In our last piece, we addressed the problem of child trafficking, and the forms it takes around the world. This time, we’re looking at the hope. We’re going to walk through recognizing the systematic issues behind trafficking and the practical steps all of us can take to help solve the issue. After all, every child deserves a chance to have a loving family and access to the things they need.
The Trafficking Cycle: Systematic Issues
We’ve looked at the issue of child-trafficking, and how extensive this issue is. Change will come to this problem slowly, and solutions won’t be one-size-fits all. We can try to put Band-Aids on problems, but gaping wounds need more than sticking plaster. To find solutions, we have to understand causes.
Poverty puts people in a place where they lack options for education, for healthcare, for family stability, for the things that allow them to live and thrive. That raises the trafficking risk for their children. Gary Haugen addresses the cycle of poverty in his book, The Locust Effect. (You can check out his TED Talk about it.) He points out that the lack of protection for the world’s poor from violence – from rape, police brutality, trafficking – has to be addressed before we can end poverty. Many of the world’s poor are not offered protection; if anything they are particularly targeted by governments, crime rings, and corrupt police.
In her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo tells the true stories of slum-dwellers in Mumbai, India. A repeated theme in her book is how they fight to rise above their poverty, only to have to pay bribes to police, or to end up with massive hospital bills after horrific violence is inflicted on them. Feeling like no matter what they do, they will never escape this cycle, many become complacent or even suicidal.
Violence is also a root cause of much child trafficking. For instance, civil war can force children into places where they are recruited as child-soldiers, or make them more vulnerable to other forms of trafficking. In Nepal for example, violence from Maoist forces meant that parents in villages would give up their children to traffickers promising a better, safer life. However, many of these children ended up in Kathmandu institutions profiting from voluntourism, being exploited as domestic slaves for wealthy families, or sold into brothels in India.
Finally, the issue of education contributes to the problem. When families lack education, they lack options and opportunities. They can also fall prey to not being aware of dangerous situations they may put their children into, such as giving their child to a trafficker under false pretences. The lack of knowledge about birth control or sexuality can lead to girls and women having more children than they can care for, or getting pregnant too early putting their health or education at risk. Of course, in many places a husband has full decision making rights over his wife’s use of birth control, so education has to have a broad focus, not just a narrow, medical one.
The End Of Violence
If violence perpetuates a cycle of poverty, there is an answer. End violence. (As simple and as difficult as that!) Most nations have laws and police forces. In many nations though, those systems need to be strengthened the local police, corruption needs to be rooted out, the judicial system needs to be better able to enforce justice. In Cambodia, the past decade has seen significant change thanks to organizations like APLE and International Justice Mission (IJM).
“Over the last 12 years, we have seen the impossible happen in Cambodia. Hundreds of girls and women have been rescued. Hundreds of traffickers and abusers have been held accountable for their crimes in local courts. Passionate government officials are working hard, and their consistent action has led to an astounding decrease in the number of minors being bought and sold,” wrote Christa Hayden Sharpe, IJM Cambodia Field Office Director.
Many paedophiles used to find a safe-haven in Cambodia, after fleeing convictions overseas. Now, they are finding themselves in handcuffs. There is still more work to be done – according to a review by APLE in 2015, the rate of deportation of foreign sex-offenders who had completed sentences in Cambodia was as low as 30%. But this work continues day-by-day, as you can see here.
Rescue V. Prevention
While there will never be a quick fix to a problem that involves billions of dollars and millions of people, there is a wealth of solutions that we all have a role.
Rescue is vital! After all, if you were one of 20+ million people enslaved, you certainly would want someone to kick in the door and bring justice and a free life for you.
Another great aspect of rescue is that perpetrators are usually caught and brought to justice. This helps end the cycle.
However, in a business as lucrative as trading in human beings the cycle needs to be cut off at the roots. We have to address the supply and demand. After all, would you rather rescue someone from a life of abuse and horror, or prevent it from ever happening?
And, so I want to focus on the supply chain because this is where Children in Families and many organizations like us come into the picture of prevention.
Answers and Hope
Despite Hollywood’s dramatic portrayals of children and women being snatched off the streets and forced into brothels, most human trafficking does not work this way.
Traffickers are cunning. Most children trafficked are handed over under false pretences, or abusers look for a vulnerable child no one will miss. This is why empowering family and community is so vital. Vulnerable can mean a lot of things: neglected, disabled, orphaned, abused, and poor.
It is estimated that 80% of children in institutions have at least one living parent. Approximately another 10% of those children have extended biological family who could care for them, if they received some support to do so. Rather than giving children to orphanages where they will not receive individual care and attention, as well as exposing them to much higher risks of exploitation and abuse, 80-90% of those kids could be in a loving home.
What Does It Take?
Most families give their children to institutions out of a sense of love. They believe their child will be better fed and receive an education. So, what if for a fraction of the cost to run an institution, a parent or extended family member could be empowered through job training or school fees and extra food? Many times, it just takes a little hope and care to keep a family together. That’s why CIF looks first to keep children in Kinship Care.
Sometimes, due to death in the family, or abuse or neglect, kinship care may not be an option. This is where foster care comes into the picture. When local families in a community are given proper training and assistance, many of them are more than happy to raise another child. Some couples – not being able to have their own biological child – long to foster and adopt.
Traffickers are not likely to find their supply in a population that is involved in the well-being of its children. They look for children on the margins. So, we fight to keep children in the center of a healthy family nucleus. If the community is invested in its children and has a means to provide for them, they are not likely to give them up.
By some estimates, 15% of the current money going into orphanages in this country would be enough to put the vast majority of children in Cambodia into a loving family. Imagine how a donor’s resources could be stretched to improve quality of life throughout a nation, if the focus was on family rather than institutions.
Hope For Disabilities
Recently I spoke with some volunteers in Cambodia who helped prevent the trafficking of a little disabled girl. With the help of APLE, they were able to intervene quickly and get the child into emergency care. They shared with me the compassion they had for the mother who was homeless, trying to raise two young children. Herself a victim of sexual abuse and extreme poverty, she had few options. As most people in the third world live day to day, people do not have the resources for retirement, so their children become their insurance policies.
No parent should have to choose between children, but if in desperation, the choice can be to keep the child who can better care for them as they get older. It usually means the disabled child is sold or given away. Traffickers prey on children with disabilities because often they are easier to manipulate and control. Children with disabilities are also at a much greater risk of being relinquished to institutional care, and are much more vulnerable to institutionalisation. Furthermore, disabilities are often not well understood. From autism to hearing impairment to Downs Syndrome to cerebral palsy, the lack of medical care and education in the third world and remote regions leave families at a loss for what to do for their children. The burden of the extra medical care may also seem impossible.
Enter CIF’s ABLE Program
The ABLE program comes alongside our Kinship Care and Foster Care families to empower them to provide for the health and well-being of the children in their care. This includes access to special education, medical services, equipment, etc. Our staff are trained to provide therapeutic services to address challenges children may have in all areas of development and to help their families know how to help them as well. Simply giving families hope for their disabled child can turn the situation from dire to promising. Additional assistance can mean that parents can spend more time caring for their child, rather than constantly working to provide basic necessities.
If a child is loved and valued, their risk of being trafficked is greatly reduced.
Change From the Institutions
Not all orphanages and institutions are created equal, and solutions for the multidude of issues around institutional care have to be equally varied.
It’s very difficult to work with exploitative institutions, but keeping children in their families keeps opportunists from having a source of children profit from. Volunteers and donors should be very wary, and aware of the type of institution they are giving time and resources too. The bad ones need to be closed.
For well-intentioned orphanages however, CIF is trying a different solution. Our new outreach program partners with existing institutions that want to see better outcomes for the children in their care. At the center of the new program is the desire to help Cambodian children through equipping and redirecting existing organisations. Currently in Cambodia, there are thousands of small orphanages and community outreach groups already present in different communities around the country. They have their own donors, budgets, admin staff, and people on the ground. Many of the leaders and board members of these distributed organisations are considering the possibility of providing family based care within their own communities but feel ill-equipped to tackle the task of providing high quality family based care.
CIF’s new role will be in guiding the transition to family based care, and assisting with program implementation. Eventually, it is hoped these organisations will be able to act independently. Children with strong communities, deep family ties, and an expansive support system are not likely to be sold or taken.
A Shift In Values
Whatever the reason for exploiting children – for financial gain, sexual abuse, soldiering – ultimately, that exploitation shows an inability or unwillingness to recognise the value of a human. As people recognize that every person, regardless of age, people-group, sex, ability, or social status, has intrinsic value, human trafficking could be ended. A paradigm shift needs to take place.
Do consumers believe it is worth a little extra money and effort to make socially responsible purchases, seeking out fair-trade labels? Is a person’s freedom worth it to you? It’s not just your clothing, but flowers, chocolates, seafood, household goods. Check out Free2Work to find out which companies are the most socially responsible and buy from them.
Is it worth it to support programs and organizations that fight for children, or bring education that helps shift adults’ and communities’ perceptions of disabilities?
Is it worth your time to speak into a vulnerable child’s life? To spend time with them, teaching them that they are loved, heard, and have value?
Child trafficking might be complicated, but the solutions come in a variety of forms, and there are steps each one of us can take. Even if you don’t feel the need to move across the world, you can make simple, but potentially life-altering choices, to make all the difference in a child’s world. To protect them from trafficking, and keep them in a family, where they belong.