From the frontlines of child advocacy around the world, guest commentary on the work that's being done to help children.
November 19, 2013 | Jamila Larson
Our nation’s capital has one of the highest rates of domestic child sex trafficking in the nation, according to the FBI. I only learned this after a 14-year-old child I have known since the first grade, “Shawna,” was found alone in a Los Angeles hotel room this spring after being missing for weeks. Through her, I found out about this dangerous and flourishing world. Then I found out about something even more disturbing. Our community leaders and residents do not care enough about these kids to devote the resources to find them. The systemic neglect that we tolerate feels like a betrayal that rivals the crime.
I have known Shawna since she was 6 years old, when I worked at her school in southeast Washington, DC. She had more personality than Rudy Huxtable, as she bounded down the hallway, her uniform perfectly pressed and her hair in neat twists bouncing behind her. You could see the warm confidence in her eyes. No matter what life handed her – father in jail, homelessness, bullet through her kitchen window as she did the dishes – she reached beyond the “survival mode” typical of her peers and was always helping other people. I was stunned when she went missing, and troubled that despite the dangers facing Shawna, the system let her down. The many holes in the legal, political, human resource, and law enforcement systems leave so many young people vulnerable to the worst kinds of crime against children.
In our community, young teens go missing every day. “Runaways” are particularly vulnerable to predators who exploit their need for love, protection, housing and belonging. Dismissed as “bad kids,” their needs are often misunderstood and judgments are made about their families. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, an estimated one-third of the 2.8 million youth who flee their homes each year in our country are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of going missing. Many face turmoil at home and their families may not have the resources they need to find their child and bring them back to safety.
Who are these children? Sadly, the public doesn’t know. Go to the DC Police website and you won’t find names or photos of any missing children. If one digs deep enough, there is eventually a link to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), our country’s premiere nonprofit organization designed to help find and bring children home. However, its missing children list is woefully outdated. For most of this year, there were just three photos of missing DC youth, one of whom is a woman whose dead body was found three years ago (and is still listed as missing). The other two are infants, one of whom went missing in 1983. A 14 and 15-year-old were recently listed as “endangered runaways,” missing since July and October 2013. Yet there is no press about these two girls or any of the other youth in similar peril anywhere except the notices tucked away on this webpage. How can anyone claim that our community cares about our children going missing, when we don’t even show their faces?
A disproportionate number of runaway and homeless youth have been kicked out of their homes for being gay or transgender. Many other kids have been suspended or expelled from school like Shawna was when she went missing. School suspension policies that leave children wandering the streets contribute to their vulnerability to sex trafficking. Many older youth who are abused or neglected don’t show up at the door of the child welfare system. Our city leaders do not seem to understand that teens do not always fit into boxes. For youth who cannot stay with their families, there is a housing shortage resulting in hundreds being turned away from youth shelters each year, some as young as 12 years old. When this happens, many end up finding shelter through “survival sex” in exchange for a bed.
When Shawna’s mom felt like DC police were not taking her daughter’s case seriously, her tiny room in DC’s largest family homeless shelter became “central command.” She made her own missing person posters, fielded calls about sightings and tips herself, and followed up on leads at all hours of the night. “We encourage families to conduct their own search efforts,” a police lieutenant explained to me. During her search, Shawna’s mom had a hard time eating and sleeping. She was literally on her own and missed weeks of work without pay. Shawna’s two worried brothers also missed school, becoming “detectives,” searching for their sister around town and putting up missing person posters. The eldest brother even planned to be the runner to rescue his sister should she be spotted. “I ran track for two years,” he explained, “so we decided I’ll be the runner.” Every time mom got a tip, she would rush the boys into a car she borrowed, pick up their father, and drive to whatever scary park some stranger thought Shawna was spotted.
Although Shawna had run away for a day or two before, her mom knew this time was different. None of her friends had seen her and Shawna had told several of them she was going to Atlanta or Las Vegas to become a model. This alarming lead compelled me to file a report with NCMEC who was in the process of generating a flyer that would be shared beyond our jurisdiction. Surprisingly, the DC police department was not similarly moved by reports that Shawna might be outside the area to initiate a broader search beyond the city. Moreover, I was told they do not generally inform families of their right to report a missing child case to NCMEC in order to prevent the organization from being overwhelmed.
If our community really cared about child victims of sex trafficking, one would see pictures of missing kids on telephone poles instead of missing dogs
After Shawna was found by child welfare authorities in California, I sought help from many amazing local and national organizations that specialize in sex trafficking. Following dozens of conflicting phone calls, I learned that unless Shawna was abandoned by her family, got arrested, or ended up overseas, there were no funds to help her get home. Even with a master’s degree in social work, I got so tangled up in the many bureaucracies that my head still hurts. Parents battling poverty need to work extra hard and so do agencies helping them to bridge critical gaps. How can one expect a parent in crisis to take the lead on managing a search without support? One hotline worker actually suggested that Shawna, a teenage victim of sex trafficking, could take Greyhound and travel alone for 65 hours cross-country from California to DC. In the end, the volunteers with our organization that runs a teen program in the shelter raised money to buy Shawna’s plane ticket and bring her home.
Nothing of substance came from my meeting with the DC police and the Mayor’s Office for Public Safety. When I asked why 14-year-old Shawna did not get a missing person poster or her mom did not get a return phone call for ten days, all I heard from them was victim blaming and a full-throated defense of the bureaucracy. The homeless working mother of three was criticized for not reporting the case immediately and for reporting it to the wrong agency. When police were not able to reach her by phone, why didn’t they make a simple home visit to get the case moving for Shawna? They knew where her mom lived – the D.C General Emergency Family Shelter.
The police even criticized Shawna for telling her pimp that she had permission to go to California and for not being forthcoming with authorities, which anyone in the field will tell you is “textbook” behavior. I’ve learned enough about this issue to know that the dynamics of sex trafficking mean that you should expect the girls to lie about what happened. Under federal law, it does not matter if the child is a willing participant or crosses state lines. A majority of victims show an allegiance to their pimps and do not cooperate in the investigation initially. Most victims were sexually abused as children and have estranged relationships with their parents, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation even if they do not realize it. Survivors often go back to their pimps and run away repeatedly until they get the help they need and are ready to take the road to recovery. These cases are often complex and can be difficult to investigate, prove and prosecute. But, that does not mean we should give up on any child or toss the case aside because it’s too hard.
If our community really cared about child victims of sex trafficking, one would see pictures of missing kids on telephone poles instead of missing dogs. There would be no need for the website BlackAndMissing.org to bring attention to the cases of missing African Americans. There would be pictures of local missing youth plastered on the ad space in the Metro trains and in the newspaper. We would hear weekly updates on missing kids on the local evening news. Pictures would be prominently featured on the homepage of the DC police department website and social media, and flyers would be readily available.
Shared Hope International, an organization that works to strengthen trafficking laws and build better policies to protect victims and prosecute traffickers, buyers, and facilitators, gave DC a “D” rating this year. While some progress has been made, we as a community can make a much stronger commitment to confronting child sex trafficking in our city. We can crack down on the online purchasing of commercial sex acts and devote more resources to the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. We can mandate a missing and rescued children reporting system, require law enforcement training, and other common sense laws that many other states have enacted.
Tonight, on K Street and all around our area, children coerced into prostitution will be working. Adult men will rape them, and the worst these perpetrators can expect is a modest fine, not much more than if they ran a red light. There is no fear of being charged with statutory rape; our laws do not differentiate between buying sex with an adult and buying sex with a minor. And yet children as young as thirteen are still being thrown in jail in D.C. on prostitution charges, treated as criminals instead of victims.
Courtney’s House is a survivor-run organization that provides life-saving support services to help children recover from sex trafficking. Their outreach program searches the streets and the internet for suspected victims or children at risk of being trafficked. Director Tina Frundt welcomes new youth from across the region to the house every day with the magical combination of unconditional love and tough love. She told Shawna, “You can run, but I can run faster.” Isn’t that the message we, as a community, should send to our children? That no matter what, we will look for them, and we will bring them home?
In the District of Columbia, there’s a hole in our safety net literally big enough for missing children to disappear through. We’re not talking about a missing wallet; we’re talking about a person. When a child is missing in our community, no matter his or her life circumstances, shouldn’t it be personal for all of us?
Jamila Larson is the Executive Director of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project
October 12, 2013 | Petra Lent
As we enter the third week of the farce being enacted in Washington – may the shutdown be over by the time this is published, please God! – we’re thinking of the casual interruption of essential nutrition assistance programs like WIC, and the lasting damage it is doing to infants and young children. It is unfathomable, that the tanned and well-fed denizens of Congress can actually squabble over face-saving political maneuvers while children and babies are going hungry. For over two weeks! Seriously? But Daniel Goleman’s piece in the NYT several days ago gives us an explanation for how this is possible that rings true. It is not true of all rich people, by the way. But for many, the circle of sympathy and fellow feeling is narrow and small and includes only people more or less like themselves.
I’ve been thinking of my mother a great deal with all this going on. She is eighty years old, self-reliant to a fault, retired translator for the State Department, a compulsive planner who still slips me money whenever we go up to Vermont together. “For groceries.” But she is also a person who is completely overset by the small vicissitudes of life. Nights of anguished staring into the dark, days of depression caused by things as small as the television coming to the end of its life, or the car needing service. At my best, I am patient and loving about this. I know this about her. It’s been true for years. But I’m not always at my best. “Woman! Get a grip! It’s only a car.” The fearfulness, the needless suffering about small, small things, drives me crazy. But I also know when she spirals into fear, I know that I’m seeing the scars of her childhood.
My mother grew up poor. Desperately poor. Not enough money for food at times. That kind of poor. And even when you’re eighty years old, and you’ve worked and made good money and have a civil servant’s pension that’s about as close to a sure thing as it gets nowadays, even then, the fear never leaves you. My sister and I try to understand, but we can’t really feel it. We’ve always had money at our backs. We’ve been broke, but there was always enough money in the family circle so that we knew someone would be able to come to the rescue, if we really, really needed it. But when you’re poor, really poor, all the people who care about you are also poor, that’s when the small things like an unexpected car repair or an illness can start a cascading series of misfortunes that can land you in the street. Or dead. Very bad outcomes become possible within a short space of time. And children who grow up knowing this kind of radical insecurity in their bones never lose that feeling.
The frustrating thing about our current political predicament is that many of the people supporting the dogged opposition of the Republicans to the Affordable Health Care Act, no matter the cost, are themselves poor. It is baffling. There are many articles and books discussing this paradox, really, I think, unique to this country, of poor people voting against their own interest. It’s easy to come up with man-on-the-street interviews where people are dead set against Obamacare, but want better access to health insurance. It seems as if the more worried people are about not being able to cover their basic needs, the harder it is to make the cognitive leap that a safety net for everyone requires everyone’s participation.
People are struggling to get by. The impact on health is unmistakable. White women without a high school diploma are suddenly looking at a sharply diminished life expectancy – five years less than just a few decades ago. As soon as we emerge from this mess, the country needs to tackle the minimum wage, which is shamefully, ridiculously low. The invisible poor are trying to make a living on minimum wage jobs, and it simply can’t be done. Their children, and this country’s future vitality, are at risk as a result.
Media Voices Associate Editorial Director Petra Lent McCarron is an experienced television and film producer and editor. She co-produced Stolen Childhoods and Rescuing Emmanuel for Galen Films.
September 11, 2013 | Center for Hunger-Free Communities
June 11, 2013 | Georgia Morris
What is innocence? Is it lack of experience? Freedom from guile or sin or bad behavior? Is it nearness to beauty, to God?
Innocence is what we expect of a child. It’s the terrain of childhood, of the beginning. It was why they gave me the silver dollar. There was no reason not to. I was too innocent to be undeserving.
But now, in a home for rescued street children, I am talking to a 7-year-old, wide-eyed beauty in the sailor dress, telling us strategies for staying alive when the police “take you to the cells,” and showing us techniques for sniffing glue to “not feel the hunger?” This child has had too much experience. And yet at seven years of age, the experience she lacks is what we call innocence.
And last night we interviewed high school girls. Emma sat in front of me in her neat, pressed school uniform, looking like any one of our sweet daughters, “Strive to Excel” embroidered on her shirt pocket. She amazingly tells us she has to “do bad things” (meaning prostitute) to pay her school fees but school is her only hope. When I ask her if she has had times when she is hungry, she laughs, as if I am the innocent.
“Sometimes you stay hungry. You don’t have money and you don’t have food. You just have God.”
June 7, 2013 | Georgia Morris
Where I grew up, in a sleepy South Jersey seashore town, every kid who could walk the length of Asbury Avenue in her Halloween costume got a silver dollar, handed out by the mayor . . . the Halloween parade. We all got the coin, whether we had a great costume or a twenty-five cent eye mask. It was a public show of sweet child-love. I was adorable. I was worth a shiny new silver dollar. My town loved me. This is normal. Right?
Cut to four decades later – “the Roundabout,” downtown Nairobi, Kenya. A boy grabs me by the hand and will not let go. His pants and shirt are stiff with filth. His acrid smell is overpowering, till I get used to it. He strokes the sleeve of my UV sun-protective travel shirt. He hugs me around the waist and we haven’t said a word. Clinched between perfect teeth, a plastic bottle dangles from his lips, a half-inch of shoe glue at the bottom.
I am swamped. I am surrounded. I am separated from our film crew by my own crowd of street kids, as is my husband, as we all are. We are tall Americans, swamped by stunted growth. Some of the “big boys” are tall, but they stay back. They watch, and will fleece the kids who get anything out of us. Of course none of this I know on day one, or two or three. I am still clutching the remnants of my silver dollar, trying to figure out what’s happened. Where’s the mayor? Where’s the sweet child-love in these streets? What kind of parade is this?
February 5, 2013 | Petra Lent
1. What inspired you to make Talibe – The Least Favored Children of Senegal?
Experiencing the gravity of the situation firsthand, seeing the systematic neglect and exploitation of the boys, their helplessness and hopelessness, made me feel compelled to do what I can to raise awareness, advocate to reform the Islamic education system, support the efforts of Maison de la Gare (the local grassroots organization featured) and to find a way to animate a dialogue in local and international communities that would ignite action and incentives to address the issue and protect the children.
2. What was the biggest obstacle in making it?
The topic of “Islamic education” in Senegal is culturally and politically extremely sensitive. Anyone who tries to tackle the issue runs the risk of being accused of criticizing Islam as a whole, which has made efforts to discuss and resolve the Talibes problem very difficult. Political institutions, Islamic authorities and aid organizations are in a web of interdependence that has silenced the problem and perpetuated it as a result. So one challenge was to ensure that the film can be screened in Senegal, which meant treating the subject both visually and contextually with the utmost respect and sensitivity, not focusing on the worst perpetrators, but on individuals stuck in the system, and not alienating Islamic teachers (who are too often just blamed as scapegoats) but inviting them to participate in the film and conversation.
The other obstacle during the filming process was dealing with the reality of the children’s circumstances, especially when what was needed at times, was urgent medical attention, with no one around to provide that.
3. How did you first connect with the individuals you feature in the film?
I was introduced to Issa Kouyate and his local grassroots organization La Maison de La Gare (MDG) by Fallckolm Cuenca, Director of SDGI (Sustainable Development Group International) a year prior to making the film in Senegal. MDG was creating a volunteer program that I was asked to consult on and in the process was able to learn about the circumstances of the Talibes and the difficulties that organizations face to have long-term impacts.
4. What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
I hope watching the documentary will make people realize that terrible violations against children are being overlooked and perpetuated by ignorance, by the lack of support and competence of aid organizations, by donors not insisting on accountability and follow-up, by the failure of governments to regulate, to enforce laws and uphold commitments to human rights, by the political incentives of civil institutions and the cultural acceptance of families, religious authorities and powerless mothers. I hope that international audiences discover their empathy and sense of responsibility to do a much better job ensuring that education is not used as a front for exploitation and criminal neglect of small children – whatever their culture or belief. As citizens of especially donor countries, we have certain power. We can make choices to invest in responsible programs and demand that the issue is being addressed.
Please find out what you can do to help Talibes: How To Help
5. How is the film different than other projects you have worked on?
I’ve been working in the aid sector for the past seven years on projects in education, agricultural development, youth empowerment etc. and had worked in places of extreme poverty before, but had never seen anything like what I saw in Senegal. I never worked in medical aid and had never before dealt with malnourished and abused children who suffered corporal punishment. It was a shocking and eye-opening experience to witness such neglect of innocent children.
6. In Senegal, did you witness positive elements of Islamic education?
Yes. I saw and worked with people who had been educated in Islamic schools who cared for their children, neighbors and community. I saw people choosing to remove themselves from arguments to go pray and calm themselves instead of fighting. There are also modern Islamic schools in the cities that provide children with actual Islamic education – but those are not affordable for the poor. I experienced a rich culture of Sufism (the movement of Islamic mysticism that is practiced in Senegal) with art, music, jewelry, spiritual belief systems and rituals. Of course my tolerance was challenged when it came to legitimizing corporal punishment with religion, but this is where education comes in and needs to be made safe and productive for all children. Right now, at least 50,000 young boys in Islamic schools suffer under conditions akin to slavery. They know neglect, physical abuse and if at all, how to recite the Quran. How do we expect this next generation to grow up as critical thinking, productive members of society if we ignore this and don’t invest in making their education safe instead of detrimental?
7. What is your favorite thing about Senegal?
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR | PRODUCER
DEEDA PRODUCTIONS | SIMA
December 21, 2012 | Len Morris
For the past ten years we have run a small educational program in Kenya called The Kenyan Schoolhouse. In 2012, there were 37 students whose educations were being paid for by caring people on the other side of the world. (more…)
December 20, 2012 | Marsha Winsryg
In late October I received an email from a young man representing an organization called Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Kigali, Rwanda. It was short and rather desperate sounding: would I be able to send some money, the orphans were out of food and other necessities. I occasionally get requests like this because I direct a small non-profit for Zambian disabled children, so I wrote him back and asked for some references, which I called. The man I spoke to, a Bill Tetreault from Norwalk, Connecticut, enthusiastically endorsed this organization and its struggling director, Emmanuel Uwamahoro. I then called his son, Daniel, who had worked at the orphanage last year in an informal volunteer capacity.
Daniel told me that Emmanuel was a young man in his 30s, who managed to sustain his program but barely. He couldn’t turn anyone away and has ended up with 100 children! Daniel emphasized the honesty and kindheartedness of this man and urged me to help him however I could.
I went to the OVC’s facebook page/website, and was further convinced of the OVC’s worthiness. I also noticed that they had over 900 “friends”! I suggested he put out an appeal to these Facebook friends and ask for 10 or 20 dollars. If only one tenth of them responded, he stood to gain $1000, which in Rwanda, would at least get them through the next few months, if not longer. I sent some money and wrote a post on my page and his, asking others to do the same.
Here is his response:
Oh my God,
Dearest Aunt Marsha, hello
You make the difference. God is good all the time. We will never forget your beautiful love. Together you make the difference. We know miracles still happen.
Hugs from the children,
Emmanuel became an orphan in 1985 as a result of the Rwandan genocide. He worked his way through school, training in child care and psychology and then graduating in 2002 with a degree in Economics from The National University of Rwanda. During this time he founded the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Organization, began a nursery school, another orphanage and a vocational training Center. He has taught high school economics and worked with the handicapped in Kigali. In other words, he is one amazing guy!
He did receive some ten and twenty dollar donations, but the bank in Kigali won’t take any foreign checks less than $100. If anyone out there has had enough of consumer Christmases to last a while, why not send the OVC $100? Think of all the money you would normally unthinkingly spend on meaningless stuff this season. Then think about Emmanuel’s dream:
My top priority is searching for emergency assistance to rehabilitate the orphanage. I dream of a larger,more functional facility on a bigger site, and envision strong economic, social and cultural development for all the orphans. My goals are to reintegrate the children into everyday family life and to know they will have a chance to live into old age with peace and dignity.
OVC’s Facebook page website: http://www.facebook.com/orphans.vulnerablechildren?fref=ts
November 30, 2012 | Marsha Winsryg
Dear friends, old and new,
In 1999 I found myself at the craft market on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. Fifty booths of vendors waited for the next tourist bus. It was a mystery to me how these vendors could possibly make a living. A Mukuni craftsman named Foster Wachata convinced me to take a few boxes of wooden carvings made by him and his friends and sell them here in the US. (more…)
September 26, 2012 | Ron Ratney (ECPAT-USA)
For the last several years, ECPAT-USA has been collecting news articles, press releases and, particularly, court documents that identify hotels that have been used as venues for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. By now, about 350 hotel properties have been found. This is by no means a complete enumeration of the hotels that have been used for child sex trafficking. Many of the source documents note that the pimps used one or more hotels but do not identify their names or locations. In some cases, the type of venue is not reported at all. Notable by their absence from the collection are hotels that were used by escort services or outcall dates in which the victim goes to the buyer’s location. Sixty of the hotels were unbranded and not members of any hotel chain. The rest were members of the common hotel chains with all the major chains being represented in the list.
The vast majority of the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection were written by offices of the US Attorneys in connection with the prosecution of pimps who had been accused of child sex trafficking. The most useful documents were indictments and criminal complaints. Although the documents were initially collected as part of a project to identify specific hotels that were used for child sex trafficking, they also proved to be unique windows into the sadistic violence that pimps inflict on their victims using graphic descriptions that sometimes might not be acceptable in print and on-line media. In order to enforce their will on their victims, pimps tattooed, branded and carved their initials into their victims flesh. Rape, gang rape and violent beatings resulting in broken bones and lost teeth were used commonly. One pimp would attack his victim without provocation and without reason and in at least one case, a pimp caused his victim to abort the fetus that she was carrying. All of this, of course, is in addition to forcing their victims to sell their bodies ten to twenty times a day.
Although the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection contain a lot of useful information, what is NOT in the collection may be at least as telling. As documents were being reviewed, it became clear that some offices of the US Attorney apparently had not been prosecuting pimps for child sex trafficking. The federal statute covering child sex trafficking is 18 USC 1591 (a). Using the PACER database maintained by the US court system, a search was conducted for all prosecutions of this statute that had been initiated from January 1, 2010 through April 2012. A total of 179 cases were found that had been prosecuted by 43 offices of the US Attorney. There are 94 offices of the US Attorney; 43 of those offices had not initiated any prosecutions of pimps under 18 USC 1591 (a); no data could be found for eight offices. (A list of offices of the US Attorney with the numbers of child sex trafficking cases shown here.) Apart from the offices with no prosecutions, several large districts had remarkably few cases: New York Southern (Manhattan) 3; California North (San Francisco) 1; Pennsylvania Eastern (Philadelphia) 1. Considering that it is estimated that there are about 100,000 children enslaved as prostitutes in the United States, the questions come to mind: “where are the prosecutions?”, “where are the victims?” Of course, it should be pointed out that local and state law enforcement agencies initiate their own prosecutions of pimps and there is no centralized database that would make it possible to count their cases. For instance, Operation Cross Country, a coordinated sweep by local, state and federal agencies that is conducted a few times a year, leads to the arrest of a large number of pimps and the rescue of a smaller number of child victims. Although, the sweeps are coordinated by the US Department of Justice, the resulting prosecutions are usually conducted at the state and local level. It is also important to recognize that the investigations and prosecutions of child sex traffickers are extremely difficult with extensive, detailed cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels needed to achieve convictions. Some cases have taken as much as five years from arrest through conviction. Each successful prosecution should be considered to be a triumph in which some of the most evil members of society are removed from circulation. On the other hand it would be a mistake to boast that these successes are making a significant dent in the incidence of child sex trafficking.
The fact that half the offices of the US Attorney are not prosecuting pimps who are exploiting children deserves detailed scrutiny. Available data suggests that child sex trafficking occurs all across the United States. There are more cases in large metropolitan areas but it appears that the incidence (the number of cases per 100,000 population) is similar in cities of all sizes.
Even an informal review of the documents in ECPAT-USA’s collection reveals some other things that are not there.
- Boys: None of the victims in any of the federal cases are boys. It is well known that there are teen-age boys working as prostitutes all across the country although there aren’t even any educated guesses as to their numbers. A study conducted several years ago by John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Court Innovation estimated that a little less than half the children exploited on the streets of New York City were boys. They tend not to work with pimps and they are frequently not apprehended by the police so that they will not be included in the usual criminal justice statistics summaries.
- Outcomes for rescued victims: Documents, particularly news articles, frequently report that victims are returned to their parents or placed in rehabilitation programs, many of which are operated by non-governmental organizations. Very few such organization report publicly on the length of time their clients are in their care, what their programs include, and more importantly what happens to their clients after they have been discharged or leave of their own accord. Victims are usually recruited into the “life” while they are in middle school or high school. When they are finally rescued, they have lost the most important years of their lives. A few weeks of psychological counseling will not prepare them to be reintegrated into society. There are numerous reports that rescued victims return to prostitution, become homeless or institutionalized but there have been few stringently run studies (not advocacy studies) that track victims’ lives after slavery. There are probably better studies on the life outcomes of whales, polar bears, lions and other wild animals than of people who are among the most vulnerable in our society.
Ron Ratney is retired and works as a volunteer conducting research in support of ECPAT-USA’s efforts. It turns out that none of his professional career had anything to do with child welfare. He ran across ECPAT-USA through a web site that connects prospective volunteers with NGOs that need help. He started his professional career after he obtained his doctorate in chemistry, first working as a research chemist and then teaching chemistry at the college level. After teaching for 11 years he switched careers and became an industrial hygienist (protecting workers from toxic substances by measuring and controlling exposures, primarily airborne, in the workplace.) He worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and was a member of a professional committee that provides recommendations for safe airborne exposures. He lives in Boston with a pet greyhound that was rescued from the race track. His wife died in 2000; he has three children who live in Las Vegas, Connecticut and Jerusalem.
September 17, 2012 | Food Research and Action Center
Food Hardship Rate Continues to Hold Steady, Underscoring Need to Protect SNAP
Washington, D.C. – August 22, 2012 – New data released yesterday by the Gallup organization show the food hardship rate for the nation was 18.2 percent during the first six months of 2012. While a slight dip from the 2011 rate of 18.6 percent reported in a Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) analysis of previous Gallup data, FRAC noted this shows far too many Americans continue to report that there were times during the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed. (more…)
August 7, 2012 | Len Morris
I’ve just attended the Global March Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture in Washington DC.The room was filled with people committed to ridding the world of products made by child labor labor. They have their work cut out for them. (more…)
July 31, 2012 | Global March Against Child Labour
Global March Against Child Labour
International Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture
Washington DC, USA
July 28-30, 2012
This International Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture (28-30 July 2012, Washington D.C., U.S.A.):
• organised by the Global March Against Child Labour;
• and attended by 156 participants from governments, intergovernmental agencies, trade unions, teacher organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), agriculture producers organisations (hereafter referred to as APOs), cooperatives, multi-stakeholder initiatives and corporations from over 39 countries.
RECOGNISES THAT a strong and sustained worldwide movement against child labour is essential to attain the elimination of child labour and in particular of the worst forms of child labour by 2016 (as required by The Hague Roadmap adopted in 2010), in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the relevant ILO Conventions.
FURTHER RECOGNISES that all children have to be protected from all forms of violence and abuse. Children are the subject of rights and any action that is oriented to eliminate child labour in agriculture should include their voices, opinions and promote their participation.
• 60 per cent of all child labour takes place in agriculture, i.e. over 129 million girls and boys aged between 5 and 17 years working in agriculture many of them in hazardous work;
• child labour in agriculture occurs in both developed and developing countries, and is related to rural poverty and the precarious situation of families in rural communities;
• agriculture remains a sector in which limited progress has been made to address child labour and where programmes are under-developed, especially in respect of hazardous child labour, forced and bonded labour, child trafficking, small-scale agriculture, neglected sub-sectors and local value chains;
• children in rural areas can undertake multiple types of work in the rural economy.
ALSO RECOGNISES THAT agriculture is a sector with significant decent work deficits in particular:
• agricultural workers, both self-employed and hired, are often denied their core rights to belong to and be represented by a trade union;
• labour legislation sometimes excludes or has lower requirements for agricultural workers;
• agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors to work in and the sector with the highest rate of fatal accidents;
• many millions of workers are migrant, seasonal or temporary workers in extremely precarious situations and as such are frequently victims of forced labour;
• there is a need to develop and implement integrated policies that address the root causes of child labour in agriculture.
WELCOMES the contributions towards the elimination of child labour in agriculture from:
• trade unions, both through direct actions against child labour and through the promotion of decent work for adults and youth and sustainable livelihoods;
• NGOs by combating child labour, including its worst forms in agriculture, creating awareness, community mobilisation and promotion of all children’s rights;
• governments through speedy ratification of the ILO’s child labour conventions, policies and promotion of various child protection programmes;
• intergovernmental organisations in advancing labour rights and child rights, creation of knowledge and its management and strengthening social dialogue;
• multi-stakeholder initiatives by promoting trade union, civil society and business collaboration;
• employer organisations and businesses in creating awareness on the issue of child labour in agriculture.
NOTES the importance of harnessing the untapped potential of APOs and cooperatives to combat child labour in agriculture.
FURTHER RECOGNISES that the following are integral to ensuring the elimination of child labour:
• a conducive legislative environment and policy framework;
• protection of child rights;
• universal free quality basic public education;
• decent employment and decent wages and work for adult workers;
• food security, the right to food and sustainable rural livelihoods;
• the rights of workers to organise and to bargain collectively in free, independent trade unions;
• the rights of farmers to form their own independent organisations;
• gender equality, social inclusion and non-discrimination;
• good safety and health laws and their enforcement;
• adequately resourced and funded labour inspection.
Conference participants therefore COMMIT to renewed action to end child labour, particularly in agriculture, and CALL UPON the following stakeholders to commit to key actions;
The Global March Against Child Labour
To strengthen the worldwide movement against child labour, this Conference CALLS ON the Global March through its trade union representatives and civil society partners and members to commit to:
• strengthening its partners’ and members’ capacities to tackle child labour in agriculture in their communities/countries/regions in particular, and all forms of child labour in general and promoting coordination and cooperation of all parties engaged in combating child labour in agriculture, including with national social partners’ organisations;
• complementing the existing work with trade unions by working more closely with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF) and Education International (EI) on elimination of child labour and improved rural education;
• identifying and initiating dialogue with APOs and cooperatives in selected countries to tackle child labour on smallholder farms;
• engaging with campaigns and organisations advocating for the right to food to include child labour elimination as a key indicator of the right to food;
• initiating media and social media contacts to support campaigns and advocacy and to become actively engaged in publicising both advances and obstacles in tackling child labour in agriculture;
• advocating with government and inter-governmental organisations for greater investment in education, especially universal free quality basic public education in rural communities, with special focus on girls;
• work more closely with the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (http://www.fao-ilo.org/fao-ilo-child/international-partnership);
• actively pursue the implementation of this Framework of Action.
Trade unions act as a first line of defence against child labour and abusive labour practices in their businesses, workplaces and communities. They represent a critical force in the fight to end exploitation of children by ensuring that adults earn decent wages and that allow them to send their children to school, and that adult and young workers have decent conditions of work.
This Conference therefore CALLS UPON trade unions, in particular the IUF and its affiliates to:
• increase activities to ensure that multi-national enterprises (MNEs) in IUF sectors commit to and work on elimination of child labour in their supply chains including, where appropriate, commitments to elimination of child labour in collective bargaining agreements and international framework agreements;
• negotiate for better childcare provision both public and in the workplace;
• work for improved occupational safety and health (OSH) for all in agriculture, including through campaigns for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 184 on safety and health in agriculture. For children above the minimum legal age of employment in their country, this would help to transform hazardous child labour into decent youth employment;
• negotiate to expand the remit of legally required joint worker-employer OSH committees to cover the contract farmers in company supply chains, including for the systematic training of farmers on OSH and in particular on how to conduct risk assessments;
• support the use of innovative OSH outreach programmes e.g. roving safety representatives, to address child labour in rural communities;
• advocate for properly resourced, effective labour inspection in agriculture;
• participate in monitoring the incidence of child labour in agriculture including through collective agreements and engagement in the development and implementation of community based child labour monitoring systems;
• fulfil their mandate in tripartite mechanisms which oversee the implementation of national policy;
• combat precarious work, outsourcing and piece-rate payments.
Companies and multinational enterprises
Companies (local and national) and multinational enterprises have the prime responsibility to control rigorously their agricultural workplaces and supply chains to ensure that child labour is not used.
This conference CALLS on companies and MNEs to:
• commit to eliminating child labour in their agricultural workplaces and supply chains and to ensure that their business practices meet that purpose;
• respect freedom of association and the effective right to collective bargaining;
• fulfil their legal obligations to have safe and healthy workplaces which would transform hazardous child labour into decent youth employment;
• where there are legally required joint worker-employer workplace safety and health committees, plantation/farming companies should fulfil their due diligence obligations in their agricultural supply chains by expanding the role of their workplace health and safety committees to help the companies’ contract farmers and their workers to stop using child labour;
• for children above the minimum age for employment, help transform hazardous child labour into decent youth employment;
• support the systematic training of farmers, and personnel in APOs and cooperatives in the enterprises’ supply chains, on basic occupational safety and health risk assessment techniques.
Non-government organisations (NGOs)
Ranging from global networks with pan-regional presence to national/local NGOs, NGOs with their wide networks and/or grassroots reach are rightly placed to tackle the problem of child labour at both the policy and ground level.
This Conference therefore CALLS upon NGOs to:
• increase their contributions in creating, updating and implementing national hazardous work lists in regards to agriculture, in collaboration with trade unions and employers’ organisations;
• advocate for realising the right of all children to universal free quality basic public education, as well as related and underlying rights, including birth registration;
• participate in monitoring the incidence of child labour in agriculture, particularly the hardest-to-reach categories such as girls, indigenous, migrant, trafficked and forced child labourers, and assist in their withdrawal, rehabilitation and education;
• advocate for systematic training of farmers and personnel in APOs and cooperatives, on basic occupational safety and health risk assessment techniques;
• advocate more systematic involvement of agricultural extension officers and their networks in the elimination of child labour;
• promote partnerships with the trade unions, employers, agricultural producers and cooperatives, as well as with businesses at all levels of the supply chains
• advocate for solutions to family poverty by working with families and rural communities.
Agricultural Producers Organisations (APOs)
By working to promote farmers’ welfare through farmer friendly practices and policies, APOs have a key role to play in making agriculture a sustainable and child labour free occupation for farmers, especially smallholders.
RECOGNISING the lack of systematic involvement of APOs to date in combating child labour,
COMMIT to strengthening their dialogue and cooperation with APOs to help them combat child labour in agriculture and stimulate the outreach, and development of APOs where they are non-existent;
CALL on Global March to promote systematic dialogue and cooperate with APOs and their national, regional and international bodies to eliminate child labour in agriculture.
With activities being guided by membership-driven, cooperative and not-for-profit values, agricultural cooperatives serve as natural allies in the global movement against child labour. Cooperatives and the cooperative movement have an important, but as yet unharnessed, role to play in the elimination of child labour worldwide.
This Conference therefore CALLS on the cooperative movement to promote systematic dialogue and cooperate with agricultural cooperatives and their national, regional and international bodies to eliminate child labour in agriculture, and encourage democratic cooperativism as an important vehicle to achieve this.
Intergovernmental organisations, agencies and programmes
With a vast global reach and resources, intergovernmental organisations and agencies
can significantly contribute to the action against child labour in agriculture by providing technical expertise on development matters, conducting research, and mobilising financial resources among other things.
This conference URGES intergovernmental organisations, agencies and programmes to:
• focus their efforts, and strengthen their cooperation, to combat child labour in agriculture, also by including it as an objective for any relevant support or lending;
• provide and harmonise technical and financial assistance to support efforts to end child labour in agriculture;
• improve research, data collection, documentation and knowledge management on child labour in agriculture in collaboration with governments, research institutions, trade unions, employers and civil society;
• promote inter-sectoral and inter-agency dialogue and cooperation to converge policies and programmes for elimination of child labour, promotion of education for all, the right to food and food security and overall poverty reduction.
Governments have an obligation to guarantee human rights, including fundamental rights at work, and therefore have primary responsibility in eliminating child labour by applying and enforcing national legislation, including agricultural and rural development policies. Governments should mainstream child labour elimination as an explicit objective in all relevant policies, ensure adequate technical and financial support and resources in their implementation, and enlist support from donor countries and development agencies, including by promoting South-South cooperation.
This Conference URGES governments to strengthen their efforts to eliminate child labour in agriculture by:
• guaranteeing access to universal free quality basic public education for all children, on the basis of effective birth registration, focusing in particular on the hardest-to-reach, including the children of migrants and seasonal workers;
• increasing efforts to overcome the gender and urban/rural gap in education;
• fully involving trade unions, employers’ organisations, and NGOs in their activities to eliminate child labour in agriculture, particular in the national hazardous work lists;
• strengthening national legislation on child labour in agriculture as well as its application and enforcement;
• promoting the introduction of a national Social Protection Floor, especially for rural and farmer families, as a comprehensive social policy approach promoting integrated strategies for providing access to social services and income security for all;
• ensure effective labour inspection in agriculture, with special focus on child labour elimination, and ratify ILO Convention 129;
• providing financial assistance to combat child labour proportionate to the size and location of the problem of child labour in agriculture;
• collaborate with the social partners and other relevant stakeholders in removing the barriers which rural women face;
• addressing the structural causes of child labour in agriculture, by promoting sustainable agriculture and child labour sensitive agricultural and rural development policies and instruments.
The Global March Against Child Labour CALLS ON all parties referred to in this document to take full account of its content in their preparations for the Global Child Labour Conference to be held in Brazil in 2013.
July 24, 2012 | Julia Perez
On July 11, 2012 the House Agriculture Committee met to markup the 2012 Farm Bill. The media focused on the 16.5 billion cut over ten years to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the replacement of subsides with insurance. I wonder if anyone noticed the three crucial minutes when Congressman Joe Baca introduced what he called a “Sense of Congress” amendment. In his limited time he explained the number of children affected by the long working hours and the associated high school dropout rate. While recognizing the importance of the parental exemption, he simply requested agriculture “follow the widely accepted age requirement of sixteen for jobs that require long hours of difficult manual labor.” I am proud to say I assisted his team; I dare say I was the catalyst.
Almost a month earlier, June 8, 2012 I met Congressman Joe Baca at the TELACU scholarship gala. Kismet? Can’t say. What I can say is that David and Priscilla Lizarraga, leaders of TELACU, share the goal of improving the lives of children. The Harvest trailer and my talk were probably sufficient but I continued to advocate for the children, saying to the Congressman: “Agriculture can survive without our children. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.” Congressman Baca offered his assurances and he delivered.
In less than a month’s time, a spoken idea had turned into a reality. The inspiration arose from the 2008 Farm bill, which had a provision to certify that agricultural products imported into the United States were not made with the use of child or forced labor. In 2008, it struck me as hypocrisy, now it strikes me as precedence.
So, I watched the Congressman speak with passion and authority (see link
start at 01:16:20 – 1:19:20)
As I watched the proceedings I was struck by the civil procedures and language. I wondered who would “move to strike the last word”, the language used to request to speak on an issue in counter or support. The odds were not in our favor. Well, Congressman Baca agreed to withdrawal the amendment, if Chairman Frank Lucas would work with him. I admit I was momentarily surprised, not privy to the overall strategy. However, Chairman Lucas requested Congressman Baca yield to him and professed his support. He sounded sincere when he said he would work with Congressman Baca because “it affects the most important part of our society, our young people.” I congratulate Chairman Lucas on responding from the heart. Don’t offer to sell me a bridge but I believe him. I believe the cooperation of both political parties is required to bring equality in protections for children in agriculture. By reaching across the aisle, we may finally give all children the protection of a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Will history show it was a bipartisan voice that finally brought justice to the voiceless?
Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and writer. She is currently writing Among the Forgotten, which tells of the behind-the-scenes challenges of filming The Harvest and the untold stories of children in agriculture, who are treated as separate and unequal.
July 21, 2012 | Luke Bailey
It’s been a year since the debt-ceiling standoff in Congress, a year in which deadlock has become the standard fare in American politics. Yet even in an election year, some crucial issues still transcend partisanship. Combating human trafficking is one such opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to cooperate and strengthen human rights in this country and abroad. (more…)
July 18, 2012 | Monica Grover
A ger is a traditional Mongolian portable tent that is still used today as a dwelling place for families. The unofficial ger district just outside of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, has expanded significantly over the last year as many families have left the countryside in search of jobs. These families have experienced the destruction of their livestock due to bitter cold temperatures and suffered from a lack of adequate schools, and they migrated to the ger district on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar in search of better opportunities. However, the ger district lacks essential social services and government welfare services. Typically, there is no running water or flushing toilets, and many residents don’t have electricity.
When families leave the countryside to settle in the ger district, the parents are unable to acquire the necessary government-issued identification cards for themselves and their children. This means that the children are unable to attend school and the parents are unable to secure jobs. Children and Young People’s Protection and Development NGO (CYPPD), a Global Fund for Children grantee partner, helps the children acquire the essential government-issued documentation, a time-consuming process that is also necessary for the children and their families to receive health insurance. Since children who lack documentation are unable to attend local schools, their parents expect them to work. The easiest jobs for the children to get are selling candy, tobacco, or plastic bags, or carrying loads at the market. With these petty jobs, the children receive little pay and are often exposed to dangerous situations, with many working in meat markets, wood markets, or car markets. During my visit, Anya Manga, the project manager of CYPPD, said that the hardships of life in the ger district cause men to start drinking and inflicting abuse upon their families. This is the life of a child served by CYPPD.
The children of CYPPD see participation in the Adobe Youth Voices program as an opportunity to offer to the world their perspectives about their communities. The Adobe Youth Voices program, which CYPPD has access to through The Global Fund for Children, teaches youth how to use media to explore and share their views. With their media projects, some of CYPPD’s youth plan to address the lack of playgrounds in the ger district. Children are forced to play in the streets, the only “playgrounds” in their communities. There are a variety of other topics that the youth are interested in discussing in their media projects this year, such as hygiene in the ger district and child labor. Last year, the youth in the Adobe Youth Voices program created a film called “Two Different Lives,” which juxtaposed the life of a young person from the ger district working in a market against the life of a more-privileged child not facing the same hardships.
One of the girls served by CYPPD, Michidma, is an especially outstanding student. Her family has been touched by alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poverty, and she has overcome many difficulties. She was working in the market for a time and dropped out of school to help her family. Now, she is in her third year of college and is studying to become a journalist. “Michidma understands media very well,” Anya told me. She knows the vulnerable side of the young people she interacts with at CYPPD because she herself comes from a disadvantaged background. According to Anya, Michidma is a very sensitive girl who likes art, poetry, dance, and singing. She’s very involved in the Adobe Youth Voices program and has developed her journalism skills, learning to interview people and writing stories quite well. She is becoming a volunteer for CYPPD’s annual summer camp and is learning English. “Michidma is becoming a true leader within our organization,” said Battuya Tsanlig, executive director of CYPPD.
Through the Adobe Youth Voices program, Anya is giving CYPPD youth the opportunity to participate on a level playing field with more-privileged children. She wants the ger district’s children to have the same knowledge and skills as other children, and she encourages them to take part in the Adobe Youth Voices program. “I really want our children to represent Mongolia and demonstrate what we can do,” says Anya.
Monica Grover joined The Global Fund for Children after working as the Content Editor for DigitalSports DC, a community based web portal dedicated to highlighting the accomplishments of DC public high school student-athletes. In addition, Grover’s previous experience involved work in communications for the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation, where she successfully launched a support network for patients in India seeking improved treatment and healthcare options for bone marrow disease.
July 2, 2012 | Kate W. (iOnPoverty)
This past weekend, a three-day sweep by law enforcement rescued 79 children from prostitution. 104 alleged pimps were arrested. More than 2,500 state, local and federal law enforcement officers in 57 cities took part in Operation Cross Country, the culmination of a widespread effort to begin putting a stop to teenage prostitution. The operation, which lasted Friday through Sunday, rescued children ranging from 13 to 17 years of age. One girl had been involved in prostitution since she was just eleven years old.
It’s hard to imagine an adult ending up in this kind of life, much less a young child. The sad truth is, many of these children don’t have far to fall before they slip through the cracks. Kevin Perkins, Acting Executive Assistant Director of the FBI, pointed out that many of the children rescued during the sweep were in a vulnerable position that allowed predators to exploit them more easily. Children who are out on the streets desperate for shelter or a meal are just looking for someone to take care of them. All too easily, they can end up in the wrong person’s clutches.
According to Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 American children are lured into prostitution each year. They are targeted on the streets or online by organized criminals who specifically look for children who are not having their physical or emotional needs met. Sadly, many of the children rescued in Operation Cross Country may return to the streets if they don’t receive consistent and quality care; many of them believe that the person who “saved” them is the only one who truly loves them, no matter how much they were exploited.
What can we do to curtail this tragic epidemic? In an ideal world, every family would be able to have a healthy dialogue involving the message that we each own our own body. In a fair world, underage prostitutes would be treated as victims and not charged with felonies and the men that hire them would be punished with more than a misdemeanor slap on the wrist. In the world we live in, however, we need people who are not afraid to dedicate their lives and careers to facing down the grim truths about child prostitution and helping heal the children who are its victims. Law enforcement officers are needed to launch more investigations like Operation Cross Country. Activists and politicians are needed to help ensure that those who exploit children are swiftly brought to justice. And social workers, child psychologists, and the administrators and fundraisers that allow social welfare agencies to keep functioning are needed not only to help staunch the psychological wounds inflicted by child prostitution, but to help narrow the societal breaks that allow them to fall through the cracks in the first place.
Kate writes for iOnPoverty, an online video series aimed at students and young professionals who seek careers positively impacting economic justice. The iOnPoverty series is an invaluable tool not just for those who want to learn about the challenges people face, but for those who want to volunteer or work towards changing the world.
June 13, 2012 | Nina Smith
The first thing I noticed about Sanju Maya – the first child rescued by GoodWeave in 2012 – was her hands. I met Sanju Maya only weeks after she was found by our inspectors in Kathmandu. At 11, Sanju Maya has the body of an eight-year-old and hands of an 80-year-old, scarred from countless hours clutching sharp rug-making tools. (more…)
June 11, 2012 | Kailash Satyarthi
Last week was quite significant in the struggle for abolition of child labour in India.
The Union Minister of Labour, Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge; Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament Mrs. Sushma Swaraj as well as 65 Members of Parliament, including some of the political stalwarts of the country expressed their support and assured us in going ahead towards a total ban on child labour up till 14 years of age and prohibition in hazardous work up till the age of 18 years. (more…)
| U. Roberto Romano
If I were a poet, this would be my opening line, like A Bed for the Night or A Brief for the Defense or Elegy, but the poem would be darker and full of Bukowski-like heartache and disdain.
But I am not a poet. I am a filmmaker and photographer who has spent more than a decade of my life documenting child labor around the world. I have filmed and photographed and spoken with children who pick the coffee beans we brew on plantations in Kenya, weave the carpets we walk on at looms in India, Pakistan and Nepal, dig for gold while suffocating in mines or dive to their deaths from fishing boats in Ghana. (more…)
April 17, 2012 | Monique Marie DeJong
When a mother awakens her children, it’s usually to usher them to school, but for Omid in Children of Kabul, his mother’s voice awakens him to a harsh reality: “Omid, my dear. Get up. Go to work.” Over 1.5 million children in Afghanistan are forced to work for their families’ survival, according to UNICEF reports. In Omid’s case, the Taliban killed his father and cousin, and his mother injured her back and was subsequently fired from work. Because his family has no head of house, he, like so many Afghan children, is the family’s breadwinner.
Co-directed and produced by Jawad Wahabzada and Jon Bougher, Children of Kabul is a short documentary with a humble and rare look into the lives of four Afghan child laborers: Fayaz pounds metal at a blacksmith shop, Omid washes cars, Yasamin scavenges through dumpsters, and Sanabar cooks food to sell in the market.
Jawad knows these children’s stories all too well: At the age of seven, he worked eight-hour days in a factory making Persian rugs. “I was born two years after the end of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the Taliban took control of Kabul, things changed for worse. They closed schools to females and only taught us hateful materials to brainwash us. Since I was not learning anything useful in school, my father put me to work in a rug factory so that I could learn a trade. At age seven, I had to work long hours in the sweatshop, while my friends played soccer just outside the rug factory. Our working conditions were terrible, especially during the hot summer days, when we would sweat all over and the factory provided no fans or air conditioners. I worked for four years, but I was fortunate enough to move to the United States, where I received an education.”
It was not difficult for filmmaker Wahabzada to find children for his documentary. “Walking around Kabul, it is hard not to notice so many kids as young as five or six working in the busy and dangerous streets of the city. Some sell candy, shine shoes, and beg to help their family survive, while others take jobs in mechanic shops or vend in the crowded markets,” he said. When Wahabzada asked what the children dreamed of becoming, they said professor, engineer, or doctor, even though they do not attend school.
Yasamin wants to be a teacher, so she can teach respect and morals and rebuild her country—but without an education, her future, and the future of Afghanistan, isn’t promising. “Each of these children, affected in different ways by the war, provide a snapshot of the country while hinting at a dangerous future,” said Wahabzada. “I knew that, without help, they would never get that chance to become a professor, engineer, or doctor. So, it was heartbreaking to listen to their sad stories and not to be able to do anything help their situation.”
Wahabzada wants to change this ominous outlook not only by raising awareness, but also by raising funds to help the children in this film. “Our goal is to enhance the lives of these children and empower them as individuals,” he said. The film was screened at RiverRun International Film Festival, and Wahabzada hopes it will travel throughout the US.
If you would like to make a donation or sponsor one of the children in this film, please visit www.mypartfoundation.com.
For information on screenings of Children of Kabul, visit the film’s website
April 2, 2012 | Len Morris
I’m honored to accept this award and would like to share it with all of the people who have helped over the years with the films, our Kenya Schoolhouse program and Media Voices for Children.
Thank you for this encouragement.
I got here by accident from another career.
It took seven years in seven countries to make this documentary on the worst forms of child labor. Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film’s been shown all over the world.
And it changed every aspect of my personal and professional life.
Child labor became an all-consuming subject in our household. My wife would write and revise our scripts, my son traveled to Kenya and Texas to record sound, my daughter is the voice of a young girl in the gravel quarries in Stolen Childhoods. I think you get the idea.
During those shoots, Robin Romano and I would often head into the streets at night to film the parallel universe of street children. Four years later, a second feature documentary, Rescuing Emmanuel, was released. The story of a 13-year-old street boy provides a window into the lives of 100 million street children.
Two films – ten years of production – eight countries – nearly a thousand hours of footage. We take every opportunity to use this footage at conferences, on campuses and before government – to put the children in the room, to remind us all that they are kids now. Their lives can’t wait.
In 2009 we created Media Voices for Children, an online community for children’s rights. I serve as the Editorial Director and I write frequently for the site. Every day I am immersed in a new world of activism that Iqbal’s short life embodied.
Over 100 organizations, filmmakers, photographers and activists share their viewpoints, research and media at the site.
Naturally child labor is at the top of the list of subjects we cover.
You’ll always find MVC original productions and interviews with world leaders in the fight to end child labor: Kailash Satyarthi, Desmond Tutu and the late Wangari Maathai.
This fall we’ll release the final film in our own trilogy on children’s rights, The Same Heart.
It’s an essay about the state of children and the successes and failures of development aid…a dialogue between a father of eight living on a dollar a day, community organizers, AIDS orphans, Nobel Laureates, economists and philanthropists.
It poses one question:
How can we create a more equitable world for children with less hunger, abuse, disease, and child labor?
Besides creating noise about children’s issues, Media Voices for Children also sponsors a hands-on scholarship program, Kenyan Schoolhouse – now in its tenth year.
These pictures were taken on a coffee plantation in Kenya in 2002. At that time, easily half of the workforce picking coffee were young children.
These children worked hungry, the majority of them young girls.
Their skin was covered in white powder, pesticides that made them sick.
Many had cuts and infections from climbing into the sharp plants.
We did some quick math. And every crew member coughed up enough to enroll 34 kids in primary school, then another 30 or so a few weeks later.
Awash in warm feelings of triumph I returned home and then realized what we’d done.
The kids wouldn’t need the fees for just one year…and most of them stayed in school and excelled!
I turned to our local community to help us raise money for them and that support has continued for the past ten years.
Now fast forward with me to last September. The NGO that has run the program for us, ANPPCAN (African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect), plans a surprise on our first day in Kenya.
As we approach the campus of Kenyatta University we are met by these four young men.
What they all share in common is that our Kenyan Schoolhouse program helped them get through primary and secondary school. They won scholarships to university!
And they’ll be graduating in architecture, engineering, chemistry and business.
One told me, “You don’t remember me, but I remember the first day you came to the plantation. I was picking coffee. I was ten years old.”
Hopefully our next university portrait will include four young women.
But these young students are tangible examples of why we started Media Voices for Children.
They remind us that…
Poverty needn’t be a final destination for any child.
A child isn’t stupid because she’s born poor.
Education is the most effective way to end child labor.
We’re always looking for funds for the coffee kids of Kenya and we invite your community to join ours in this work.
One final idea.
700 kids try to learn there every day, hungry…and ashamed.
Some children put stones in their lunch-pails to avoid being discovered as too poor to bring food from home.
For 30 cents a day per child, we could change that with a school lunch program…and guarantee attendance!
It’ll bring kids out of hard labor, cut hunger and give girls a chance to go to school – that’s three Millennium Goals covered by one lunch program.
Our new film, The Same Heart, proposes a way to pay for this kind of investment.
I can think of no better way to honor Iqbal’s memory.
| Julia Perez
In 2008, I started my personal journey to change the child labor law exemptions in agriculture. I still don’t understand politics, but as an engineer I do recognize trends. The opposition’s mode is not to rally, march, and protest. The people and organizations who want to keep the status quo in agriculture, including keeping someone else’s kids working, fight quietly behind the scenes. They use lawyers, keep the message simple, and they use the political system effectively. They are united; they have funds and political power. Do our kids have a chance for equal representation against those seeking to keep them in the bonds of poverty?
Recall that in 2009 the Department of Labor (DOL) overturned the Bush-Chao legislation signed before leaving office which allowed farmers to pay less than minimum wage to H2-A guest workers brought over to harvest. The North Carolina Growers Association and American Farm Bureau Federation then sued the Department of Labor. My first thought was, they have money for lawyers, but not to pay properly?
In September 2011, the DOL proposed some Hazardous Orders to protect hired youth on farms. I naively wrote to Hilda Solis asking her to tackle more. Meanwhile, the Farm Bureau and others took to the media with a simple statement: the parental exemption didn’t recognize corporations as parents, and many family farms were limited liability corporations. Many submitted nostalgic comments to the DOL about working for their parents, and the importance of the 4-H programs for caring for animals. I wonder if they offer any training on how to treat workers, because we are treated like animals, maybe worse. The box-like living conditions are fit for animals, but some animals receive medical care, unlike the hired help.
Before the year’s end a multitude of both Congressmen and Senators wrote to the DOL stating essentially that corporations are parents and the orders were unnecessary. The DOL compromised by offering another opportunity for comments on the parental exemption. This wasn’t sufficient. In March 2012 a bill was introduced with a heartrending name, Preserving America’s Family Farms Act [S. 2221 and H.R. 4157]. The two page bill defends the importance of children helping on family farms but doesn’t address the injuries, fatalities and the fact that hired help are treated differently than relatives. In a brief final sentence the bill seeks to block the DOL – period. This bill prevents the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, from pulling a Bush-Chao when she leaves office.
“The Secretary of Labor shall not finalize or enforce the proposed rule entitled “Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation; Child Labor Violations-..”
The bill was introduced in both the House and Senate. I feel confident this bill will leave committee. Why? Because the sub-committee on Workforce Protections is now chaired by Tim Walberg of Michigan. On his website he states the following:
Ensure Steady Labor Supply
We also need to retain a steady labor supply for our farms, and I am working to ensure there is adequate farm labor to pick American crops. As Chairman of the Workforce Protections subcommittee, I called a hearing in September 2011 to address workforce challenges facing the agricultural industry.
Prevent Undue Regulations
-Working to prevent the implementation of a Department of Labor (DOL) rule that would prohibit youths from working on farms by sending a December 2011 letter to DOL Secretary Solis expressing my dismay at attempts to hinder family farms.
If one reads between the lines, one could infer they are counting on a new president. Why wouldn’t President Obama support his appointed Secretary of Labor? Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney misleadingly said that the Obama administration is telling farmers what they can and can’t do with their kids on a family farm. Is it safe to assume Romney would sign the bill?
After four years, I recognize the trends but still don’t know how to play the game of politics. My recent request to discuss laboring children with my state senator, John McCain, was politely declined. I later learned Senator McCain has signed on as a co-sponsor of S.2221. I’d like to tackle this issue in court but my attempts to find legal representation have failed.
Despite these trends, I’m less frustrated, because I understand that the power of one isn’t enough – it does take a village. Working on The Harvest documentary with director and human rights advocate U. Roberto Romano gave me a sense of contribution and community. We, the community who seek to protect children, can use our voices collectively. We won’t be swayed with spoon-fed one-liners and we don’t have to take to the streets. Let the DOL know we support the proposed rules. Sign a petition:
Let’s write to the Senators and Congressmen who co-sponsored the Preserving America’s Family Farm bill and let them know we, the hired help, vote and deserve equal protection for our children.
The full list for the Senate and House is available at:
Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and writer. She is currently writing Among the Forgotten, which describes the behind-the-scenes challenges of filming The Harvest/La Cosecha.