Child Slavery, Coltan and The Congo

An estimated 2-million child-slaves work from sunrise to sunset to dig coltan by hand from the soil – and it is traded on the black market for US $400 a pound. – digitaljournal.com

With my feed reader overflowing with thousands of articles to sift through about modern slavery, I’ve recently turned to Twitter to find the stories that are moving others to speak out. The quote above came from a post cited by Chris Hogg in his twitter stream.

Slavery today, specifically child slavery, is being driven by the same motivation as it always has – profits. Coltan (Columbite-tantalite), it turns out, is ONLY in existence in the Eastern Congo and a small region of Tanzania. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. It is used in the production of capacitors.

Every day hundreds of thousands of Congolese child-slaves are forced to crawl into underground mines on their hands and knees to dig for the essential raw material make electronic gadgets like cell phones, iPods, laptop computers, play stations, wireless systems, DVD players, blackberries and pagers possible.

Clearly, I applaud the Dutch labour MP for his desire to see the end of child slave labor in the Congo. And there are alternatives to using the Coltan produced in Central Africa. Australia is also a major producer of Coltan and many electronics companies are now rejecting Coltan, opting to only purchase from legitimate sources. Unfortunately, I think real change will only come from finding an affordable alternative to Coltan. Thankfully, there is a movement to find alternatives to Coltan in capacitor production, including Niobium, multilayer ceramic capacitors and aluminum-polymer capacitors. I have no idea how long these methods will take to make their way into production or what their viability is.

In the meantime, children in the Congo are being abused daily to feed our addiction to ever cheaper technology. The Dutch petition was sent to all of the major multinational firms that produce cell phones. Let’s hope they act.

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Child Slavery – Today On Twitter

Testing a new site, Twilert, I decided to see what kinds of conversations might take place around Child Slavery on Twitter. Here’s what I found.

@canadagood : Interesting article on modern child slavery with a shout-out for Craig Kielberger’s http://www.freethechildren.com

@channelone : Cambodian Anti-Prostitution Activist Wins Human Rights Award: A survivor of child slavery and prostitu.. http://tinyurl.com/5s7cmh

@mkbwsu : ReTweet from @clifmimschild slavery: An Abomination

Conclusion: There wasn’t nearly enough conversation taking place on Twitter about this enormous problem today. I’m going to monitor this for a bit and see what turns up. If the days to come are like this one, something needs to be done to step up the conversation.

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575 Child Prostitutes Saved

I believe child prostitution is the worst kind of child slavery. I know many people who don’t know that it still exists. I know people who would deny that it happens here in the United States.

But it does. Everyday.

It took five years to get 575 child prostitutes off the streets in United States. 575 children from ages 13-17.

575 children.

It took the FBI, U.S. Justice Department and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to work together to do it. Operation “Innocence Lost” National Initiative was launched in June 2003.

This last sting operation, that ended this past weekend, took 46 girls and one boy into protective custody. The amazing thing is 10 had been reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They were brought in from 29 different cities throughout the country. 73 pimps were arrested along with 518 adult prostitutes. To learn more about the Innocence Lost Initiative, please go to the FBI Innocence Lost website.

Sex trafficking is growing every day. The internet makes it easier for it to happen. It sickens and saddens me that this still goes on, everyday, everywhere on planet earth. You can help. You can educate yourself on the subject. You can write about it on your blogs, and if you come across it, you can REPORT IT.

Hundreds of dedicated men and women worked tirelessly to get this done. They saved 575 children. They gave 575 children their lives back.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” – Margaret Mead

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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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India Turns A Blind Eye To Child Labor Violations (Blog Action Day)

The numbers reported in this article from ThaIndian.com are ludicrous. The headline from the story, “only 8,000 child labur violations” is sad. If you’ve read any of Shelley Seale’s posts here, you’ll quickly realize the problem has a much larger footprint than these reported numbers would have people believe. The quote below is disheartening.

At this rate, child labour will never be eliminated from our society. It is time we start treating it as a serious crime – Umesh Gupta, via In 19 months, only 8,000 child labour violations detected in India.

Today is Blog Action Day. If it’s not painfully evident from what has been written here at Stop Child Slavery before, I’ll state it explicitly: at the root of these offenses is extreme poverty and corporate willingness to exploit those in its grasp. It makes dealing with the horror of child slavery extremely difficult, but today it give us a focus for Blog Action Day.

Often I get emails asking this question, “What can I do to help?” Today, you can go visit the Blog Action Day website. Read. Learn. Donate.

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Open Your Eyes To Modern Slavery (Call And Response)

“Never forget, justice is what loves looks like in public.” These are the words of Dr. Cornel West.

“The first feature rockumentary to expose the the world’s 27 million most terrifying secrets” is set to open nationally on October 10, 2008.  Click the banner below to watch a trailer for Call And Response.

I have not seen this film yet, only the preview. But I know that it’s this kind of work that can help open the eyes of the world to the painful truth that of modern slavery. The truth that in 2007, “Slave Traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.

Make plans to go see this movie. I know it will be painful. I know it would be easier to NOT go see this film. Do it anyway. Open your eyes to the reality of modern slavery.

100% of the profits are going to fund global projects on the front lines of the issue.

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Bush Signs Law on Child Soldiers (Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights watch is reporting that President Bush has signed the Child Soldiers Accountability Act. The act, which was introduced more than a year ago, makes it a federal crime to knowingly recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15 and gives the United States the right to prosecue anyone on US soil, even if the crime did not occur on US Soil.

“The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a serious crime and that it will take action,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch.

via Human Rights Watch, 3-10-2008.

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Child Slavery In The Soccer Ball Industry

The international Labor Rights forum is reporting evidence that indicates the use of child labor and debt bondage in the production of soccer balls in India.

“While the sporting goods industry made a commitment to stop child labor in their supply chains when the problem was first identified in Sialkot, Pakistan in 1997, this report shows that bonded child labor continues in the industry and has shifted to India,” said Trina Tocco, Campaigns Coordinator at the International Labor Rights Forum.

via Modern Day Slavery In Soccer Ball Production In india.

This practice was exposed in the 1990’s, but it appears that initiatives to combat these practices are not working. View a photo gallery showing child labor in soccer ball production. The photos appear to be from July, 2007.

View a detailed PDF report from the BBA in India.

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A Crime So Monstrous: A Brief Reading

I have been writing about Child Slavery here at StopChildSlavery.com for a long time now. You’d think I’d be way beyond surprise at this point. I’m not. Benjamin Skinner’s book, “A Crime So Monstrous,” is surprising on many levels. As I began reading in earnest last night, waves of emotion came flooding over me and I was struck, once again, by how pervasive the problem of child slavery has become. Click on the image below for a reading from pages 10 and 11 of the book.
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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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