By Bonica Dave,
ChildFund International Grants Officer
I recently attended USAID’s anti-trafficking symposium that reflected on a decade of efforts by the U.S. government to address the complex issue of combating human trafficking in the 21st century.
The venue was the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., where in 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lucy Liu, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador delivered the keynote address. She has worked with UNICEF since 2005 to highlight some of the critical issues children and youth around the world face, particularly that of human trafficking.
Between July and October every year, nearly 100,000 children in India are trafficked across the border from Rajasthan to the neighboring state of Gujarat to work in cotton fields. There are known cases of widespread sexual exploitation of young girls working in the cotton fields, and according to some estimates, 5 percent of these girls end up working as commercial sex workers in Gujarat or other states. Some continue to be trafficked for the purpose of commercial sex work. Debt bondage is also a significant problem facing these children and their families. Some children are forced to continue working against their will until their families’ debts are fulfilled.
Some of the key factors that contribute to human trafficking within communities are high unemployment rates, poverty and other exacerbating circumstances that put children at risk, including child-headed households and children who live on the streets. ChildFund International is working to build the capacity of five local organizations in Rajasthan to protect children from trafficking. We strengthen local capacity by promoting a series of mentoring activities including training, coaching, internship and development manuals.
ChildFund International is committed to ending trafficking in children and youth through our ongoing development work supported by donors and sponsors whose support makes a difference in the lives of children everyday. Our programs facilitate access to quality education for children and aim to prevent school dropouts. In order to facilitate successful transitions to adult life, we emphasize youth livelihood and life skills’ training, which is designed to enable youth to link up with viable employment opportunities. Education plays a critical role in prevention – if young children stay in school, then it less likely that they will be lured by traffickers.
We work through community structures and leaders to create a network for change. We work with families and local organizations that are networked and empowered to promote the development and protection of children, including protection from trafficking. In the process, ChildFund also recognizes that engaging local officials, religious leaders and local community groups in raising awareness is critical.
At the end of the day, I reflected on the role organizations such as ChildFund play in raising awareness on the issues related to trafficking, whether in the U.S. or internationally, and on ways we can collectively work together with other agencies to ensure that human trafficking is ended, once and for all. Together we can all make a difference.