Destinations respond to workation trend
Destinations are making it increasingly easy for digital nomads to relocate their daily work to hotels and rented flats. So far, 28 countries have set up long-stay visas for long-term travelers, allowing them to stay in the destination for six months or longer. Mauritius and Georgia are two examples. Unfortunately, it cannot be ruled out that these long-term travelers may include sex offenders. Like many other destinations, these two countries have a child rights problem and tourism is partly to blame. In Mauritius, child labor in the travel sector, as well as (sexual) exploitation of children and adolescents are widespread. The island is one of the ten hotspots for sex tourism. Children are also victims of sexual exploitation by travellers. They take advantage of vulnerable children living on the street, especially in poor rural areas or Creole communities. Most of them are between 11 and 16 years old and do not go to school. The situation is similar in Georgia. Nearly one-fifth of all Georgian children have to work to financially support their families. Sex offenders who are in the country for longer periods of time like digital nomads gain the trust of children and their families and take advantage of their financial hardship. But not only Georgian children suffer from exploitation in the course of tourism. Georgia is increasingly becoming a destination country for human trafficking. Underage girls, mainly from Central Asia and the North Caucasus, are smuggled into the country and forced into prostitution.
Lacking awareness in the tourism sector
Workations are not only lucrative for the tourism industry, but also carry risks for children in destinations. Politicians and the tourism sector should prevent the violation of children's rights. With its child protection code, The Code has developed criteria that are relevant for tourism companies with workation offers. For example, employees in and around the tourism sector must be aware of children's rights and be able to easily report suspect observations. The same applies to tourists who observe inappropriate behavior of other travellers. They should receive information in advance about the rights of children in their vacation destination and on how to report suspicious activities. The home countries of tourists are in charge to address the issue, for example in the travel and country information provided by embassies and foreign ministries. Too many traveling sex offenders assume that foreign countries are a law-free zone for them. The sexual abuse of children is a crime and is prosecuted also in countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Mauritius or Georgia. Moreover, they are not only at risk of conviction in the country where the crime was committed, but also in their home country.