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Missionaries or Traffickers?

Earlier this month I wrote a post about the church missionaries in Haiti who had been detained on trafficking charges for attempting to take children out of the country illegally.

In India, recently such actions have come under more intense scrutiny, with a rising number of child traffickers disguising themselves as missionaries in order to gain trust. Northern India is a region of the country with a large Christian population, and traffickers are exploiting this in order to present themselves as evangelists or missionaries who promise a better future for children.

It is believed that the children, aged from around six to 15, are being taken to unregistered children’s homes where they are kept in poor conditions and made to do menial work like cooking and laundry. There have been reports of children dying in suspicious circumstances and of others being molested and abused.

“These institutions exploit religion to make money. With many of them not registered with the government, the homes escape scrutiny,” Vidya Reddy of Tulir of the Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse was quoted as saying by Times of India. You can read the full story here.

In other, more uplifting news, some children in India have taken it upon themselves to conduct studies and report to the UN on the status of child rights in the country. Since 1992, the Indian government is required to submit a report on child rights to the U.N. After waiting more than a year to be heard and accounted in this report, at least 27 children from the state of Gujurat took matters into their own hands, surveying more than 700 children and writing their own report.

This alternative report focused on four predominant children’s rights: right to survival; right to develop; right to protection against exploitation and right to participation. Children across state complained that doctors were missing from the government clinics in their community; shared their frustration against caste discrimination in schools. They were also agitated due to inefficiency in distribution of school meals and sanitation on school campuses.

Surely this strong action to ensure that their voices are heard is a step in the right direction, for demanding the rights to which they are entitled.

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Shooting Child Slavery

Big World Magazine just published my article about former child laborers. Titled “Shooting Child Slavery,” the article recounts the story of these previous child slaves who went on to become award-winning filmmakers.

Ashikul Islam and Sahiful Mondal lived at a home for destitute boys in Calcutta. In 2004, the two 10-year-olds made a short independent film called “I Am,” which created a worldwide stir.

Their film won a Grand Prize at the International Children’s Film Festival in Athens, grabbed the attention of the Australian press, and was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “I Am,” about growing up from the childrens’ point of view, starred only other children.

It was an unlikely turn in the filmmakers’ difficult lives.

Sahiful had been put into indentured slave labor at age 4, after his father died of tuberculosis. With their mother suffering from a mental illness, this tiny boy and his siblings had to figure out how to survive. Ashikul was orphaned at four years old, and soon after began surviving by doing odd jobs at tea stalls and begging. Eventually, Ashikul worked in a leather factory.

The boys were rescued, and brought to the orphanage Muktaneer (the word means “Open Sky” in Hindi). There they began receiving four good meals a day, were given their own beds, went to school, and were allowed to play for the first time in their lives.

The story of these boys is incredibly inspiring – as are other former child laborers, such as Om Prakash, who himself became an advocate against child labor and went on to be awarded the International Peace Prize for Children.

You can read the full story at Big World Magazine.

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Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way

Humanity United and Ashoka’s Changemakers are launching a global online competition to identify innovative approaches to exposing, confronting and ending modern-day slavery.

Today over 27 million children and adults are in slavery or bonded labor around the world—more than any other period in human history. As one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, slavery remains largely hidden from the public eye and thrives on the rising global demand for inexpensive, unskilled labor and commercial sex.

Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way aims to find holistic solutions to modern-day slavery by recognizing individuals and organizations that raise awareness of the issue’s root causes, liberate those in bonded labor, and reintegrate former slaves into their communities.

The competition is hosted on www.changemakers.net. Funding will be awarded for the most innovative policy-level and grassroots models.

Children For Sale on Craigslist

I’m sure most of us are familiar with Craigslist, an online Web community where people post job opportunities, items for sale, and find activity partners. Over the past years, Craigslist has grown by leaps and bounds and now has Web sites representing over 300 U.S. cities. However, despite its millions of users and various social benefits, there’s a dark side of Craigslist that most users don’t see. In the “Erotic” section, human traffickers have found Craigslist to be one of the most efficient, effective (and free) ways to post children and women for sale.

This happens in the United States every day, as well as Europe, Africa and Asia.

Katherine Chon, Executive Director of the Polaris Project, wrote the following on Not For Sale, the campaign to end slavery in our lifetime:

“With a bit of research, one can realize just how much of a problem this has become. In one recent case, two Chicago women were charged for selling girls as young as 14 years old on Craigslist. The girls were forced to have sex with 10-12 men per day, and the traffickers made tens of thousands of dollars. A Boston man and his niece were charged with plotting a child trafficking operation with teenagers as young as 13 by selling them on Craigslist to predators from Massachusetts to New York. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, law enforcement efforts to fight trafficking nationwide are consistently reporting a spike in online Craigslist ads, and how sex trafficking has “moved online” lately.

In Washington, DC, we see an average of 500 of these such Craigslist ads each new day. Yet, it is important to realize that a significant percentage of these ads on Craigslist do not advertise solely “legal escort services” as Craigslist may like to believe. Instead, a considerable percentage of the ads are a thinly veiled guise for one of the many faces of human trafficking that exists here in the United States. Although Craigslist may convince itself that it has created a beneficial online venue for advertising legal escorts, in effect, what it has done is create a fertile ground for traffickers to further their trade in human misery.

Many of the victims of human trafficking that Polaris Project has served have had their pictures posted on Craigslist. Through serving them, we’ve learned how the pictures on Craigslist hide the pain behind the smile. Maybe Craigslist should ask itself if the marginal benefits of this form of free advertising for the sex trade are worth the far larger human costs.”

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that slavery is a thing of the past, part of the terrible history of the formation of the United States or something that we can read about in our history books and shake our head with sorrow and regret. Slavery is alive and well today. 27 million people are currently enslaved.

You are not for sale. I am not for sale. No one should be for sale. Become an modern-day abolitionist. Join the fight against slavery.

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