CHILD TRAFFICKING – THE HARSH REALITY
Leave No Girl Behind International (here referred to as “LNGB”) is dedicated to preventing the pandemic issues surrounding abduction and trafficking of children, through education and activism on a global scale. A great deal has been written about the inhumanity of child exploitation; however, the reality of such evil acts can never be fully articulated. The truths regarding abduction are brutal, and at any given moment monstrous acts are committed by men and women who target young boys and girls and their families for an array of self-serving acts that can only be defined as evil.
Combating these atrocities, LNGB works in a variety of ways to protect children, including conducting various seminars and training sessions focused on educating and empowering young adults and their families, while using our sea of voices to create new policy and laws focused on the rights of all children.
The reality is that child abduction and trafficking is atrocious and comes in many forms at any given moment, as exemplified by the following real-life scenarios:
A young child, once referred to as Billy by his parents, whose weary bones sit on meshed wire netting, his sunken eyes of despair telling of the internal struggle within as the battering, brutal waves of hopelessness drown innocence. Slowly, fearfully but somehow finding the will to grasp the slightest shimmer of hope of rescue, Billy’s eyes move toward the silhouetting figures projecting near a menacing steel door that seems an ocean away. Voices are spoken quickly by the ghosts outside the prison-coop. And in an instant, this caged young boy understands that a monster just made another purchase. Hope is lost. Life for Billy will be short and merciless.
While the sale of the prison-coop imprisoned child named Billy took place, Mary, a young teenager, is held on a different continent. Mary brushes her flowing hair in an attempt to appear fresh and unused. You see, it is mandatory that the buyers believe each market item is new and untouched. It is a difficult task. Dark circles are covered by mascara in an attempt to hide the violence and tears. Sometimes the camouflage works while at other times Mary’s brutal reality surfaces – without regard or remorse by those who see shallow glimpses of her once vibrant face.
Knowing that failure to appease will result in another brutal outburst by those that keep a watchful eye, Mary ensures her hair is as orderly as possible. As she does, the voice comes first: quick and cold and without any trace of emotion. The odour of cheap whiskey and stale smoke follow. But nothing compares to the inhumanity in the stranger’s eyes as the teen is approached. Fear covers her as she understands adulthood has arrived again, four years before her 18th birthday – and for the twelfth time today. As the monster approaches, Mary prays that the internal pain and bleeding caused from the damage done to her young organs by the barbaric acts of these monsters would stop, and that her life would soon end.
Perhaps God wasn’t listening to her prayers because God was too busy hearing a desperate prayer from two parents who realized an hour ago their toddler daughter, Anna, had been snatched from a park and there was no trace of the abducted child. With each passing moment of beseeching prayer, each parent knew that the longer time passed the more likely it was that they had lost their beautiful child forever. In their minds, they had accurately heard that a child missing for 48 hours or longer was often murdered by their abductor. Less than 47 hours remained on their invisible clock.
As the frantic prayers continued amidst the circling chaos of law enforcement’s attempt to locate innocence, the parents begged God to have mercy. Unbeknownst to Anna’s parents, on yet another continent, the parent of another young child, this time a boy, is crumpled on a sofa as the fight to hold back the swelling tears is lost. You see, this parent had just received news that their child, Joshua, had become a victim of international parental abduction and it was unlikely they would see their son again because the child was parentally kidnapped in contradiction to a court order and taken to a foreign country that was not a member of the Hague International Child Abduction Convention. Tragically, the inbound country where little Joshua had been taken to was known not to return parentally kidnapped children to the child’s country of original jurisdiction.
As heartbreak simultaneously occurs for all children and parents mentioned, Tricia, another young girl sits at table with a 9mm gun put to her head. Tricia is being told that if she should attempt to escape or fail to conduct her duties, both she and the extended family she left behind will all be murdered. As the triggerman vulgarly explains the violence that would await her fate if she does not comply with his wishes, Tricia reflects on the false promises made to her for a better life as a model and actress abroad. Fearing for her and her family’s safety, tears of death stream down her face.
These are just some of the wide-spread realities of child abduction and slavery that occur today. And as much as you may want to think that the pandemic is ending, the truth is, we have a long way to go.
Critical to preventing abduction and trafficking are the efforts of organizations like LNGB who work at the front-line in this war to protect children. Working to educate children and teenagers about dignity and self-respect, while also teaching them and their parents about an assortment of issues associated with both stranger and non-stranger abduction including warning signs and ways to act should abduction occur, we have made a difference in the communities we serve. Of course it is our view that the best defence against such barbaric acts must begin with education and empowerment. These are the ongoing mission and actions of LNGB. Coupling our grass-roots empowerment activities, which often take place in the LNGB Power Circles, we work closely with an assortment of public and private sector organisations and individuals dedicated to creating new laws and public policy that will protect innocent children and their families from child kidnapping and slavery.
The LNGB Power Circle creates a support structure and safe space where children are able to explore who they are through the 6 Principles of Leave No Girl Behind.
- Love – With self-love comes a sense of self-worth and respect for oneself. It is in coming from a place of love that one can act with compassion and have motives that are pure.
- Strength – Strength of character determines who you become and allows you to walk unbowed and be in alignment with your personal sense of what is right.
- Courage – Our mental or moral strength which allows us to persevere through our difficulties and fears. We draw on our courage when we take a stand and use our voice to make a difference.
- Unity – When we take away the borders and boundaries that separate us, we are all global citizens. When we create positive change for our world we create positive change for ourselves.
- Freedom – It is in embracing one’s voice that freedom begins. With freedom comes the responsibility to speak for those whose voices have been silenced, as well as the opportunity to create change in our world.
- Equality – All human beings are entitled to the same human rights regardless of race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, sex, political affiliations, or any other characteristics which are used to define them.
During a Power Circle, participants discuss their challenges, fears, and goals without judgement while learning to support, motivate and encourage one another. Children who know how to take a stand for what they believe in and have a strong support structure to back them are equipped to make smarter choices and are less likely to be lured into dangerous situations. It is during our Power Circles that we take the time to discuss and role-play an assortment of abduction scenarios and actions that can be taken if attempted or actual abduction occurs.
We have seen first-hand the many benefits that occur when a young child or teenager participates in an LNGB Power Circle. Essentially these children are able to openly discuss various uncomfortable situations and utilize taught tools that will enable them to handle almost any circumstance. Combining real-life threatening situation enactments, the core of all we do is to teach young children to be unbowed in their morals and ethics, and to trust and utilize their voices!
But what are the realities of abduction and child trafficking? Here are some important statistics:
- Approximately 2 million children, each year, are exploited in the global commercial sex trade.[i]
- Sex trafficking accounts for 79% of all trafficking cases with the majority of the victims being female, and an estimated 20% of those are children. [ii]
- Females, age 12 and under, are preferred by sex traffickers as the younger a child is the more easily they can be trained to play the role assigned to them, but also because at this young age one would assume they are virgins, which is considered valuable to “consumers”. [iii]
- Males are victims of sex trafficking as well and come from similar backgrounds as females. Often they are raised in broken families and have a history of neglect and abuse. In fact, it is estimated that at least 70 percent of male victims have experienced sexual abuse as children.[iv]
- The child trafficking industry, right now, makes more money than the illegal drug trade, and illegal arms trade, [v]
- Over 150 kids per day were abducted by a family member, most often a parent. Such cases make up 82% of all abduction scenarios.[vi]
Let’s revisit a few of our children from the examples above:
Remember Mary? Well, children like Mary, who are forced into sex trafficking often before the age of 12, may experience physical injuries that can be fatal. Being subjected to such incredibly monstrous acts, physical harm as vaginal tearing is only one small aspect of what a young girl in such a position will likely experience – the list can go on: torture, pain, infection and unwanted pregnancy as well as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.[vii] Perhaps you can see why Mary wished that her life would soon end! The long term physical and psychological effects for children like Mary, should they even survive, are never ending. [viii]
How about Joshua? When it comes to parental abductions, the facts are very clear. In the majority of cases these children are taken in order to hurt the other parent… they are often simply pawns in a deranged plan of revenge or as a way to show power and control. So for children like Joshua life is anything but what a child should be living. These children are often kept out of school and social environments in order to reduce the risk of being found by authorities. Many children undergo psychological, emotional and often physical abuse, and sadly, children of abduction on occasion become victims of filicide – the act of a child being murdered at the hand of their parent. In the eyes of the parental abductor – it is the ultimate revenge!
In the case of Billy, the young boy that was confined to a prison-coop, the topic of male sex trafficking is a lot more taboo. Many times law enforcement agencies tend to have an attitude that females are victims and males are perpetrators. We are often conditioned to think of males as being physically strong and reason that they should be able to get away from a trafficker if they really wanted to. So would you find it surprising to learn that in Afghanistan and coastal Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia that boys are more likely than girls to become victims to prostitution; or that in Mexico and Central America boys are subjected to commercial sex trafficking while en route to the United States? [ix] So for those children like Billy, a male victim of sex trafficking, this tragedy is too often hidden and this way of thinking needs to change so that we can start protecting our boys as well as our girls.
The majority of cases relating to sex trafficking occur for innocent girls, but there are a significant number of boys that are victims as well. The grave challenge of sex trafficking is universal and knows no gender.
Sadly too many countries are not enforcing or updating laws which would prosecute those involved in abduction and child trafficking. In fact, only 40 per cent of countries worldwide have recorded just a few or even no convictions[x] and there seems to be no noticeable increase in the global criminal prosecutions with regards to these horrific crimes. This reality leaves children vulnerable! This is not acceptable! There need to be changes made to these laws so that there is more accountability. On a similar note, we also need to see an increase in the number of reported statistics on a global scale when it comes to abduction and child trafficking. Without these current statistics we are not seeing the whole picture. The problem of abduction and trafficking is far more serious than the numbers are relaying. Many countries are simply not reporting their data and the other part of the problem is that many intergovernmental agencies that are charged with tracking this data don’t have the funding to do so.
At LNGB we take our responsibility of educating children about the dangers of abduction and child trafficking very seriously, but in doing this we must also reach out to adults in the global community, whether parents, teachers, or anyone that has daily interactions with children, and educate them about prevention. Educating and raising awareness at a grass-roots level is a critical component of our work, and is what empowers all of us to create change and help protect those that are vulnerable. Here are some practical methods that you can incorporate in your parenting or work with children so that they can better protect themselves from becoming child trafficking victims:
- Children should know the importance of being aware of their surroundings and taught to trust their intuition. If something doesn’t feel right to them, then it probably isn’t. If they notice something that seems unusual (i.e. the same vehicle in their vicinity at a certain time or the same stranger who seems to want to initiate communication with them), children should know to notify a trusted adult.
- Creating an bridge of open communication ensures that children feel they are able to confide in you about personal challenges they may be facing. Adolescent children, those that are learning and craving independence, are more prone to face risks, as many go through stages where they may feel unloved, unworthy and misunderstood which makes them the perfect target for traffickers.
- As a parent or a caregiver, enable your child with a “code word” to use in an emergency – one that only you and the child would know. Ensure that they understand how and when to use this and how it can protect them.
- In a world where we are all connected through social media sites, it is critical that all children understand the dangers that can lurk online. Ensure that you and the children in your life understand online safety when using the internet, whether it be on chat sites or using everyday social media sites such as Facebook. Don’t let a child in your life become a victim to an online predator.
- Have the children in your life involved in an LNGB Power Circle or if one is not available in your area, contact us about how you can start a Power Circle for children in your community. Become a teacher and a mentor while playing a vital role in effective child trafficking prevention.
- Create a support network for children that is made up of trustworthy, caring adults. This “village” is there for them to feel safe and comfortable and, in the case of your absence, this village gives them someone to confide in. Those adults that are a part of your child’s life should understand the importance of this role.
- Ensure that the children in your life know that their “voice” matters and help them understand how important it is. What they have to share is important and be sure that you listen to what they have to say… it may well give you a sign that there is something going on in their lives that you need to be aware of.
LNGB is fully aware that both boys and girls are victims of abduction and trafficking. Often strangers abduct children while other times non-strangers including parents abduct children. Brutally, around the world, the acts of filicide continue at unthinkable levels … from countries in North America to Asia and everywhere in between – vulnerable children are at risk on so many levels.
LNGB supports the United Nations Rights of The Child Treaty. We work each day to protect the rights of children who all too often cannot protect their own rights. We hope in some way, you will find a way to make a difference in the life a child today.
[i] UNICEF, Children Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Reach; Abused and Neglected, Millions of Children Have Become Virtually Invisible (Dec. 2005)
[iii] https://books.google.ca/books?id=EX-EZI4332IC&dq=sex+trafficking+of+children Kendall and Funk, 2012 – Page 31.