Exploited Children

When Nicholas Kristof wrote of his experience with a young woman sold into prostitution in Phnom Penh he reminded me how little distance we’ve covered the past three decades in protecting children from exploitation.

Years ago I was sitting in a Land Cruiser waiting for a ferry in Cambodia when I saw the barrel of a missile launcher bob past the back window. As the weapon carrier came alongside me I saw a boy no more than eleven or twelve, considerably shorter than the missile strapped to his back. This was my first observation of child soldiers. But not the last.

Some years later I was in Mozambique where children were forcibly conscripted into an armed rebel movement known as Renamo. I visited a place where many of these children were being given safe haven because they were unable to return to their families. The families and their home villages were afraid of them. They had been trained to wreak terror, and they succeeded. Now, at the end of the fighting, they were unacceptable and unwanted.

Those who cared for them called them “traumatized children.” And that they were. Some were obviously depressed and withdrawn. Others would fight at the drop of a hat. Still others were so manic they could not sit in a classroom and learn.

Kristof’s story is about trafficking children for sex slavery. Unfortunately, horrific as this is, it’s but one of the ways children are exploited. Forced labor, conscription into militias, fake adoptions into indebted servitude, and children abandoned to exist on the streets are all among the list of horrors to which children around the world are subjected.

My friend Linda Robbins wrote in her Christmas letter, ” I am also persuaded that a pack of Montana wolves is more committed to rearing, training, and protecting their young than most human communities.

It may have ‘taken a village’ in the not so distant past, but today that euphemism is falling short all over the world.  Last weekend, a 24-year-old mother in my neighborhood felt inspired to trek down the street despite a sub-zero blizzard to get cigarettes.  She left her year-old toddler at home alone, to wander out an unlatched door into the alley in the snow, clad only in his diaper.  Wolves would not do this.

CNN today had yet another story of a prominent public figure accused of utilizing the internet to stalk children.  The international traffic in children for their bodies—or parts thereof—is a horror only humans could conceive.  A herd of elephants will quickly form a circle of protection around their young at the sound of an approaching Land Cruiser.  I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, and can’t help wondering:  where is the circle of safety for children today?”

Where, indeed? Here are a few places.

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

General Board of Church and Society

Children’s Defense Fund

Nothing But Nets

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