Children in Chains: Part II

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Sep 232004
 
Authors: Meg Burd

“There’s drugs … and arms… but what’s the next most deadly

illegal trade?” asks the non-profit Boulder-based organization Free

A Child on its Web site.

As examined last week’s in “Children In Chains,” it would appear

that human trafficking and slavery could be counted in this deadly

category. With estimates of those trafficked into slavery ranging

from 800,000 (as estimated by the U.S. State Department) to a

staggering 4 million (mostly women and children), the problem,

while already horrific in its magnitude, is growing annually. While

people are globally trafficked into a variety of situations,

including domestic and factory work, perhaps one of the most

heinous places many of the young women and children smuggled around

the world end up is in a brothel or a back room, forced into a life

of prostitution and sexual exploitation.

A complex phenomenon, human trafficking is a multi-billion

dollar industry (with the United Nations estimating that $7 billion

per year is generated by the trafficking of “human cargo”), where

economic factors often have a lot to do with how the majority of

children end up in such terrible situations.

“Trafficking is generally described according to the ‘push’

factors that lead a child or adult to leaving one place, and ‘pull’

factors that decide the place to which the trafficking victims move

or are moved,” the World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation

of Children stated in a 2001 paper.

“People generally put themselves or their children in the hands

of traffickers to escape poverty and/or discrimination or war. They

are promised fantastic opportunities such as well-paid jobs,

education or marriage. Many imagine that they will be able to send

money home to help their families,” the U.S. Department of Health

and Human Services asserts, although kidnappings are also known to

contribute to the number of victims. For these victims, many are

often “pushed” into border areas, tourist destinations, or other

places where prostitution is established and highly profitable for

the pimps and traffickers.

For the volunteers and organizers with Free A Child, these pulls

into slavery and pushes into brothel-filled area are all too

disturbingly visible in places such as Nepal.

“Each year between 7,000 and 10,000 Nepalese children between

the ages of 8 and 16 are tricked, bought or kidnapped from their

families to work as sex slaves in brothels in India,” Free A Child

said.

“India is rapidly taking over from Southeast Asia as the centre

of the world sex industry, and the incidence of HIV and Aids there

is growing with frightening speed,” said Lesley Downer in an

article in the Sunday Times.

In nearby Nepal, there are many socioeconomic factors that pull

particularly young girls into such trafficking schemes:

“Sixty-three percent of Nepalese children suffer from malnutrition

and 33 percent of boys are illiterate; the figure is much higher on

both counts for girls. The annual average per capita income is

$210,” Downer says.

Such factors make the children of Nepal prime targets for

trafficking into India. Families of young girls from this area may

sell their daughters to traffickers, sometimes unaware of the

horrible situation into which the girls are being pushed, or else

young women fall prey to trafficker’s promises of a better economic

future in Mumbai. Either way, the young girls who are trafficked

into the brothels of Mumbai face a sad future.

For Free A Child, programs of prevention and reintroduction of

those already effected by this horrible lifestyle are the key to,

if not solving the problem of slavery, at least ameliorating some

of the damage. Through street dramas and prevention programs

designed to truly inform parents and young women of the horrors of

being sold to traffickers.

“Right now, we are working with micro-economic programs to get

at the root of the problem,” said Kenlyn Kollen, Boulder attorney

and president of Free A Child.

In places such as Nepal, it would seem, promoting recognition of

this terrible crime and its realities, as well as establishing ways

in which young women and their families can become more

economically sustainable without resorting to trafficking, are

essential. If such programs take root around the world, perhaps the

numbers of children trafficked into prostitution and exploitation

can be lowered.

Meg Burd is a graduate student studying anthropology.

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