World Day Against Child Labor

World Day Against Child Labor is June 12, 2017. To commemorate this day, imagine yourself as a child in a country riddled with conflict.

Imagine waking up and getting ready for school, only to find it destroyed by bombs. Imagine that the violence and terror ravaging your village has left your home in shambles and your family ready to run at the first chance you get.

This is a reality for many children living in countries marked by conflict, instability, and disaster. These issues tear apart homes, communities, and entire nations. They strip people of their basic human rights and fill the holes with poverty, starvation, uncertainty, and enormous loss. These issues kill loved ones and tear people away from their homes.

These devastating effects are a threat to children in particular, causing school closures, loss of parents, and forced flight from their homes. These children are often left as internally displaced persons or are forced to flee the country as refugees. This in turn makes them extremely vulnerable to trafficking and child labor.

Today, 168 million children are victims of child labor. A large portion of this number are children who come form areas filled with conflict and disaster, including Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, 5.7 million child laborers are working in this particular region, many working in agriculture, mining, dumpsites, fireworks manufacturing, fishing, and domestic labor. Commercial sexual exploitation, armed conflict, and drug trade also increases the demand for child labor in the area.

The International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) is away of the demand in this labor market and has marked it as a priority target group, seeking to end child labor in this area. Specifically, they are working to known define and map dangerous labor sites and develop child labor monitoring systems.

Click here to read more fact and statistics on child labor.

Increase in Solo Migrant Children

War, gang violence, natural disaster, famine, domestic abuse. All of these are reasons for one to become a refugee. And they are reasons why more and more children are fleeing their home country alone.

According to UNICEF, between 2015 and 2016, around 200,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the United States. They were fleeing from 80 different countries. In addition to these, more than 100,000 children were stopped at the US-Mexican border.

For contrast, in 2010 there were just 66,000 children making the trip to the United States. What’s causing this five-fold increase? War, gang violence, natural disaster…

The problem doesn’t stop here. These children are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, making them an easy target for smugglers, human traffickers, and others who make money on their innocence.

“Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution,” says a UNICEF representative. “It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

Another representative tell us, “The sexual exploitation of girls and boys is big business. Because the difference with this and other crimes and exploitation is that a girl who is exploited sexually is seen as merchandise that can be used again and again.”

In fact, three of every five child migrants coming north from Central America or the Caribbean fall victim to human trafficking. These smugglers use rape, violence, and extortion as a form of payment for helping them to cross borders before selling them upon reaching the country of origin.

You can read more facts and stories of unaccompanied children here.

Girls Suffer in Guatemala from Lack of Education

Imagine being pregnant and not knowing how it happened. Not knowing what you did to make a baby.

This may sound crazy…everyone knows where babies come from. But this isn’t the case in Guatemala. Angela, a Guatemalan teenager, had her first child at the age of 14 before she knew anything about it.

“I [knew] they would come from your belly, but I didn’t know how you could make them,” she says after finding herself pregnant with her teacher’s child.

This isn’t uncommon in her country. In fact, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy due to lack of sex education. Many new mothers don’t even know the correct terms for their own body parts.

In 2014, there were more than 5,000 pregnancies in girls under the age of 14 in the country. This number is assisted by the high rates of sexual violence against young girls. Many of the previously mentioned 5,000 pregnancies were from a close family member.

By 19, most Guatemalan women have two children. They’ve dropped out of school to care for them and struggle to make ends meet. Many times, the women are forced to marry the father of their children, despite domestic abuse in the relationship. All of these factors reinforce the cycle of poverty and violence throughout the country.

You can read more about how the Guatemalan government is working to improve conditions for women and young girls here.

Just How Harmful is Pornography?

Last week, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) prepared and directed a symposium in the Capitol on policy recommendations on sex trafficking, sexual violence, child exploitation, and pornography. I attended this event.

“America is suffering from a sexual exploitation crisis. Sex trafficking, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, pornography, etc. are issues significantly impacting American citizens, families, and communities,” states a NCOSE representative. “This necessitates that our federal government address the full spectrum of sexual harm.”

Many speakers presented their different topics throughout the afternoon, including a couple of activists speaking on pornography addiction and its link to sex trafficking.

An emphasis was placed on the dangers of pornography in the lives of everyone, especially of our youth. Pornography is fueling human trafficking. It’s an endemic reality. In fact, it has recently been found that porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter…combined!

According to Shared Hope International, pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for commercial sex. The reasoning behind this becomes clear when we think critically about what pornography is, who is making it, and how it affects its consumers.

Many women and children who are being sexually trafficked are also being used for the production of pornography. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, haboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” This perfectly describes the realities of the porn industry.

Through its consumption, pornography further creates a demand for prostitution and, therefore trafficking, due to the shared experiences of bought sex and sexually using another individual as an object. As such, it increases demand for buying individuals as sexual objects in the flesh and stimulates the viewer to act out on other live individuals the specific acts that are sexualized and consumed in pornography.

Dr. Gail Gines, a profesor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College, said “we know that trafficking is increasing which means that demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers.” She continued, “As an academic, a sociologist, and a mother, I believe it is the way men are being shaped by society…The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is becoming increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.”

As long as American men are being trained to think that violent, disturbing pornography is acceptable, an enormous clientele for sex trafficking is being created every day in homes, college dorms, and apartments across the nation.

So, what can we do?

Raise awareness, educate yourself and others, and protect the vulnerable.

As Dawn Hawkins of NCOSE says, “Let us look for solutions that encompass and address the seamless connections between all forms of sexual exploitation.”

New Legislature In Place

Canada, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Northern Ireland. What is it exactly that these countries have in common?

These are the countries that have laws against those paying for sex as opposed to criminalizing the woman working as a prostitute.

Last month, Ireland joined this list of countries, making it a crime to buy sex, punishable with up to a 500 euro fine for first offenses and 1,000 euros for a second. If the woman has been trafficked, the offender can serve up to five years in jail.

“This law will, for the first time in our history, firmly place legal responsibility on the exploiters rather than the exploited,” says one campaigner. “It will have the effect of educating future generations…as to the simple wrongfulness of buying your way inside someone else’s body and it will firmly frame prostitution as the act of violence that it is.”

While some say this new legislation will simply drive prostitution underground, putting workers at a greater risk, the data from Norway and Sweden do not support this.

The law also places a greater emphasis on preventing child exploitation and pornography.

You can read more about this new legislature here.

War Child

Ishmael was just 12 years old when the Sierra Leone armed conflict was in full swing. He recalls a simple and happy childhood, one filled with family and normalcy.

One day, he took a trip with friends to participate in a talent show a couple of miles down the road from their town. While gone, their town was attacked. Upon returning home, the boys were faced with an amount of devastation no child should experience.

“We saw men carrying their dead children in their arms. I saw a man cry for the first time in my life…We decided that we can’t go back home anymore and decided to wait. Hopefully to see our families come through, but they didn’t come.”

Ishmael and his friends spent the next year traveling from village to village looking for food, water, and shelter. Ishmael eventually learned of his family’s whereabouts and went to meet them. Upon his arrival at the village, he saw the town aflame, his family gone. Ishmael now knew his family was gone for good and lost all hope.

The boys found a nearby village run by government soldiers. They received food, water, shelter, and were able to return to a normal life…for a while. Eventually, they were told that, in order to stay at the village, they must fight. When some tried to leave, they were killed.

So Ishmael fought.

“First, you know, you get your own weapon and everything and the magazines and the bullets, and then you give you drugs. I was descending into their hell so quickly, and I just started shooting and that’s what I did for over two years basically. Whoever the commander said, ‘This guy is the enemy,’ there were no questions asked. There was no second guessing because when you asked a question and you say, ‘Why?’ they’ll shoot you right away.” Ishmael had been turned into a killer by taking away everything he knew.

Two years after being forced into fighting, Ishmael was saved by workers at the United Nations. Now, he advocates for children affected by war. You can read his full story here.

A Different Type of Trafficking

“The problem is worldwide. No one is untouched.”

This statement from a South Asian correspondent could be referring to many issues. Climate change, disease, terrorism…the list goes on and on. But in this case, he was referencing human trafficking for the harvesting of organs.

It’s easy to forget that human trafficking goes beyond sex and labor trafficking as these are the stories we hear most frequently. However, it is estimated that more than 10,000 transplants each year, or 5-10% of the world’s organ transplants, involve organ trafficking. With more than 105,000 individuals in the United States alone on the waiting list for an organ transplant, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Despite the absence of surprise, the issue is still one that should be discussed. Organ trafficking groups feed off of the desperation of the poor, particularly refugees. In parts of Europe, where refugees are gathering at the borders, fleeing from violence, organ traffickers offer a ticket to enter the country in exchange for an organ, usually a kidney or liver. So far, all efforts to control illegal organ trafficking have been unsuccessful.

Last month, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences called a meeting including government ministers, judges, law enforcement personnel, medical professionals, human rights activists, and journalists. Officials from Mexico, India, Pakistan, and Iran–countries where selling human organs is legal–were invited as well as representatives from China, where harvesting organs from executed prisoners is routine practice. The idea was to give them contacts and pledges of support from other officials in an attempt to change their laws.

This is just the beginning. It is predicted that other alliances will form around this topic among legal experts, governments, U.N. agencies, etc. with the common goal of protecting the poor and the vulnerable.

To read more about the topic of organ trafficking, click here or here.