Tag Archives: let’s get intersectional

1500 Trees: The Importance of Sustainable Development to Trafficking Prevention

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Fifteen hundred trees. It’s a massive undertaking, but over 60 volunteers—students and local community members—showed up to join in the effort to reforest the area. The trees had been donated by the Department of Forestry to plant on organic farmland that a local Thai celebrity gave permission for us to use. Everyone young and old traversed the land to get their hands dirty and fill the holes with young saplings, stopping only when afternoon storms threatened and all ran for cover and a hot lunch under the canopies.

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This tree planting event is just one of the many ways our Sustainability Project, headed by Worn Donchai, seeks to improve the environment of the local region, and by extension, the lives of the people the land supports. The Sustainability Project has three main programs: 1) an organic garden where families learn about the sustainable cultivation of indigenous and healthy vegetables on their own land, 2) a silk worm project where silk worms are bred and raised, and their silk and all its natural properties are cultivated for textile and beauty products, and 3) a local textile center which manages the design and pre-production of ecologically sustainable handbags and backpacks. These programs all include workshops to teach families about sustainable practices and entrepreneurial opportunities, on all aspects from farm to market.

The Sustainability Project started in 2013 and since then has expanded to reach hundreds of villagers and their families from all over the region. We have 14 silkworm farms up and running, with scores of people trained in things like cultivating silk, shampoo and soap production, and spinning and dyeing yarn with all-natural indigo dyes.

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 1.26.11 PMWe aim to launch an Eco-Agricultural Learning Center late this year, which will expand all activities even further so that hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the local communities can attain access to training on agricultural practices like organic rice farming and mushroom cultivation, management and development activities like identifying local leaders and creating networks of shared support, and marketing activities to sell products created at the Learning Center.

The effects are profound. In an area where poor farmers are subject to the exploitation of large agri-businesses, unsafe working conditions, and wildly fluctuating, seasonal access to jobs and income, this kind of project disrupts the power structures. By working the land without the use of harmful chemicals, farmers break their dependence on chemicals and the companies that make them while using natural resources that ensure the land itself continues to prosper. Families are empowered to take control over their access to multiple sources of income, working collectively from seed to store. They even learn about low cost indigenous plants they can grow and cook to supplement their diets.Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 1.26.41 PM

The families who participate in these projects are often the very ones whose children are most at-risk of being trafficked into sexual exploitation. For families lacking education, or sometimes even documentation, the sex industry used to be one of the only employment that could support their needs. Children would enter the sex trade to bring money home for their families. While our scholarships help reverse this trend by enabling vulnerable children to remain in school, our sustainability programs help ensure the entire family has a future. When families are stressed, it’s the children who fall through the cracks. When families and communities are healthy and whole, they are more resilient to adversity and there is a stronger foundation on which to build. Everyone thrives.

Fifteen hundred trees. It’s more than a forest. It’s a declaration of purpose.

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

If You Care About LGBTQ Rights, You Should Care About Human Trafficking Too

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Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others.

 

Min is vivacious, talkative and gregarious. She’s the live wire spark at any social gathering. Whether dressed in the slacks and pressed shirt of the boys’ school uniform, or, as she prefers, in bright silk dresses adorned with flowers, lacy scarves and a sassy wig, Min is unafraid to display her full smile and quick wit. One wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Min* is a child at-risk because she identifies as transgender, and despite Thailand’s outward acceptance towards LGBTQ tourists, the reality for LGBTQ Thais remains fraught with challenge: alienation, ridicule, and sometimes abuse.

Although Thailand markets itself as a “pink” tourist destination that embraces everyone, there is still widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people. Jobs are only available in sectors like waitressing, beauty parlors, the sex industry, and entertainment–where they are often the subject of comic relief and demeaning humor. More “serious” industries like banking, the medical profession, and law are usually off-limits. Families with LGBTQ teens might send them for psychiatric treatment, kick them out of the home, or even send them to serve as monks at Buddhist temples to “be cured.” In 2002 the Thai Ministry of Health finally declared that homosexuality should not be considered a mental illness—but it’s taking society a bit longer to catch up. Violence against LGBTQ people includes rape and murder that often goes unmarked because Thai law does not have a special classification for hate crimes. In a recent survey of 2,000 LGBT students, a third reported being physically harassed, and a quarter reported sexual abuse. Kids who are isolated from support structures, whether kicked out of their home or forced on their own and cannot get jobs, are precisely those most vulnerable to trafficking—the most susceptible to the demand for children to exploit. We hear most about the young girls, but young boys are in demand too.

Thailand isn’t the only place where LGBTQ children are at-risk. In the U.S., for example, LGBTQ individuals make up 40% of the runaway and homeless youth population, and it is estimated that over a quarter of LGBTQ youths are forced out of homes by families who do not accept them. And LGBTQ homeless youths experience an average of over 7 more acts of sexual violence towards them than their heterosexual and cisgendered peers.

The stigma against homosexuality invites other kinds of trauma as well. Boys who have been abused stay silent for fear of what it means for their sexual identity, and LGBTQ teens are dehumanized to the extent that predators target them for abuse because they “want” it or “deserve” it. Gender norms also tend to perpetuate the myth that “real men cannot be abused.” As such, the psychological effects of abuse often prevent kids from getting the help they need for fear of further violence—or because they don’t even understand that they have been abused.

I feel lucky because I have some natural ability to feel confident and I’m extroverted. This makes things so much easier for me, and for people to accept me. I think people who are more introverted have it much harder. They have to be strong to survive. – Min, age 15

It is our experience that poverty, social alienation, isolation, and exclusion from job opportunities are all key ingredients in the recipe for trafficking. However, acceptance, support, and encouragement can be life changing for vulnerable youths. Those committed to the fight against child trafficking must also be concerned with the struggle to uphold LGBTQ rights because violations against the latter so often put people at risk of trafficking. Likewise, if you’re concerned about the rights and welfare of LGBTQ youths, the problem of child trafficking should also be on your radar, because as long as both the discrimination against and the demand for children’s bodies exists, more vulnerable LGBTQ youths will always be at-risk of exploitation.

Min once shared her fear that she would not be able to pursue her dream job of becoming a flight attendant due to discrimination. Her mother once was depressed about who her son was. But now, Min has the support of the entire SOLD community. She shows up at all our events, dressing and behaving exactly as she wants to be seen, and her family feels encouraged to love her, just as she is. She is very aware of the value of this support as well—she knows how hard it has been for friends who face similar circumstances but who do not have that support. She feels lucky to have the encouragement to be herself, and she feels grateful for the chance to have a place in society, to go out and experience life fully. The challenges she still faces are real, but she knows she is not alone—and that has made all the difference.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

portraitforprofilesDr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Why We Need to Involve Other Industries as Allies

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Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others. In this article, we want to begin with reframing it not just as an issue of morality, but one also of public health.

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Photo credit: 1000Words_edonly/Shutterstock

We’ve all seen the numbers: an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, according to the International Labor Organization. Yet, despite the size of the phenomenon and increasing government attention to the problem, conviction rates of traffickers remain abysmally low, with only 4 in 10 countries reporting more than 10 convictions per year, and nearly 15% having no convictions at all. Clearly, law enforcement is an essential element to eradicating trafficking, but it is also not nearly sufficient. As was well stated in an article by Jonathan Todres, the low conviction rate is not so much an indictment of law enforcement efforts, as it is evidence that a “law-enforcement-centered approach alone will not eliminate, or even significantly reduce, the incidence of human trafficking.”

It’s long past time we begin think about trafficking as more than just a crime. Todres’ article lays out several reasons we should adopt models and methods from public health campaigns to broaden our efforts to eliminate trafficking by changing the views and behaviors that facilitate exploitation. Much like a vaccine prevents the spread of infection both on the individual and on the societal levels, so too should anti-trafficking efforts aim to prevent the spread of exploitation before it happens.

One reason we should be concerned about trafficking from a public health perspective is the negative health repercussions. I probably don’t need to tell you about the physical and psychological impact exploitation, sexual slavery, and abuse has on its victims. I’m sure you can well imagine it, and it is well documented. However, because trafficking is a phenomenon that happens out of sight and across borders, it facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS, and various other STDs and STIs (like hepatitis B) that come from unsafe sex. The squalid conditions, lack of nutrition, and lack of adequate rest that victims suffer from also create environments that facilitate the spread of diseases like tuberculosis in the communities in which victims live and work.

Public health professionals come from a perspective of prevention and their insistence on scientific, evidence-based methods can be another benefit to anti-trafficking efforts. For example, public health surveillance programs that track instances of infection can help identify areas of high rates so that law enforcement officials can target their resources in those areas.

The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a 4-level model for prevention: individual, relationship, community, and society. Todres suggests the individual level approach could focus on educating children on how to identify risky situations and how to avoid them. The relationship level would focus on mentoring kids to keep them in school. The community level should involve efforts to raise awareness about trafficking, and to counter views, behaviors, and practices that promote trafficking. Finally, the society level should address root systemic causes like poverty, the lack of rights, discrimination, and lack of documentation. Is this model sounding familiar?

This approach also advocates reaching out to other sectors of society, turning industries that typically facilitate trafficking and exploitation into allies and advocates of its prevention. For example, truckers driving along major trucking routes may sometimes be involved in trafficking, or they may witness trafficking as it happens. Those educated in identifying potential trafficking situations may be well placed to help. In the U.S., there is an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking that aims to educate truckers about these situations, and recently a trucker saved a young girl from the sex trade and torture in just this way.

Public health campaigns to raise awareness can be effective in creating changes in behavior and encouraging more thoughtful choices, as in warning labels on cigarettes or nutrition labels on our food. What could the effect be if we had labels on brothels that said, “Warning: may contribute to the exploitation of children” or “Warning: this establishment is a known contributor to the abuse of children” on hotels that have been identified as safe harbors for traffickers? Or a “Certified Slave Free” label on establishments that demonstrate a commitment to ending servitude and disallowing abuse. There are thorny legal issues that would make something like this a bit problematic to legislate carefully and well…but it’s an interesting thought that could help broaden our perspective of what’s possible.

Finally, health care professionals themselves are very well-placed to help identify victims in ways that other outsiders may not be able to. Estimates range from about a quarter to half of trafficking victims in the U.S. and abroad encounter a doctor or a nurse at some point during their captivity. Doctors and nurses who are trained to identify potential abuse situations may be the only person a victim sees outside their captivity, and doctors can insist on privacy in the examination room where they can ask questions about the victim’s situation and then alert authorities. The Medical College in Wisconsin is starting a project to help educate health care professionals on signs to watch for and how to proceed in those circumstances. They can be key allies in helping rescue a victim, and getting them out of the situation sooner.

Trafficking and exploitation pervades society. It touches more lives than we realize. It’s time we call out to people who may be affected and reach out to advocates and allies who might never have known before that they can help. It’s time we tap into their potential.