Six months ago, world news headlines highlighted the child trafficking and abuse in Thailand’s fishing industry. The BBC reported children from Myanmar and Cambodia are forced to work on vessels and in processing factories, leading to dangerous and debilitating injuries, not to mention violating a litany of human rights. (Article here.)
During the past decade, organizations such as A21, Not for Sale, and International Justice Mission (IJM) raised the first-world’s awareness of slavery as an international issue, running deep through the veins of world economics and industry. It robs an estimate of well over 20 million people of their freedom and basic human rights.
While we want to address child trafficking, CIF believes that underneath the layers and complications involved in the multi-billion dollar industry of human beings, there lies hope.
We will address human trafficking and what that looks like for children, but more than anything, we want to offer up solutions. As overwhelming as the numbers appear, we want to strip down the numbers and reveal practical ideas for prevention, and the restoration of individuals. While the situation can appear depressingly complex, the answers may surprise you.
Even more surprising is your ability to do something about it.
The Human Trafficking Centre (HTC) defines trafficking as “the recruitment and/or movement of someone within or across borders through the abuse of power/position with the intent of forced exploitation, commercial or otherwise.” HTC goes on to list what makes a person vulnerable to being trafficked: “Displaced persons, minorities and other marginalized groups are vulnerable to human trafficking. Impoverished populations and victims and survivors of interpersonal violence and homelessness are also at increased risk. Traffickers often take advantage of these individuals’ vulnerabilities and unmet needs.”
What is glaringly obvious is that children – especially those whose family structure has broken down due to illness, death, abuse, war, or poverty – tick most of the boxes for vulnerable people.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates children make up about 25% of forced labour and sexual exploitation slavery. Human trafficking generates around $150.2 billion dollars annually; that means children generate about $37.55 billion of that estimate. And two thirds of trafficking is sexual exploitation.
With an industry this lucrative, ending it is a complicated, painstaking process. All the destruction is driven by profit. The BBC’s September 14, 2015 article quotes Maurizio Bussi, the ILO’s officer in charge of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand as stating, “Unfortunately, [child trafficking] remains a symptom of existing labour market governance challenges, coupled with a lack of genuine alternatives for vulnerable workers and their families to freely avail [themselves] of.”
Tracking those being exploited proves an even greater problem. Children born into poverty or those without families may not be traceable. Many do not have birth certificates and since they have no family to notice if they are missing, they are the most vulnerable to slipping silently away, entering the hellish world of maltreatment.
“From their lack of standing and significance in society, orphaned children are easy to exploit. Mostly, when they are taken, they are not missed. When they are abused, they are not heard. And sadly, there is a seemingly endless supply of orphans to be used and cast aside by a depraved system of abusers,” wrote Rick Morton, author of Orphanology. He points out that not all “orphans” lack families; some are rendered fatherless when taken from their families.
This is another common instance: children being given to traffickers under false pretenses. When war, poverty and natural disasters intersect with and isolated regions, like the harsh, swampy or mountainous landscapes of Papua New Guinea, or the hidden villages of the Himalayas, children can be taken with a promise of a better life. While they are missed, their families lack the finances or even the know-how to start searching for them. The current Syrian refugee crisis, a desperate situation for those fleeing devastation, has opened the door for people smugglers. With the promise of a better and safer life, Syrians risk everything and take on grueling situations, often becoming separated from family members on their way to Europe. In a National Review article, author Jillian Kay Melchior shares that in the first nine months of 2015, Hungary apprehended over 1,100 traffickers. And that’s just one of many nations people are fleeing through.
So, what are the types of child trafficking and the target of victims?
If you’ve travelled, you know. You’ve seen them at the traffic lights with disheveled hair, dirt-coated faces, pleading eyes, palms held up and out, the beggar children. If a hungry child in tattered clothes does not stir your heart, then what will? Maybe a young woman with a sleeping child draped across her chest?
My heart is almost ripped out every time I encounter it. I have not stopped aching for those children.
Which is exactly what traffickers want. Someone runs those begging rings. A parent, or a trafficker.
The consequence of you not opening your wallet is a haunting image of a child who has spent their life being rejected, hearing the word “No.” However, the consequence of you opening your wallet is far greater: the perpetuation of this cycle, keeping these children and many others enslaved.
Almost any city that sees a significant amount of tourism will have schools and programs for street children. Phnom Penh is filled with these types of organizations. The red light district has a day center for both sex workers and their children to learn, stay safe, and rest. Free schools run by NGOs are scattered throughout the cities districts. Programs like Skateistan and Friends Intl. are available for those who seek them out.
So, why are there still children, people with disabilities, and young women with babies begging in the streets?
It is profitable for traffickers.
People want to quickly free themselves of the burden of guilt caused by the big eyes and open hands. The problem is their monetary gift to this child will likely be the very thing keeping him or her from ever escaping and having a chance at a safe and happy childhood.
The 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the average starting age of men and women in sex work is 14.
Of course, it is an average. Many of the children trafficked do not necessarily know their birthdate. I recently visited a safe house in Phnom Penh, where the average girl was around 12. The youngest girl rescued was six years old. The safe house was set up to meet the needs of children, so adults would be sent to another organization.
While girls are the main demographic for sex trafficking, more and more studies show that boys are often times the invisible and forgotten victims. Thailand, for instance, has an entire sector of the prostitution industry focused on transgender and boys. Many of them groomed for these roles from a very young age.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization estimates 60% of child laborers work in agriculture, including farming and fishing. The Child Labour Coalition states children in bonded labor can be as young as four years old.
The fishing industry, as highlighted by the BBC, is one area where young boys in particular are forced to labor long hours, often putting their lives at risk. In West Africa they were found to be left on boats in the hot sun, day in, day out, to jump in the water and swim to untangle nets. The harsh conditions and abuse from the fishermen makes it incredibly hazardous to children. A child who is injured or killed can be replaced for a fairly low purchasing fee, so the fishermen often take little care of the kids working for them.
Agriculture is another widely used form of bonded labor. In the documentary, “The Darkside of Chocolate,” viewers follow a journalist, Miki Mistrati, who tracks children being taken across borders in Ivory Coast and Ghana to work in cocoa plantations, the part of the world where the majority of our chocolate comes from. The documentary highlights the complexities of child trafficking as the knowledge, acceptance, and profits from child exploitation extends up to the top government officials and across borders, into the chocolate industry in Europe and America, where company CEOs are made aware, but fail to change their practices.
Domestic servitude is a bit harder to trace. For instance, in his book, “Little Princes,” Conor Grennan shares about one little boy he met who had been taken from his Himalayan village using promises of “a better life”. After months of searching, he was found living at an affluent home in Kathmandu. The wealthy owner tried to convince Conor and others that he had taken the boy in as a son. Thankfully, they were wise enough to not buy the man’s lies. The boy had been a domestic slave, mistreated and abused by the rich family.
Figures like Kony, operating in Uganda, and movements like ISIS, have made the world much more aware of the tragedy of child soldiers. Most people are now aware of the scope of the problem however. Examples of children taken from their homes and forced to commit atrocities against he societies they have been taken from have been found in places like Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Thailand, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
One of the goals of CIF is to work with the good-hearted staff of certain local orphanages to help them find family-based care solutions for the children they have looked after. For all that, we know that not all orphanages are created equal. While some lovingly strive to meet immediate and necessary needs of children – especially in HIV/AIDS ravished countries – others are veneers for abuse and lucrative, exploitive business preying on volunteers and donors’ sentiment. In the worst case, children are sold to traffickers, and many young girls end up in prostitution.
Many institutions do not even pretend to care only for orphans. Recently, a facility opened in Cambodia that stated it would care for children from poor families, giving them “better opportunities.” While advertising gorgeous football fields and English classes, children were gathered from local slums to live with house parents, even though their own families lived within a few miles of the institution. Millions of dollars were poured into the new facility, when a small percentage of those costs could empower families to care for their own kids.
The organization LUMOS shares that “Across the globe eight million children are living in institutions that deny them individual love and care. More than 80% are not orphans. They are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. As a result, many suffer life-long physical and emotional harm.”
Yet, even if institutional care is well maintained and regulated, children in orphanages are not set up for the real world. After living in a very systematic environment, they transition out with little-to-no support system. On the other hand, people do not “age out” of loving families. People usually still have the love and advice from parents or family to turn to. Many times as they start jobs or university, they may still live at home, or at least go home for a visit and a nice meal.
While visiting a local church in Nepal, I met a young man who grew up in an orphanage. His reputation was that he was kind, hard-working, and intelligent. People whispered to me that he must have come from a very good orphanage. As I chatted with him and shared about the work of Children in Families (CIF), sorrow reflected back in his eyes.
“It is very good work you are doing,” he said, looking at his feet. He went on to tell me, he wished he had the opportunity to have a family system growing up. Until he had found his small church, he felt very alone in life. Even with an excellent opportunity for an education, he missed out on fundamental love and acceptance of a family unit.
It raises the question, if you had the choice of sending your small children away for a better education and food than you could provide for them, would you? Or is there a certain value in lessons and love they can only receive from you? Why do orphanages not exist in the first-world anymore?
TO BE CONTINUED…
Now that you are aware of the problem, find out more about solutions in Part II.