World Vision-supported conference provides venue for youth to press government authorities to do more to fight the Mekong region's trafficking scourge.
Bo Bo, 18 (left), a Myanmar delegate and an orphan, spoke at the Mekong Youth Forum. "I feel happy because those other children had a lot of other difficulties, too," he said. "I will share what I have learned; my friends told me before I left that I would have to tell them what I did." The teenager has lived on the street for much of his life, but now lives in a World Vision-supported home for at-risk youth. © 2007 James East/World Vision
Southeast Asia's Mekong region has become a reputed hotspot for the trafficking of persons
— particularly the trafficking of underage youth into the commercial sex trade
Children in the region are now fighting back.
Mekong Youth Forum
A gathering of 30 young people — some formerly trafficked, others from communities vulnerable to trafficking — met Sept. 2-9 at the Mekong Youth Forum
in Bangkok, Thailand, to advise regional government officials on how to better combat the crisis.
This year's Bangkok-based forum (first held in 2004) results from a unique, collaborative partnership between World Vision, Save the Children, and two United Nations agencies: the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in The Greater Mekong Sub-Region. Mekong regional governments also participated.
'Tricked, Deceived, and Lied To'
Even before the conference, children in their respective countries — Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China — shared their horrific, emotional trafficking experiences. Many said they were beaten, whipped, forced to work long hours, and robbed of money and food. Others tearfully explained how they were tricked and lied to by trusted relatives who sold them to trafficking brokers.
"I would go begging for one month at a time, and then I would be allowed to go home again for a few days before my aunty would rent me out … again," one young girl told other youngsters at a pre-forum gathering. "She beat me if I refused [to go] … before I ran away."
Cambodia: A Poster Child for Modern-Day Slavery
Sold by her aunt and brutally raped by a sex predator, the experience of Lan (not her real name) parallels that of about 2 million children in the world today enslaved in the global sex trade. Read more ...
'We Must Deliver'
The youth described critical steps needed to stop trafficking, including:
- Protection for migrant children;
- Improved access to education as an alternative to child labor;
- Education in schools about the risks of trafficking; and
- Parenting classes to help prevent adults from endangering their children.
Officials who sat opposite the young people said they were listening and would share the recommendations at a meeting of Mekong-region countries gathering in Beijing, China, in December.
At the end of the children's session, Dr. Susu Thatun, senior policy advisor of child protection and trafficking in the region, offered some thought-provoking remarks: "Look at the absolute trust children have in the adults and in their governments. We need to earn that trust, and we must deliver on that trust. I question myself: 'Do we deserve that trust?'
World Vision's Work to Protect Children
World Vision's Asia-Pacific advocacy team is helping coordinate anti-trafficking efforts in the region, including the recent Mekong Youth Forum. Youth participants at the forum, as well as World Vision representatives, are part of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) process in which the region's countries are collaborating against the practice.
"Through our sponsorship programs, we can help improve livelihoods of parents and communities and reduce probability of children being exploited — but we can't just ignore the suffering of children outside of our programs who are vulnerable to exploitative practices such as trafficking," says Jennifer Bellamy, World Vision's child protection policy advisor in Washington, D.C. "As an international humanitarian organization operating in both source and destination countries, World Vision is uniquely positioned to address the injustice of human trafficking."
As a Christian organization, World Vision's emphasis on protecting children's God-given rights as human beings is the result of more than 50 years of work with children and families in need. In the United States, World Vision was instrumental in securing passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act
(.pdf file), which provides assistance to trafficking survivors and resources for U.S. law enforcement, as well as the Protect Act
, which criminalizes child sexual exploitation by U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
Now, young people are increasingly working together to combat the problem within the Mekong region. World Vision's Asia-Pacific regional advocacy director, Laurence Gray, couldn't be happier with the results: "The children are being treated as citizens, and the governments are accountable to them for what they are doing to tackle trafficking."
>> Read about
World Vision's Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project.
Three Ways You Can Help
>> Pray that World Vision, working in partnership with the United States and other governments and organizations, can help protect more children from trafficking.
>> Speak out. Ask Congress to increase resources to prosecute U.S. citizens who sexually exploit children overseas.
>> Become a Child Crisis Partner. For $20 a month, you can help one child after another escape a life of horror.