Category Archives: Stories

The Shaniya Davis Tragedy Brings Child Trafficking Into Media Spotlight

It’s unfortunate that it takes a  tragic death, like that of Shaniya Davis,  to bring the issue of child trafficking in the United States into the light of mainstream media scrutiny. Evidence has surfaced that perhaps her mother sold her for sex to pay off a drug debt. But the only thing that makes this case truly unique is Shaniya’s age.

“Lois Lee, the founder and president of the non-profit Children of the Night, said drugs are often involved when mothers are found to have sold or traded their children. But the trafficking of a 5-year-old is ‘very rare,’ Lee said. ‘And very rare that they would call it trafficking.’” – ABC News

“While there are no numbers on how many young children are trafficked by their own parents, there are about 100,000 minors trafficked in the United States each year”.  – ABC News

Shaniya is one of 100,000. That number should shock you. It shocks me and it’s not the first time I’ve seen it. So while I applaud Shaquille O’Neal for stepping up to pay for Shaniya’s funeral. More people with means need to attach themselves to the fight against child sex trafficking, the most hideous form of child slavery. And more needs to be done to combat it.

I wish I had some answers. Unfortunately, stories like Shaniya’s leave me with only questions.

And anger.

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Child Prostitutes Are Committing A Crime?

Making my way through the hundreds and hundreds of stories in my human trafficking feeds, I found this – “Human trafficking a modern scourge.

The humans being trafficked and forced to work as prostitutes in New Jersey were from Mexico and Honduras. They were either promised marriage or decent wages if they moved to America, but instead they were forced into a life of prostitution. These are young girls, children by definition. And let me repeat, they were FORCED into this life, into a form of modern slavery we call sex trafficking. They were brutally exploited for the sake of profits. That is what makes this next quote so hard to to understand.

“These cases are tough,” Brian Hayes, an FBI agent in Atlantic City said. “They are tough because the victims in child prostitution cases by definition are committing a crime. And they have a distrust of law enforcement. Just as illegal immigrants distrust law-enforcement, prostitutes distrust law-enforcement because they don’t want to get arrested.”

Read that again: “Victims in CHILD prostitution cases by definition are committing a crime.” I’ve read this over and over and I can’t reconcile this in my mind. They call the CHILD a VICTIM and then say the VICTIM is committing a crime?

No wonder we have a problem. Child sex traffickig is one of the most evil forms of modern slavery. It would be more accurate to call it “rape for profit.” The pimps are slave owners and the clients are pedophiles. And the brutalized, exploited CHILD VICTIM is committing a crime?

I want to scream.

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Rug And Carpet Industry Battles Child Labor Abuse

rugmarklogoSeven North American rug companies recently joined RugMark to help put an end to exploitive child labor in the handmade rug industry.  Read More…

RugMark is making an impact. Perhaps the main reason why they may be leaving such a big mark is their single-minded mission. Rugmark is “devoted to building schools, programs and opportunities that give children back their childhoods by ending child labor in the handmade carpet industry in South Asia.”

That’s the kind of focus required to bring an end to child slavery and child labor abuses. Do your part. Purchase only RugMark certified carpets and rugs.

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Child Slavery Today On Twitter

I found a couple of tweets today that linked to stories about child labor and trafficking in Africa. They are just two more pieces of evidence that indicate the problem is pervasive and widespread.

@theirc : IRC’s Emily Holland story/photos on Huffington Post: fighting child labor and trafficking in Liberia http://twurl.nl/ydehxh

Excerpt: In Liberia, it is common for children to be illegally adopted and bought and sold for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Children are trafficked for other dark purposes, including ritual killing.

@rekouche : The exploitation of Africa’s land and people. Firestone used child labor illegally for years, other corp. atrocities: http://bit.ly/aSTAP

Excerpt: The corporations use the labor and land, the people pay the price. It is absolutely modern day slavery.

The Day My God Died

One day you are a child.

The next day, you are a slave. Your childhood has ended.

These are people who have been taken from their homes against their will, transported to a new world in which they have no family, no friends, no one to help them. They do not even speak the language. They are at the mercy of their abductors, who frequently abuse them with severe beatings and withholding of food, to ensure their cooperation and break them. Eventually, they will all be broken.

There is a room, hidden and cramped and dirty. In this place the bidding and sale of humans is done. Those who desire slaves to live in human bondage and be forced to do their bidding, can make an offer.For an agreed amount of money, typically only a few hundred dollars, the buyer can leave with his new purchase: a human being. Too often a child.

What is this world, this place? Is it a history lesson that tells of 19th century enslavement of Africans in the New World known as the United States?

No. This is our world, today, the here and now. We live in a world where slavery is alive and well.Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked and sold into slavery every day, all over the world – including the United States of America. Many of these are children, and most are sold into the sex trade.

This is the reality for far too many children and young adults in the world today. Human trafficking has surpassed drug trafficking to become the second biggest illegal trade in the world, only behind arms.

Last night I was invited to a screening of a documentary called “The Day My God Died.” This film, narrated by Tim Robbins, focuses on the real human suffering of a handful of young Nepalese girls who were trafficked over the border into India and sold into brothels. These girls were eventually rescued – after enduring years of a hell that included rape, beatings and being forced to have sex with up to 50 men each day, all for the profit of their captors.

As the documentary tells us, many of these survivors refer to the day they were trafficked into slavery as the day their god died. Many endure numerous abortions during their captivity, carry out pregnancies from their rapists, and contract HIV/AIDS. One teenager tells of her ordeal the first day she arrived at the brothel: being beaten when she refused to have sex, and eventually raped by numerous men until she stopped resisting. She was seven years old at the time.

Another young woman in the film, Jyoti, returns to the brothel where she was held after her rescue, in order to help find and rescue other girls. Jyoti shows the secret hiding rooms where the brothel owners keep the girls, and says, “Once the door closes behind you, no one ever knows you’re there.”

Don’t let the door close forever on these girls. Watch the documentary yourself.

For more information about the Nepalese organization that helps prevent trafficking, find these girls once they have been sold into the sex trade, and provides a home and rehabilitation after their rescue, visit:

Maiti Nepal – the organization in Nepal; or
Friends of Maiti Nepal – its supporters in the United States; or
Make a Donation Here

Thank you, and namaste.
Shelley

More information can be found in Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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The Railway Children of India

In March 2007 I was in Mumbai, India – a city of great juxtapositions. Home to massive, sprawling slums in which a large portion of its citizens live, Mumbai is India’s tale of two cities. One is on the streets, right up front – the beggars, the pavement dwellers, the street children who pick through litter for anything they can sell. The other India is cocooned behind all this, tucked away from it. This India is one of quiet, air conditioning, service and amenities; middle and upper class people living their lives much as those with means live their lives anywhere. Mostly, these two Indias exist separately, as if each half is unaware of the other’s existence.

And in the middle of it all is an estimated 100,000 homeless children in Mumbai alone. With the second largest rail network in the world carrying eleven million passengers each day, India’s train stations play a major role in street children’s lives. Many of those who run away take a train, often without even knowing where it is headed, and usually remain in the stations where they arrive because of access to toilet facilities and the ability to scratch out a meager existence from industry that springs up around rail travel: as luggage porters, shoe shiners, food or tea servers, rag pickers or beggars.

A boy picks through trash on the tracks

Kids of all ages make their homes in these stations, often begging or picking through trash for a living. Waves of people step over and around them every day without ever really seeing them. As crowds of people disembark from the trains – commuters, businessmen, families, university students, mothers and babies, young trendy urbanites with their iPods – they leave the platforms and swarm to the exits. But some remain behind – the small and permanent residents, the ones for whom the railway station is their only home. Of all the vulnerable children they are the least hidden, in plain sight right on the platforms or outside on the pavement, yet they are perhaps the most invisible of all.

With no supervision of any kind and largely unprotected by adults they are extremely vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and violence – especially within the first days and weeks of leaving home. On average, a child arriving alone at a railway station will be approached by a predator, maybe a factory representative seeking cheap child labor or a brothel owner, within twenty minutes. Employers of kids who perform jobs such as rag and bottle collecting keep the children indebted to them. These victimizers know where to find children who won’t be missed.

Me & Gyan with the boys of Kurla Station.

I set off to spend the day with some of these kids one sunny morning. Gyan, a social worker with the NGO Oasis, met me at my hotel to escort me to their Ashadeep project for railway children. Ashadeep offers these children food and a bath, clothing, medical care, recreations such as games and movies, and learning. We took a train to the Kurla station, where the center is located. Exiting the platform, Gyan led the way through a maze I was sure I would never find my way back out of alone, and knocked at the door of a locked room. Another Ashadeep worker let us in. The tiny room was filled with nine boys, ranging in age from about 9 to 16, playing games on the floor with two other male workers. These boys all lived at the Kurla railway station by night, sleeping on the platforms, sometimes mere feet from where the trains race by, or on the footpaths or under bridges.

Drug use, particularly glue sniffing, is a problem for many of these boys without a childhood who often yearn for an escape from the brutality of their lives. I asked Gyan why it is only boys in the program. He said that the majority of railway kids are in fact boys, and this seems to be attributed to two reasons. One, boys are more likely than girls to actually run away from home and leave their villages. Second, when girls do arrive they are the first to disappear. The sex trade swallows up the girls immediately; every hour four new girls and women enter prostitution – three of them against their will. And once any child is plucked away from the station, they are almost always lost.

Half an hour into my visit the games were put away and a math lesson began. The boys grew serious as they carefully wrote out the numbers and did their sums. The interesting foreigner in their midst was quickly forgotten and they concentrated on their assignment, soaking up the learning like a sponge and eager to show off their skills. I watched these eight, ten, twelve year olds who should be in school every day and thought about children who take their education for granted. It was such a simple right that it should be taken for granted as a right for all children. This was the only schooling these boys had, and it made me very fearful for their futures.

Rashid struggles to write

I noticed one of the boys struggling to write his math problems. His arms were missing below the elbows and he leaned over his notebook on the floor, holding a pencil in his teeth and guiding it with the stub of his left arm. Threads hung from where the sleeves had been cut off the heavily stained shirt. His brown knees were scabby below his shorts; I could see only the top of his head, short black hairs bristling from his scalp, as he bent over his work laboriously. His name was Mohammed Rashid, and he was about twelve years old. He lived at the Kurla station with the other boys part of the time, and sometimes with his family. When he was four or five, Rashid suffered some sort of injury to both his hands – exactly what Gyan either didn’t know or wouldn’t tell me. Such vagueness seemed common for such children who often didn’t know their birthdays or exactly how old they were. An infection set into Rashid’s hands and spread. The desperately poor family lacked the money for a proper operation and medical treatment, so both of his arms were amputated at the elbows.

The caseworkers try to protect these boys as much as possible from the dangers of the station. “These boys lose their right to a childhood, education, and family,” Gyan said as we watched the boys play. “They even lose their humanity.”

Excerpted from Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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ABC Tackles Child Slavery Issue

I am watching “How To Buy A Child In 10 Hours” on Nightline as I type this. It is consistent with everything I’ve seen in the course of writing this blog. The report, by Dan Harris, is focused on Haiti, which has over 300,000 children trapped in child slavery. As the story indicates, the irony is hard to miss. Haiti is an independent nation as a result of a slave rebellion that took place from 1791-1803.

This is a compelling story. Please watch it.

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The Price of a Child

Dr. Manjeet Pardesi listened in horror as the young woman related her story. Neela had recently come to his home for children and pregnant women in Rourkela because she had heard it was a place where unwed mothers and their babies would be taken care of without abuse or judgment. The twenty-three year old was pregnant with her landlord’s baby and didn’t know what to do. There was no one to help her.

Neela had been caring for her eight year old brother and ten year old sister in their remote village in Jharkhand state, just north of Orissa, since their parents died several years earlier. Dire financial circumstances caused the small family to owe money to the landlord, who intimidated and coerced the girl into a physical relationship while the young siblings were sent into bonded labor in a rock quarry to pay off the debt. An outreach worker brought Neela to the home for delivery.

“The physical intimacy was not done due to love but due to fear,” Dr. Pardesi wrote me in an email. “In other words, you can term this as rape.”

While this seemed obvious, it was a brave and somewhat controversial statement for Dr. Pardesi to make. Such physical and sexual violence against Dalits, once considered the “untouchables,” is widespread and rarely considered abuse or even a crime at all. In an extensive investigation of caste-based discrimination conducted in 2006, Human Rights Watch found that rape of Dalit women by landlords like what Neela endured is all too common. Dalit victims of rape face significant obstacles when attempting to report the crime to police or to bring a case before the courts. Perpetrators are rarely charged or punished, and their victims are usually the ones ostracized from the community – so much so that rape survivors are often considered unmarriageable.

“Caste is very much the root of the problem,” said Dr. Pardesi. “The government gives them certain privileges, but due to acute poverty and caste dogma these things happen. The people who are Dalits are at the receiving end of exploitation.”

He began bombarding Neela’s landlord with constant communication on behalf of her brother and sister. “Initially he was reluctant to part with the children,” reported Dr. Pardesi, “until he was informed that the matter would be turned over to the police.”

At that point the landlord finally agreed to return the children from bonded servitude in exchange for the money owed him. Dr. Pardesi arranged to collect the children from Calcutta, where they had been put into labor, and bring them back to live at the home with their sister. He paid the price of their debt: Twenty-five U.S. dollars.

Neela’s young brother and sister were freed from their life of bondage, but for most such children freedom never comes.

One out of four children reported missing in India are never found. The strong link between missing persons and slavery indicates an immediate need to find and rescue children who have been reported missing. People trafficking is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world, second only to arms. With an estimated revenue of forty-two billion dollars it is so lucrative that many drug dealers are changing their cargo to human beings.

India represents forty percent of the world’s human trafficking. In 2007 the South Asia Centre for Missing and Exploited Persons was formed precisely for this reason. “Tracing missing children and women across South Asia before they are exploited is emerging as a key focus area in the efforts to prevent human slavery,” wrote Ashley Varghese, Legal Counsel for the organization, in a letter to me.

Pratham, a nonprofit organization that aims to give every child an education by taking schools into the slums and workplaces, has been at the forefront of the fight against child labor. In an interview with me, Farida Lambay of Pratham acknowledged that sometimes children have little choice but to work due to economic reasons; in those cases, when employment is stopped, then rehabilitation and a safety net must be provided to ensure that families and children have the ability to sustain themselves.

But she contended that the financial necessity of child labor as a whole is vastly overstated. “When these children work, the economic situation of most families does not improve at all. We must look at why children are really working.” She outlined the major factors Pratham identified as perpetuating child labor: Lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of role models and lack of family or other parental support.

“The unemployment in this country is high,” Ms. Lambay continued. “So why are we employing children? Why aren’t their parents in these jobs instead?” She paused, and then answered her own question. “Because the children, they can be hired and exploited much more cheaply. In India we must come to a place where child labor is not acceptable.”

The 2006 Human Rights Watch investigation in India concluded that caste-based discrimination is at the heart of bonded labor and is hugely intertwined with child exploitation. The caste system sustains the mechanisms by which bonded labor thrives, through the centuries-old expectations of free or vastly underpaid work, discrimination and violence against Dalits, and the extreme marginalization that prevents them from accessing resources available to other members of society.

The HRW report stated that these children were forced to dip their hands into boiling water to make the silk thread, handle dead silkworms and breathe fumes that made them ill, and worked in cramped, damp rooms. They did not attend school and were often beaten by their employers or burned with hot tongs if they fell asleep.

When I read this, I had to close the report and set it aside. I felt sick to my stomach. It seemed more than I could bear to think about; but at the same time, I couldn’t bear not to. My mind reeled at how people could do this to other people – especially defenseless children. The work of another journalist, Philip Gourevitch, popped into my mind. In his brilliant book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families about the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Gourevitch wrote of his fascination with the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real. The way that a thing, even as it was happening that very moment in the world around us, could be so horrific that we could still only imagine it, our minds refusing to accept it as reality.

I understood exactly what he meant. In a way, it was far easier to let the vastness of these atrocities slip past my mind that didn’t want to accept them as possible, that became too easily overwhelmed and despairing at the thoughts. But I knew that to do that would be, for me, an unforgivable act. I did know. Now I could only decide if I chose instead to look away. And if I did that, if everyone did that, who would be left stand up for these children?

Gourevitch similarly examined his own pain and difficulty at spending so much time steeped in the genocide. “The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda’s stories,” he concluded, “is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.”

Excerpted from Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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