Children are a precious gift from God. As adults, we have the privilege and responsibility to care for them and help them live the full and abundant life God desires for them. Sadly, love and security are not the reality for hundreds of millions of children who suffer from sexual exploitation, labor in hazardous conditions, or struggle to survive on the streets.
In some places, warfare can separate children from their families, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Children are also forced to join armed rebel groups to serve as soldiers, porters, sex slaves, and more. Extreme drought and hunger force families to make desperate choices about putting children to work or girls into child marriage.
Despite being outlawed in many countries, girls are still undergoing female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), and some girls aren’t born at all because of prenatal sex selection. In other places, children are trafficked for sex, sent to work in dangerous factories, or locked into domestic servitude. And in some countries — the U.S. included — gang violence tears families apart and creates a culture of violence that draws youth into harmful activities.
Abuse, neglect, exploitation, child labor, bodily harm and female genital mutilation, child marriage, and other forms of harm against children — even murder and child sacrifice — are among the greatest evils in the world.
I was in prison and you came to visit me.—Matthew 25:36 (NIV)
One warm Wednesday in June 2010, 15-year-old Savoeun Chea went to work in Leuk Daek in southeastern Cambodia. Her hands clutched a small bag containing items she had been instructed to bring: her clothes and her older sister’s birth certificate.
At the factory that morning, Savoeun’s sister, Simean, was the first to notice. “I did not see her working,” says Simean, 21. “I asked where she was. People told me that she’d gone to work in Malaysia. I called my family.”
In making that call, Simean set in motion a Cambodian-style Amber Alert. Savoeun’s family, friends, local officials, coworkers, the police, community members, and the children of two villages joined in a singular task: bringing Savoeun home — alive.
Another girl had been taken before in Leuk Daek. “This case happened before [I started,]” says Louy Samnang, who joined Leuk Daek’s police force in 1999. The girl was raped and killed. Community members admit no action was taken because back then, no one knew what to do.
But this time, when Savoeun disappeared, the community sprang into action because they knew how to respond. And this time, it worked. Mayor Chrin Voeurn provides one reason Savoeun survived: “Our commune has World Vision.”
Now safely back home in Leuk Daek, the community surrounded Savoeun. She was treated at the hospital for what appeared to be drug-induced memory loss. She spent many days in hiding, but eventually became well enough to work again.
Savoeun, now 17, is working as a waitress in a province in northeast Cambodia. She is concerned for her younger sister, Srey Keo, who is 11. “I tell her to study hard. I tell her not to travel to a faraway place or she could be trafficked.
“I will protect my younger sister,” she says. And the people of Leuk Daek are standing by to help.
Join us in prayer for an end to all harm against children, for the children who remain trapped in this nightmare, and for World Vision’s work to protect children.
Pray for supernatural protection for children.
The criminals who exploit children roam the world like the predators they truly are, looking to prey upon the vulnerable. They use lies, threats, coercion, and violence to force children into sexual and other kinds of exploitation. This is an evil business of supply and demand. Ask God to eliminate the demand and blind their eyes from seeing potential “supply” in their paths.
Dear Lord, Your Word is filled with accounts of miraculous protection. We claim that power for vulnerable children. Make Your little ones invisible to people who seek to exploit them. Whisper in the ears of the children to run and hide until the danger passes.
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” —Psalm 82:3-4 (NIV)
Pray for the safety of children working in hazardous conditions.
Worldwide, 151 million children are involved in child labor. Of these, 72.5 million are involved in the worst forms of child labor, including mining, construction, scavenging, domestic and factory work, and agriculture. Hazardous conditions endanger children’s health, safety, and moral development. Ask God to keep children from harm as they struggle under heavy loads and work with unsafe tools and harsh chemicals.
Lord, we know You love Your children, and we pray that when they must work, that You would protect their growing bodies. Please keep them safe and free of injuries and toxins. Deliver them from oppressive bosses and hazardous conditions. Make it possible from children at risk to stay in school.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” —Psalm 46:1 (NIV)
Pray to eradicate the root causes of child exploitation.
Child exploitation means using a child for profit, labor, sexual gratification, or for some other personal or financial advantage. At the heart of child exploitation are complex issues, including extreme poverty that can lead parents to sell their children. Sometimes moms and dads are tricked into believing that their children will work in a wealthy person’s home and will be treated fairly. But many are held as virtual slaves. Throughout the world, sin leads people to put their evil desires above all else, ignoring how they destroy the lives of innocent children. Ask God to do what only He can — soften people’s hearts and heal their minds.
Dear Lord, Your Word calls us to hunger and thirst for righteousness — a righteousness that leads to compassion for the poor and a renewing of minds. Lead us to this kind of faith that works to make a better world for all Your children.
“You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted … so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.” —Psalm 10:17-18 (NIV)
Pray for an end to child labor.
Child labor can be fought at many levels — governments can enact or strengthen laws around human trafficking and labor; corporations can ensure that children are not exploited along their supply chains; communities can take greater responsibility for collectively protecting children; families can value their children’s well-being above economics. Pray for the power of God’s love to counter greed and desperation to change the hearts of people who can create better circumstances for children.
Lord, You are our provider, and we know all good things come from Your hand. Help families to find reliable incomes so children don’t have to work. Let laws and cultural practices protect children from a childhood of abuse and suffering.
“‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the LORD. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’” —Psalm 12:5 (NIV)
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Nearly 25 million people worldwide are being trafficked for the sex trade, forced labor, and other illegal purposes. And evidence from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime suggests that more than 20 percent of all people trafficked are children. Many are sold into prostitution to pay off family debts or abducted from the streets and forced to work in brothels. Children who escape or are rescued face a difficult physical and emotional recovery process.
Dear God, there are times when it is right — and righteous — to be angry. It is right to be angry about people who exploit children. Let that righteous anger fuel action, Lord. Don’t let it fade into complacency.
“Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.” —Psalm 10:12 (NIV)
Pray for an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) and cutting.
Female genital mutilation, also known as cutting or female circumcision, is the removal of part or all the female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. This traditional rite of passage initiates girls into adulthood and, ultimately, readies her for child marriage — despite FGM and cutting being outlawed in many countries worldwide.
Done with a razor blade or knife — often with no anesthesia and no disinfectant — FGM and cutting can cause severe pain, bleeding, and swelling that may prevent passing urine or feces. Though the scars may heal, the horror of the event — including being physically restrained — can affect a young girl for years. And FGM can also cause chronic pain and infections for the rest of her life.
World Vision and other organizations are educating and empowering girls and their communities to end FGM, often substituting positive rites of passage for teen girls and boys.
Lord God, help families that practice FGM see its damaging effects on girls and young women. Motivate these families to turn away from inhumane practices, and protect their female children from all forms of harm, including FGM. Lay a hand of protection over girls at risk of FGM and cutting.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made …” —Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
Pray for an end to child marriage.
In developing countries, one-third of girls are forced to marry before their 18th birthday. Fear of premarital pregnancy, rape, hunger, homelessness, and harmful traditional practices are all drivers of child marriage. Girls will also marry because of threats and coercion. Of the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage, the majority are affected by conflict, fragility, or natural disasters.
Girls trapped in child marriage tend to be poor, under-educated, and live in rural areas where birth and death rates are high and conflict is common. They are more likely to experience domestic violence, forced sexual relations, and poor reproductive health.
World Vision helps organize local leaders, parents, educators, law enforcement, and social services to support girls in pursuing education and avoiding child marriage. And World Vision children’s clubs empower girls with information, particularly on child rights and healthy physical development.
Lord, we echo the psalmist’s confidence that You will deliver those who cry out to You for help. See to the needs of precious girls and boys vulnerable to child marriage or already trapped in its grasp. Hear and answer their cries for help. May cultures where child marriage is accepted and encouraged learn of the harm it causes to children and change these societies.
“For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.” —Psalm 72:12 (NIV)
Pray for an end to child sacrifice.
Child sacrifice is an abomination. In certain districts of Uganda, witchdoctors convince people desperate for money, to bear children, or to rid their bodies of disease that only a child’s body part, such as the head, the fingers, or the private parts — mixed with traditional medicine — will cure the problem. Ritual demands that the parts be removed while the child is still alive and conscious. World Vision’s Amber Alert-style program is taking on child sacrifice in Uganda.
Father, protect Your children from abductors who prey on the most vulnerable. Bless the radical partnership between leaders of all faiths, law enforcement, traditional healers, and communities to stop child sacrifice once and for all. Comfort grieving parents in their time of unimaginable loss.
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” —Proverbs 24:11 (NIV)
Pray for an end to gang violence.
Drug trafficking, gang activity, easy access to guns, and ineffective justice systems have contributed to high levels of crime and violence in Central America and urban areas worldwide. Even people living in small towns fear being robbed, threatened, extorted, or kidnapped. Of the top 50 most violent cities in the world, 42 are in the Latin America/Caribbean region. Pray for World Vision’s work, which helps young people find their identity in Christ — not gangs — and teaches them vocational skills so they can better resist the temptation of easy money from criminal activities.
Lord, chaos and fear cripple communities overrun by gang violence. Thank You so much for the gift of Your Son. Through Him, we truly become a new creation. We claim Jesus’ blessing for peacemakers in Matthew 5:9. Help young people see themselves the way You see them, so they can help bring peace and hope to other people’s lives.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” —Matthew 5:9 (NIV)
Pray for all eyes to be opened about child exploitation.
Child exploitation isn’t only a problem “somewhere else.” It’s an issue everywhere, including the most developed countries and all 50 states in the U.S. Anyone can be exploited or trafficked, regardless of race, class, education, gender, age, or citizenship. Ask God to open the hearts and minds of people everywhere to recognize the signs of child exploitation and give them the courage to take a stand for protection.
Dear Lord, Your Word tells us that it is a sin to do nothing when it’s in our power to help someone in need. Help us to speak out against crimes against children. Prod us to act whenever we suspect that a child is in danger. Don’t stop prompting us until we do the right thing.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed …” —Isaiah 1:17 (NIV)
Pray for World Vision’s work to protect children.
Inspired by World Vision founder Bob Pierce’s prayer, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God,” World Vision works to protect children from all forms of harm. This includes preventing children from being trapped in abusive circumstances; protecting children with shelter and healthcare; and restoring children through life-skills training, education, and reintegration with families. Pray for strength and courage for staff at the forefront of this work and for World Vision’s fundraising efforts to help even more children.
Prince of Peace, You know the challenges our brothers and sisters face in helping people and working for peace. We ask that You give grace to World Vision’s staff to fulfill the responsibilities You’ve placed in their hands. Thank You for empowering them to be Your hands and feet.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” —Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
Kari Costanza, Chris Huber, Denise C. Koenig, and Kathryn Reid of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. contributed to this story.