Brick kiln slavery continues
New Delhi, India
The first thing I noticed was that the children were barefoot. India is in a heatwave, and it was over 45C (113F) that morning; even wearing shoes, the ground was uncomfortable to walk on. My eyes filled with tears as I saw barefoot young boys loading bricks onto trucks, sharing one meagre water bottle between four.
I was visiting a brick kiln where Arise recently started a non-formal education programme. The kiln families are under generational debt bondage. Many owe thousands of pounds; but, for every two bricks that they mix, shape, mould and bake, they are only paid 1p. They will never repay their debt.
Each family lives in a single tiny room with no electricity. The children do not attend school, and rarely leave the kiln enclosure. As soon as they can walk, they help with small jobs; carrying water, cleaning or looking after younger children. By the time they are eight years old, the children are working every day.
Through careful negotiation, and helped by their already trusted position in society, Arise has managed to open informal schools in three brick kilns. These centres are the first step towards formal schooling for this often forgotten population.
But they are so much more than that. They are places where, for a for a couple of hours a day, the children get to actually be kids. Between their lessons they can play, they have access to colouring and toys - simple pleasures that none of them had even seen before.
We have only just started working in this community; but the children are bright and eager to learn. Some might even be able to attend school in the autumn, something their parents simply could not consider even six months ago.
It takes no time to feel the pain of others when you are faced with the realities of true human suffering. The plight of others, if we allow it to open our eyes, calls us into action. We cannot ignore these communities any more. Each of us must ask ourselves how we can work, in whatever way we can, to rid the world of this evil. Our common bond of humanity demands it. We will continue to strive so that every child we come across has a childhood.
Sr Arpan Carvalho
India Coordinator, Arise
The true cost of slavery: 70 men trafficked from one village
In a small village in lower Assam, we recently heard a heart breaking tale, but unfortunately one that is all too common.
Visiting tea garden workers, most who live on tea estates and make a meagre living picking the tea leaves that end up all over the world, one village told us of a single incident were 70 young men were trafficked in one go. Promised work in Kolkata, and trusting the recruiter at his word, they left their rural villages on the promise of employment that could sustain their families. They thought they would be trained to work in International call centres.
In reality they were forced to work 12 hour days packaging in a factory. None of them received a salary for their work. After two months some of them decided to leave the factory. However, with no money they found themselves homeless and unable to pay the Rs.600 (£5.50) to buy the train fare home.
Sleeping rough in the station, eventually a few of them were helped by the kindness of strangers to buy a fare. Once they returned to their villages, the community worked together to try and get the rest of the young men home.
This story is horrific, but all too common. Almost all rural villages across India have similar stories. Indeed many villages across the world have similar stories.
What is not common is that all of the men have returned home. This was only possible through a strong local civil society where members of the community coordinated the search, managing to make contact with those remaining in Kolkata.
Investing in this kind of civil society should be a no-brainer for the anti-slavery community. Yet too often we shy away from it, choosing instead to support more established organisations that can meet our audit trails. This is to the detriment of those we most desire to help. We need to do more.
The devastating reality of child sexual exploitation in the Philippines
The cots, tucked behind beds in the transitional shelter, grabbed my attention first. We were in a shelter that houses victims immediately after they have been rescued by the police and their NGO partners. Those overseeing the shelter confirmed what I feared: the cots were necessary as almost every raid produced a child too young to sleep alone in bed. Their youngest victim was only two years old.
These children are the victims of online sexual exploitation; the fastest growing, and hardest to combat, child trafficking crime in the Philippines. Estimates say that 10,000 new Filipino children suffer online sexual exploitation annually; of these, over 50% will be under the age of 13. The reality is we will never know how many children suffer. They come from the poorest, most desperate communities; often their own parents and relatives are the perpetrators. Money is paid through transfer services; the predators hide behind the dark web, with crimes committed across complex jurisdictions. Video-chat software and the growth of the dark web allow perpetrators to act with more impunity than ever.
The online nature of this crime often desensitises us from the reality of its impact. Yet we cannot, and should not, be fooled. That a child is hidden behind a computer screen does not minimise the abuse suffered, or limit the impact and trauma.
The demand for these Filipino children is driven by the West, especially the US, Europe and Australia. In 2009, there were an estimated 750,000 predators online at any moment; the number now will be even higher.
How do we end this horrifying crime? Governments are beginning to work together; the efforts of the Global Taskforce should be applauded. But the reality is that there is so much more to do. Demand must be reduced: western societies must be educated and become sensitised to its impact. Push factors, such as poverty and access to social protections, must also be sustainably confronted. This can only be done if we, as a wider community, recognise the importance of civil society, and invest in them accordingly.
Confronting crimes like this requires deep understanding of the communities affected. Local organisations are best placed for this. As a wider anti-slavery community we should be listening and doing all we can to support them. It is only through this that we can build the sustainable change that will prevent this crime from just morphing when demand does, and ensure that every child enjoys their right to a childhood free from sexual exploitation.