Preventing Child Trafficking: How it is Both the Sum Total and Minimum of What We Do
From the field
We have a student who became pregnant as an early teen. She lost her childhood, her innocence, her scholarship, and for a while she lost her way. What she didn’t lose was SOLD. Though she no longer holds a scholarship, she knows she’s still part of the family. We get so invested in these kids it’s hard not to feel in situations like this that we have somehow failed. But it’s not a failure yet. It’s a setback for sure. Her life has always had challenges and a child will most certainly add to that, but it does not mean that she will end up a victim of trafficking. There’s still a chance for her to turn things around, and we will help as much as we can.
We set out to prevent child trafficking. That’s our baseline, our mission, and in that sense she is still safe. We can’t prevent all teen pregnancies, and despite best efforts, we didn’t prevent hers, but we can try to make it so that selling herself—or her child—is not her only, or best, option. We can take solace in the fact that, for now at least, she has not been trafficked. But protecting children from slavery is only the tip of the iceberg of what we do and to succeed, it can’t be all we do.
Last weekend, we sat in small groups and listened to the children talk about their daily life experiences, their dreams, and their biggest fears. In hearing them tell their stories, it’s clear that our role, that what really works about SOLD, is that we help open up opportunities wherever barriers exist. For example, one teenage girl talked about her life before SOLD and how she had no idea what she could do with her life, but when she got the scholarship, she knew immediately what she wanted: she changed her career path to college track, knowing that she could now afford it, and feeling for the first time that she deserved it. She had earned the opportunity to try. Another example was a transgender student who wants to be an airline hostess, but fears discrimination. She found acceptance at SOLD, and through that, the confidence to continue pursuing her dream. And you’ve likely heard about our student who had been one of the millions of stateless people (by stateless we mean they have no citizenship at all, and thus no access to any government sanctioned rights or services), and whom we helped to get citizenship so he could practice law.
A few years ago, I asked the students these same questions and got only shy, staid responses. This past weekend, they were talkative, opinionated, bold, expressive, and indomitable. I get emotional hearing the difference now from just a few years ago, hearing the hope, the determination, and the eloquence of their dreams. What they don’t all realize is that their stories are all tales of individual warriors, the vanguard of change, and that together they add up to a counter cultural movement towards freedom: freedom from poverty, from low expectations, from racial/class/gender bias & discrimination and from fear. To prevent sexual slavery we have to fight oppression wherever it exists, and whether they see it or not, these students are placing themselves to lead the way. Leadership can be a lonely place, but we won’t let them walk that road alone.
We set out to prevent child trafficking. But to make that dream possible, we must do more than just not let it happen. We don’t just prevent, we provide. We provide sponsorship, mentorship, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to guide them when needed. But we just get them started. The students are really paving their own paths, in a million beautiful directions. It is our hope that one day they’ll be the ones leading us.
I think that day may not be so very far off.
– Dr. Jade Keller
Education Program Manager