Tanya was a regular kid. Just like any other 12-year-old in your neighborhood. Smart, taking classes for talented and gifted children.
Tanya’s “sin:” she walked home from school every day. One day a young man pulled his car over and said she was very pretty. He seemed sincere and had a genuine smile. He met her everyday and began giving her small tokens of his affection, just a small gift here and there. He was making an investment. Six months after their first meeting, Tanya agreed to get into his car, and her life changed forever.
After beating her physically to establish his “ownership” of her, the man revealed his true intentions and became her pimp. He prostituted her out to over 100 men per month for over five years. She was arrested 17 times in almost as many states.
Finally, a police officer took notice of her situation and rescued her. Tanya’s story is the story of thousands of girls walking the streets of suburbia today (www.sharedhope.org).
This is slavery, and it’s happening in your backyard.
Imagine you are too poor to feed your daughter. A man comes from two towns over telling you about a job cleaning a nice family’s house. The family promises to take care of your daughter with three meals a day and take her to the doctor if she gets sick. You send her away.
When you hear nothing from her, you get worried, as any parent would. You go into the town only to find there is no family. The man has taken your innocent daughter to another country.
You search for her and find her selling her body on a street corner across the border. She has been forced to take drugs until she is addicted and now sells herself as a way to keep up the addiction. This is slavery, and it is happening in Asia.
The word “slavery” doesn’t appear much in the news today, but “human trafficking” does. “Slave owners” are now “human traffickers.” These slave traders don’t use wooden shipschildren not for sale or muskets, but they are certainly as ruthless and evil as the slave traders of old.
What is human trafficking? The U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons defines it as “the use of fraud, force, or coercion to exploit a person for profit.”
This definition does not limit itself to moving someone across a town, state, or country. A young girl can be trafficked in her own home or neighborhood. In fact, many immigrant women and children working in a job they voluntarily accepted find themselves trafficked by the employer holding their papers. They can’t leave for fear of imprisonment for being an illegal alien.
How does trafficking happen?
Human trafficking is the result of poverty and vulnerability. Across the world in times of crisis, children are seen as either a financial burden or source of income in many cultures.
Seventeen-year-old Ma Suu was from a poor family in Myanmar, a small country between India and Thailand. She paid a transporter to help her cross the border in 2001. The same person found her a job as a domestic worker in Thailand. In July of 2002 she was accused of stealing. After refusing to confess to a crime she did not commit, her “owners” severely beat her, set her on fire, and left her for dead in a ditch.
Someone found her charred body and transported her to a nearby hospital where she stayed alive only long enough to tell her story. Her “employers,” a Thai air force officer, his wife, and an unnamed accomplice, were not charged until 2004. They were able to put off trial until March of 2007. The officer was convicted of murder, and the wife was given five years for hiring an illegal immigrant (www.worldvision.com).
In most cases, the abusers of immigrants can get away with murder because governments often turn a blind eye to trafficking. Even the U.S. government is, at times, guilty. This only serves to make the problem more widespread.
In northern Uganda, human trafficking wears a different mask. Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), raids villages at night to kidnap children. Children go into towns to sleep at bus depots or under houses for protection from LRA soldiers. It is futile.
A few people stand guard over the children, but LRA soldiers sneak in, taking children without detection. Once abducted, these children, some as young as six, are forced to fight, murder, and mutilate their own people, or they are forced to watch others killed until they are desensitized and brainwashed. Forcing a child to commit murder shows what will happen should he attempt an escape.
Some of these children are afraid to go home because they have been LRA soldiers for so long and feel responsible for hurting so many. They fear repercussions from their own village upon returning. Some have a fear their people will not welcome them; but the greater fear is that the children will be judged, banished, rejected, or tracked down by the LRA.
How widespread is human trafficking?
According to World Vision, estimates of worldwide trafficking range from 12 million to 30 million. The numbers grow everyday.
It is widely accepted by all who study human trafficking that there are more slaves today than there were during the three centuries of TransAtlantic slave trade combined. Of today’s slaves, it is believed that approximately 50 percent are children under the age of 18.
There are probably 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year. That number is a fraction of those trafficked within borders.
While women and girls make up the majority of slaves, boys and men form a third of the number. Unfortunately, boys and men rarely speak up because they are too ashamed of their forced homosexual prostitution, they are worked to death before they have the chance to speak up, or they are killed in battle.
What is being done?
Many ministries and organizations are engaged in this war. Some focus on education. Through World Vision sponsorship, families learn that their children are not property to be sold. They also learn that the child, at a reasonable age, can earn income for the family and make more revenue than a one-time sale to a trafficker.
World Vision recently ended a campaign using commercials, billboards, and posters in countries where human trafficking is rampant. Outside an international airport in Phnom Penh, Vietnam, an area of high child-sex trafficking, was a billboard with a picture of a man behind bars. The caption read, “Abuse a child in this country; go to jail in yours.”
Another billboard had a black and white photo of a child, and superimposed on the picture was, “I am not a tourist attraction.”
Others use the weapons of policy and prosecution. In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which aims to make the U.S. a leader in stopping and prosecuting traffickers. It also makes abusing a child in any country illegal for any citizen of the U.S. The TVPA produces an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report (www.state.gov).
Invisible Children, a secular organization working in northern Uganda, petitions people to demonstrate and demand the U.S. government get more involved, thus using policy and demonstrations to raise public awareness.
Invisible Children uses donations and items made by war-stricken and impoverished people to provide much needed income for Ugandan victims of war.
Shared Hope International (SHI) goes after those who seek out prostituted trafficking victims, especially prostituted children, through the Demand program.
The Demand program offers a 45-minute video showing the nature of sex trafficking, including graphic sexual material and nudity. A 16-minute condensed version contains no graphic material and is appropriate for churches and youth groups.
Linda Smith, president of SHI, said in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, “If you’ll go all over the U.S., you’ll find that most cities [have many underage prostitute arrests and no adult arrests]. They are arresting the trafficked victims.”
What can we do?
Perhaps the most important action anyone can take is pray. Pray for people who are at high risk for being trafficked. Pray for those who are guilty of owning people. Pray for those who create the demand.
Stop pretending that this is someone else’s problem. Every slave is a soul. We have stared at victims, and rather than hearing their cries for help, we turn the channel, turn the page, or simply turn off their voices. Stop turning. Start embracing.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked who is the neighbor of the “man who fell among the robbers? The expert of the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37)
What are we waiting for?
Fighting the good fight
▶ World Vision has been known for years to help children and families fight human trafficking. The Christian group offers a program that asks for $20 a month to sponsor a single child. That money is used to rescue or prevent the trafficking of your sponsored child. That child will be given food, clothing, and an education. He will also know that someone in America cares for him (www.worldvision.org).
▶ Shared Hope International leads a worldwide effort to prevent and eradicate sex trafficking and slavery through education and public awareness. The secular group offers six steps on how the individual can take action. The steps are to know your enemy, identify trafficking and spread the word, allow your money to follow your heart, take the pledge, become a defender, sign a petition and inform your legislators, and most importantly, pray (www.sharedhope.org).
▶ A secular organization, Invisible Children, was started by three young men who went to northern Uganda and made a movie. The graphic film is not family friendly, but it shows the true nature of what children go through.
The group offers the opportunity to support a mentor for children, a teacher, or even a school. It also urges people to be active in getting legislation passed that will help fight Joseph Kony and his LRA (www.invisiblechildren.com).