American Citizens in Mexico

It’s 8 AM at the Mexican-American border and there is already a lengthy line forming at the Port of Entry. No, it’s not made up of tourists and families. Instead, it’s made up almost exclusively of children carrying backpacks filled with notebooks, markers, and lunches. Where are these children going? They’re going to school.

For almost 800 American students, this is a daily norm. JoAnna is no different. A fifth grader at a public school in Columbus, New Mexico, JoAnna, an American citizen, lives with her family in Palomas, Mexico.

For her, it’s a free education as New Mexico’s state constitution grants American citizens a free education no matter where they reside. However, hundreds of other students cross the border to attend costly private schools in places such as El Paso, Texas.

Many of these children have parents who were deported by the American government. Instead of sacrificing their child’s education or leaving the deported family member behind, they move to border cities in Mexico where they can have the best of both worlds–a family and the opportunity of an American education.

In JoAnna’s school, two-thirds of the students live in Palomas. It would be easy for the children from Columbus to isolate those living in Mexico, but instead they interact just like any other group of fifth grade girls. “We usually talk about what we’re going to play outside and secrets…But I can’t tell you,” JoAnna laughs.

You can read more about JoAnna and her classmates here.

More Refugees Stopping in Mexico

After facing gang violence and other disasters that tore apart their families and homes, many Central Americans are forced to flee their country in search of safety. In the past, many of these individuals had their sights set on the United States. Now, however, due to recent changes in the US immigration laws, many of these asylum seekers are choosing to remain in Mexico and observe the US immigration climate from a distance…at least for a while.

One young mother fled to Mexico after narrowly escaping violence in her home country of Guatemala. She envisions a life in America, a life where she can reunite with her father and two sons. But for now, she remains in Mexico, waiting for a window of opportunity to achieve her dream.

She is not alone. The number of asylum applications was 8,781 in 2016. This number is expected to rise to 22,500 in 2017. However, with Mexico’s grip on migrant regulation tightening, Central Americans seeking asylum are forced to move faster and more dangerously before. The risks and uncertainty that refugees hoped to leave behind instead follow them as they search for safety and security.

While their stay in Mexico may mean extra months or years before a reunion with family members, it provides Central American refugees a haven to safely plan the rest of their journey. They remain hopeful for permanent asylum in Mexico, Canada, or the United States and for a better life than the one they are running from.

You can read more on why refugees are staying longer in Mexico here.

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.