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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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Education is Everything

Happy New Year! After taking a break for two weeks over the holidays, today I am back with another installment of Good News Wednesday.

I would like to share an update from some boys featured in the book, The Weight of Silence. These are the young boys from the CCD Muktaneer Home in Calcutta – Sahiful, Rinku and others who were once abused child laborers, but after being rescued went on to become award-winning filmmakers! You can read their inspiring story here.

The day after Christmas, I received an update from Swapan Mukherjee, the incredible man who runs CCD and who rescued these boys from their horrible lives of slavery. Swapan has dedicated his life to investigating traffickers and bringing them to justice, and he has spent twenty years doing just that, rescuing more than two thousand child laborers.

Swapan wrote to me that two of the CCD Muktaneer Home boys have recently passed their school examinations for the Board of Secondary Examinations, meaning that they have officially graduated high school. Congratulations to these young men, who were once not only denied an education but even a childhood. And thank you, Swapan, for making their educations and future possible.

Me and Swapan in 2007

In fact, Swapan was honored in December with The Frank Corea Memorial Award, for the Educationist of the Year 2009. I feel very privileged to have shared Swapan’s work and the story of these boys in my book; it was a true pleasure meeting them and I hope to visit them again one day. Way to go Swapan! I love good news like this!

Take a moment to think about where some of the goods you purchase might come from – you’d be surprised at how many items are made using child labor. Go to the Free2Work site before you buy at a store, to check the merchant’s rating and see if the merchandise you are buying is child-labor free. I’d also like to share the eye-opening video below, by one of my favorite bands, Radiohead. Here they use their amazing song, All I Need, to visibly show the difference between children who are put to work far too young, and those who are able to enjoy a childhood. Thank you for caring.

5 Companies that Take a Stand against Slave Labor

One of my favorite organizations,, has recently posted a list of five corporations who have dedicated time, money and corporate practices to the fight against human trafficking and slavery. It was written by Amanda Kloer, and you can read the full article here. This is their list – good information to know!

1.) MTV: It may be common knowledge that MTV rarely plays music videos these days, but what’s less known is that the network has devoted an entire campaign to the issue: the EXIT campaign.  They have have created a ton of documentaries, short films, and original videos, many of which have been featured here.  The best part of the EXIT campaign is that they combine accuracy with that cool/young/hip MTV look and feel. (On a related note, check out this awesome Radiohead music video for “All I Need” that brings attention to child labor – you can also watch at the bottom of this post)

2.) LexisNexis: Known by attorneys, students, and academics as a comprehensive database, LexisNexis has also created an online legal resource center, with information about anti-trafficking laws and policies all around the world.  In additional, they provide direct financial support for organizations and events around the world aimed at raising awareness of the existence of human trafficking.

3.) Microsoft: Bill and Melinda Gates may have more money than God, but at least they’re using it for a great cause.  They recently awarded anti-trafficking NGO International Justice Mission $5 million to create a replicable model of combating sex trafficking.  Additionally, the Microsoft Corporation has partnered with NGOs around the world, and has worked with other NGOs to prevent Microsoft products from being used to exploit children sexually.

4.) Carlson Companies: The owners of the Raddison and T.G.I.Friday brands, among others, has made a worldwide commitment to preventing child sex trafficking in their hotels, restaurants, and tour companies.  They were the first U.S.-based company to sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, which involved taking advanced steps to eliminate child trafficking.

5.) Manpower, Inc.: As a worldwide employment services corporation, Manpower, Inc. is in a great place to call on over 1000 of the world’s leading corporations to join the fight to end human trafficking.  They have been extremely involved and supportive of the End Human Trafficking Now campaign and have committed have committed to the Athens Ethical Principles, a zero-tolerance policy toward human trafficking.

Amanda Kloer, author of this article on

So the next time you have an opportunity to choose one of these companies over their competitors, please do so. They are truly committed to fighting human trafficking through their time, resources, and funding.

We must continue to involve corporations in the anti-trafficking effort, and support those which have already taken up the fight.

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Radiohead video for MTV’s Exit Campaign
“Some Things Cost More Than You Realize”

How To Buy a Child in Ten Hours

Reporter Dan Harris meets with a child trafficker at a busy restaurant in Haiti.

In July, Nightline on ABC ran an investigative news story about child trafficking and slavery. The report, by Dan Harris, is focused on Haiti, which has over 300,000 children trapped in child slavery. As the story indicates, the irony is hard to miss. Haiti is an independent nation as a result of a slave rebellion that took place from 1791-1803.

Harris traveled to Haiti and met undercover with a trafficker, who assured him that he could easily procure a 10-year-old girl for him within hours, although he suggests that a 15-year-old might be better because she would be “better developed.” As Harris writes in his report, he thought, “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”

And how much would it cost him to buy this child? $300. Yet Harris is able to negotiate down to $150.

And the most disturbing thing is that, after the trafficker leaves, two waiters in the restaurant where the meeting took place approach Harris. The reporter fears he will be rebuked or shamed; but instead, the waiters offer to sell him a child as well.

Onise, 8, was given away by her family.

Click here to view a slideshow of photos and stories of Haitian children sold into slavery.

Click here to visit ABC’s page to learn what you can do to help end child slavery.