Category Archives: Stories

Child Slavery Alive And Well In The UK

An undercover reporter was offered several children for sale by their parents in Nigeria: two boys aged three and five for £5,000, or £2,500 for one, and a 10-month-old baby for £2,000. Teenage girls – including some still pregnant – were willing to sell their babies for less than £1,000.

I don’t care how many times I read these stories, the shock of it never goes away. This is pure evil.  Some of the Nigerian traffickers are making upwards of  £6,000 per week selling children. The fact that there are traffickers selling up to 500 children per year means there is a willing market on the other end. It sickens me.

Watch this video about the new slave trade.

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Evil Reared It’s Ugly Head Today

Child slavery is evil. Pure and simple.

It’s hard to look at, harder still to contemplate for any period of time. The images, both visual and mental, make you want to turn away. I know this experientially.

Today, I was reminded that evil lurks everywhere. I heard about it first on talk radio. I read the story when I got home. In my home state, six men and women kidnapped a 23 year old woman and held her captive for a week. They brutalized her, tortured her, and raped her repeatedly. They made her a slave to their sick desires. They were white. She was black. Everything they did to her was done because her skin was darker than theirs. This happened just outside of Charleston, West Virginia.

What hit me was this: Every day, all over the world, children are treated just this way. Every single day.

Turning away, even for a short time, can’t be an option.

U.S. Has No Jurisdiction Over Dubai Ruler

“A judge in Miami on Monday dismissed a lawsuit alleging the ruler of Dubai enslaved thousands of children and forced them to work as camel jockeys, saying the suit fell outside the court’s jurisdiction.” Yahoo News.

As it stands, there will be no punitive measure taken for the enslavement of child camel jockeys. Reparations in the form of financial compensation is viewed as the “exclusive remedy.” The United Arab Emirates recently banned the use of child jockeys and sent more than 1000 child jockeys home. They have been replaced by robot jockeys.

Children as Chattel: Child Labor & Trafficking in India

by Shelley Seale © 2007

In 2004 a very small-budget independent film called I Am caused some worldwide buzz. It was awarded Grand Prize at the international Children’s Film Festival in Athens, came to the attention of the Australian press where it ran as a major story in The Age newspaper, and was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey show.

But I Am was no ordinary movie. Besides the fact that it was made entirely by children – directed by Ashikul Islam, filmed by Sahiful Mondal and starring only kids – these young award-winning filmmakers are all residents of a home for destitute boys in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta). These boys have all come a long way from their early childhoods.

Sahiful was put into indentured slave labor at the age of four, after his father died of tuberculosis. With their mother suffering from mental illness it fell to this tiny boy and his siblings to somehow put food into their mouths. Sahiful’s first job was agricultural work, crushing hard earth with a brick. The backbreaking work earned him the equivalent of 20 cents per day. Due to the seasonal nature of the work, in the off season he was put to work tending goats from sunrise to sunset. For this he earned two portions of rice per day. When he once lost a goat under his watch, his employer beat him and refused him food for two days.

Today Sahiful’s life is very different. Rescued at the age of six and brought to Muktaneer, which means “Open Sky” in Hindi, his life was freed from exploitation. There he began receiving four good meals a day, was given his own bed and was allowed to play for the first time in his life. He began attending school and his family was also provided assistance.

“Before I lived here, I didn’t study, I didn’t go to school,” Sahiful told me when I visited Muktaneer Home last March. “When I came here, I can go to school. I learned about photo and film. Swapan gave me a camera, and I took one photo, and from there I learned all about filmmaking. It was my dream to make a movie.”

Sahiful’s background is a common story at Muktaneer, where most of the boys came from slave labor conditions or had been kidnapped and sold. Muktaneer is an initiative of the Centre for Communication and Development (CCD), founded in 1978 to assist vulnerable children. Swapan Mukherjee is the Secretary of CCD, which initially focused on education.
Then in 1995, an explosion in a Kolkata fireworks factory killed 23 children who were working there illegally. The factory employed only children – 1,500 of them, working from 6am to 6 pm for an average weekly wage of 65 rupees, about $1.50. The explosion rocked the entire surrounding area. Trees were uprooted and concrete pillars along with children’s bodies were tossed in the air and landed in a nearby pond.

The factory owners were not fined for employing illegal child labor nor otherwise charged for the deaths or unsafe working conditions. Swapan was outraged. “The factory refused all responsibility for the tragedy,” he tells me, disbelief still in his voice twelve years later. Ultimately, Swapan himself took the factory owners to court and won a judgment for compensation to all the victims’ families. “From there we moved to a focus on child protection and safety,” he recounts.

As the work continued Swapan contacted Amnesty International, Equality Now, and other human rights organizations for assistance. In 2000 the Muktaneer Children’s Home was opened so that the children who did not have a home to return to, or whose families were too poor to care for them, would have a place to live. Since that time CCD has been integral in bringing 54 child traffickers before the courts for prosecution and has rescued almost 2,000 children from a horrific array of abusive situations, including mutilation by begging rings to make them more effective at soliciting alms.

As Swapan investigated these incidences and recovered children he was photographing and filming the children’s conditions, their lives and their rescues to have as records for proof and documentation. “The children were fascinated by the camera,” he says. “They wanted to document their own lives, tell their own stories.” And so their dreams, into a new life, were born.

Sahiful’s dreams came true, but another twelve to one hundred million child laborers in India may never get such a chance. Circumstances such as the ones Ashikul was plucked out of, those of child trafficking, indentured servitude, factory labor and the sex trade, comprise an “industry” that huge numbers of children fall victim to, disappearing into an underground world. The conditions these children are forced into essentially amount to nothing more than slavery, two hundred years after legislation was passed which made the practice illegal. And this is slavery at its ugliest, most evil core, slavery of the most vulnerable among us: children.

Child laborers and prostitutes exist in such large numbers for a very simple, yet horrific, reason: they are cheap commodities. Children cost less than cattle; a cow or buffalo costs an average 20,000 rupees, but a child can be bought and traded like an animal for 500 to 2,000 rupees. They can be paid the least, exploited the most, and due to their largely invisible status have virtually no power against their oppressors.

While factories in China and Central America that exploit children are often in the news, India is the largest example of a country plagued by this human rights abuse, with the highest number of child laborers in the world. Official estimates of these children vary greatly, often by definition of who such children are. The UNICEF website reports 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations, but this figure is according to the official 2001 Census; because more than half of all children born in India are never registered and records are not kept or reported on child workers, it may safely be assumed that this number is extremely low. The official Indian government figure, based on a 1984 Labour of Ministry survey, is 44 million. At the other end of the spectrum Human Rights Watch estimates between 60 and 115 million , and Global March Against Child Labor contends that as many as 100 million children are believed to be working, “many under conditions akin to slavery,” with an estimated fifteen million in bonded servitude. Bonded labor or servitude is defined as child labor in which children are indentured in order to pay off a debt. Few sources of traditional credit or bank loans exist for those living in poverty. The earnings of the bonded children are less than the interest on these informal loans, ensuring that they will typically never be able to pay off the debt. Thus, they become in effect a slave of the “employer.”

Often families themselves place children in such conditions when they feel they have no other choice. Many unsophisticated parents fall prey to promises by recruiters that their children will do light work, go to school, be exposed to more opportunities in the city, and send money back home. They’re even told the child will have better marriage possibilities. Living in poor rural villages without many prospects, these families believe the child will have a better future. However, the reality is that most of these children are virtually enslaved, abused, and send very little if any money home. Sometimes the family never even sees the child again. A recent study by Save The Children found that most child domestic workers labor up to fifteen hours a day with little break for less than twelve US dollars per month. Fully half of them are given no leave time and 37% never see their families.

Extensive research in the Kolkata area by Save The Children found that 68% of child domestic workers had suffered physical abuse and nearly 90% had been victims of sexual abuse. In 2001 an eleven-year-old domestic worker burst from her master’s home, her little body ablaze, after he set her on fire. A neighbor put the fire out with palm mats and the girl was taken to the hospital, where she later died. A royal couple in another district brought an eight-year-old orphan boy into their palace compound to work; he was later rescued, suffering from malnutrition and extreme injuries from physical torture, including fractures and severe burn wounds. The boy reported to authorities that he slept with the household dogs and was once thrown from the palace roof.

Last year a highly publicized case received tremendous attention when a 10 year old domestic worker in Mumbai was murdered by her affluent employers. The girl, Sonu, was reported as a suicide to police, who arrived at the suburban home to find her body hanging from the ceiling fan. An investigation, however, revealed that Sonu had been beaten and then left to bleed to death by her mistress. Her crime? She had been caught by the employer’s daughter trying on lipstick from the dressing table. When the truth came out it caused an uproar in the media. Sonu became a sort of poster child against domestic child labor and possibly spurred on October 2006 legislation which extended the child labor ban to domestic, hotel and restaurant work.

Om Prakash Gurjar is an inspiring example of a former child slave who is now working himself to affect change for other children. Once a bonded laborer working in the fields to repay his grandfather’s debt, Om Prakash was rescued by activists and taken to live at Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for working children. In school the teenage boy quickly rose to first of his class and got involved in cricket and theater arts. Back in his home village Om Prakash single-handedly implemented the Bal Mitra Gram program to make the village child labor free. In 2006 he was honored with the world’s most prestigious award for children – the International Children’s Peace Prize. Om Prakash traveled to Netherlands to receive the award from former South African President F.W. DeKlerk. “I will work to support the families of child labourers,” he says, “so that the children can go to school and enjoy their childhood.

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


Slavery Verdict A First For Thailand

Thailand’s anti-slavery law has been enforced for the first time in over 50 years.

“Despite slavery being a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the law has never been applied. According to reports, this is largely due to there being no legal precedent to follow and police reluctance to recognise cases where people are in slave-like conditions without being chained as slavery.” (

The woman sentenced, Wipaporn Songmeesap, received 7 years for slavery and 3.5 years for inflicting sever physical harm. A 13-year-old girl was held captive by her and forced to work from 4:00 AM until Midnight, seven days a week without time off. She received no pay, was fed rice and leftovers twice daily, was not allowed to leave the house and was regularly beaten.

This is indeed a positive step forward. Perhaps this is a signal of more to come. I hope so.

Silence Over. The Victims Need Our Voices.

I’m unable to sleep.

girl stonedIt is 4:30 AM and I’ve been lying in bed since 3:45 AM trying to shake the images of a girl being stoned to death for dating a man from another religion.

I spend some time each day Stumbling on the Internet. The habit leads to amazing discoveries. Most of those discoveries I’m enthusiastic to share. Last night it lead to one of the most disturbing videos I’ve ever seen. And I considered NOT talking about it. It was just too graphic and disturbing.

But after my one day of silence to honor victims of senseless violence, it’s time to SHOUT.

The video was captured on a cell phone camera, grainy and pixelated in most parts. It began playing the moment I landed on the page, so my eyes were distracted from the poorly placed warning and the headline about the content was small and obscured. The scene was a crowded street in the Middle East. Men are shouting and the camera is moving wildly. A few seconds into the video, I realized I was watching something barbaric and hit the pause button.

I didn’t ask to be on this page. So, I scrolled through the video using the scrub bar, silencing the chants, trying to dull the visual. Then I thought, “force yourself to watch this. Don’t turn away because you are uncomfortable. You’ve been doing that for 45 years.” So I watched it in full.

I WILL NOT link to the video. The images in this post were captured a few moments ago. They are all I can show without feeling like I am glorifying the crowd’s actions. They are all I can show without sensationalizing a women’s brutal death. Words elude me. And yet I’m compelled to write.

How can I hope for an end to child slavery when entire cultures still treat women this way. It’s all related. It’s all connected. We can’t end one without ending the other. The video was a harsh awakening to just how vast our cultural differences are. How sheltered I am here in the United States. How much I don’t understand. How badly I need to do more than talk.

A Little Joy In The Midst Of Pain

I wrote yesterday about the volume of stories I wanted to wade through and commented that I knew what I would find, many stories of pain and only a few of joy. I read that now and realize how defeated that sounds. So here is one of the stories of hope.

Shelley Seal writes one of my favorite blogs, Weight of Silence. She has a post about movies made by children rescued from child slavery in India. Her post is entitled, Through the Eyes of Children.

An excerpt:

Sahiful Mondal, who filmed that first movie “I Am” in 2004, is now 13 years old and has filmed or directed three other movies since. Sahiful is very tall for his age, an extremely attractive bright-eyed boy who is full of boundless, optimistic energy and always has a smile on his face. He has traveled to Athens, Cyprus and Melbourne in association with his films. He has come a long way from his early childhood. After his father died of tuberculosis when he was three years old, Sahiful began working in agricultural labor at a very early age due to his mother’s mental illness. The backbreaking work earned him the equivalent of 20 cents per day. Because the agricultural work was seasonal, in the off season Sahiful worked tending goats. He earned two portions of rice per day for this work. One day when he lost a goat under his herding watch, his employer beat him and refused him food for two days.

Please read it all if you have the time.

Overwhelmed By The Volume

feed reader numbersI’m disturbed by the numbers.

I have been busy focusing on some other project for the past few days and left my Child Slavery reading to tonight. When I opened my google feed reader folder, I was shocked by what I found.

The image to the right is a screen capture of my feeds from various search criteria.

As you can see, there are literally thousands of articles to wade through. This may be as clear an indication of the scope of the child slavery problem as anything I’ll find in any single article. I wish I could say I look at this and am filled with hope. But I am quite confident what I’m going to find… many stories of pain and a few stories of joy.

I need to find a way to create more stories of joy.

Startling Connections: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier

I often think of Africa as “so” foreign. It seems like a world I could never relate to.

A Long Way GoneI am reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. I expected to be reading from a detached position… reading about a far off place, about people who live in a culture I can’t begin to understand.

I was startled by how familiar Ishmael felt as I read words like, “The only wars I knew of were those that I had read about in books or seen in movies such as Rambo: First Blood, and the one in neighboring Liberia that I had heard about on the BBC News. My imagination at ten years old didn’t have the capacity to grasp what had taken away the happiness of the refugees.”

His words could be my words now. I have no direct understanding of war, of abject poverty, of forced labor, of child slavery, of child soldiers. I read his words and thought, “this boy was like my son.”

I am not finished with the book. I’m reading it differently than I thought I would. It is hitting home because he was a boy who went to school, loved rap music, danced and had dreams of college. He was not so different. And so the stories of horror that are now flooding the pages seem more real, more painful.