This December 11 article on CNN, "The Women Who Sold Their Daughters into Sex Slavery," might have seemed odd to some of us who cannot imagine a parent knowingly selling their daughter's virginity and ultimately into sexual slavery.
Unfortunately, this practice is far more widespread than even this article concedes. Cambodia is only one place where this practice is frequent and culturally acceptable... but it is also a common practice in places like Haiti (where it is called restavec), in Nepal, India, parts of the Middle East and many other countries.
The underlying causes for this practice are usually grinding poverty and unscrupulous slave traders who are more often than not in league with the local law enforcement authorities, because this is a very lucrative trade and fills the coffers of all of those involved, while trading on the most vulnerable.
In this "industry" statistics are difficult to come by but suffice it to say that whether you believe the low estimate of some 3 million children or the high estimate of some 10 million children scarred by this inhumane trade, it is a plague that needs to be dealt with. Right now there are many independent groups working to rescue children from this horrible life and many of them are quite successful in rehabilitating the children so they can lead somewhat productive lives. But, taken as a whole, they are unable to match the power and pervasiveness of the slave traders.
What is needed is a new approach, one that does not just deal with rescue and rehabilitation (as important as this is) but that deals with root causes and the cultural/legal acceptance of the practice -- because once the children are in, they are scarred for life and many die a horrible death as a result.
When HIV/AIDS began to be recognized as an epidemic the world came together and created the annual HIV/AIDS conference which has been remarkably successful in dealing with the crisis, focusing attention on the keys to prevention and treatment and being a clearing house for dissemination of educational and medical information that has changed the trajectory of the disease. The 2014 conference is in Australia this July.
We need to take a page from this book and begin an annual global conference on child sexual exploitation and trafficking which can focus attention on this plague, become a clearing house for study and dissemination of programs to mitigate the underlying causes and to create platforms for discussion of the legal and cultural factors which promote and support this heinous practice. Such a conference would focus world attention on this dark side of society with the hope that once light enters these dark rooms, the world will be able to recognize its horror and take action, just as it did on HIV/AIDS.
We stand ready to participate in, help to develop and organize such a conference, but it will take much more than we can bring to the table...it will take the great leaders of the world to step forward and join us in this endeavor. How much longer should we wait and how many more lives need to be lost before we act? From the old Peter Paul and Mary song, "how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?
This holiday season, World of Children Award is raising funds to combat issues like sex trafficking. Lend your support at worldofchildren.org/holiday.