Silence of the Lambs

Behind the wrappers of our chocolate bars lies an ugly truth: child slavery remains a pressing problem.

Behind the wrappers of our chocolate bars lies an ugly truth: child slavery remains a pressing problem.

Who doesn’t have fond memories of their childhood?  Remember the age of spelling workbooks, trips to Disneyland, and cooties?  While American kids take these years of innocence for granted, Agnes was brutally robbed of her childhood at the age of ten when Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army snatched her from her family’s garden.  Over the course of three years, her abductors raped her and forced her to kill another child, leaving her scarred and almost devoid of dignity.  Luckily, the British charity War Child rescued Agnes from her torment, but too many children across the globe still find themselves victims of violence, slavery, sexual abuse, hunger, and poverty.  And because they often live outside of our own backyards, their stories and cries go unheard.  This is the silence of the lambs.

Beheadings and kidnapping grab the headlines, but beyond the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, children become pawns of an ideological, and deadly, war.  Across the Middle East, the Taliban coerces kids as young as seven to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers.  According to a Taliban commander, “Children accept what you say after you talk to them just a couple of times,” meaning that terrorist organizations can distort the minds of the young before they can learn to think and act freely.  And this has devastating results.  In one Pakistani province, teenaged suicide bombers have taken their own lives along with those of 400 soldiers.  Although the Taliban paints these dying kids as religious martyrs, most child bombers don’t sign up to die of their own accord.  Pakistani General Bajwa explains that the Taliban forces families in conquered areas to give up cattle and one of their children for the cause.  And those children not killed in action are many times captured by police and locked up for the crimes they were often forced to commit.  However, hope remains because the Pakistani army is turning to rehabilitation instead of incarceration to reform youths.  Thanks to the Sabaoon (“First Light at Dawn”) school, 164 former suicide bombers have been able to renounce terrorism and pursue a new life free from psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.  But more needs to be done to ensure that all kids regain control over their destines, and lives.

Hide and seek represents a matter of life and death to them, not a game.  Instead of running across soccer fields, they dart through jungles and crowded market places.  Weapons and grenades replace sports equipment and books.  And hope is something that they gave up a long time ago.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, 300,000 child soldiers as young as ten years old find themselves caught up in political and ethnic conflicts around the globe.  Yet this paints a larger, and more distressing story.  We like to comfort ourselves by remembering that the slave trade was abolished in the 1800s, but the stark reality is that slavery still exists on an industrial scale, and children often bear the brunt of it.  The International Labor Organization discovered that 8.4 million children are in slavery or near slavery, meaning that the equivalent of the population of New York City is denied basic freedoms on a daily basis.  No school, no play, just forced labor.  One of the hubs for adolescent human trafficking may be tasty but in reality it’s anything but sweet: the chocolate industry.  There’s a human price tag on that bar of chocolate: in countries such as Ghana, the cocoa trade enslaves around half a million to 1.5 million children.  Forced to work long hours in hazardous conditions, these kids find themselves trapped in a hell they cannot escape from.  Former cocoa slave Aly Diabate remembers, “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.”  And even more sobering is the story of Drissa, who recalls, “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”  But child slavery hits home a lot closer than we would like to admit.  Although prostitution takes a toll globally, children are also forced to sell their bodies for the pleasure and profit of their abusers in our own backyard.  According to Crimes Against Children Research Center, the number of juvenile prostitutes in the U.S. is in the hundreds of thousands.  And even when these abused kids are technically freed from their bondage, they cannot escape from their pain and their abusers often elude justice.  Author Julian Sher explains, “Prostituted children remain the orphans of America’s justice system. They are either ignored or, when they do come in contact with law enforcement, harassed, arrested, and incarcerated while the adults who exploit them – the pimp and their customers – largely escape punishment.”  For the country that prides itself on freedom, equality, and justice, we sure have a lot of work to do.

While kids in developed countries celebrate birthdays with parties and friends, thousands of children never make it out of infancy throughout the developing world.  The only candles blown out are the ones that extinguish their lives.  And those children who survive the early years of their life fall victims to the intangible yet devastating foes of hunger and poverty.  While the World Food Programme asserts “There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life,” they also find that around 100 million children in developing countries are underweight.  Everyone deserves the right to food, but tens of millions of kids are malnourished, and therefore cannot learn, work, and simply live.  And worse still, in 2010, a World Bank report founded that 400 million children live in extreme poverty, meaning that they are forced to survive on less than $1.25 per day.  This means that the majority of these kids lack basic sanitation, water, and electricity, stunting their growth and forcing them to grow up in a cycle of poverty and suffering.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel because organizations around the world are already championing this cause.  But they cannot do it alone.  Despite what we think, as global citizens, we all are guilty of allowing child exploitation to exist and thrive, yet also we all play a vital role in the solution.  For example, you can pass up more mainstream chocolates in favor of buying free trade chocolate, a product made by people who receive just treatment.  The difference we can make extends past the grocery store, though.  Since most of us don’t hold the cure to devastating diseases in our hands, charities such as the Against Malaria Foundation provide everyone the opportunity to literally save lives.  GiveWell, an independent charity evaluator, ranks this foundation as a top charity to donate to because it provides five dollar bed nets to Africa, where over one million people, most of them children, die from malaria every year.  The World Food Programme also remains a beacon of hope to children because their work delivers food right to the plates of the malnourished.  And perhaps most empowering: Free the Children, an organization that strives to spreads awareness about child exploitation and takes concrete steps to reduce child poverty and other barriers to childhood growth.  While this suffering may seem overwhelming, you can start the change right now behind your computer by clicking on some of the links below.

Against Malaria Foundation: https://www.againstmalaria.com/Donation.aspx?GroupID=81

World Food Programme: https://give.wfp.org/?step=country&lead_source=wfp-getinvolved&form_tag=wfp-getinvolved

Free the Children: http://www.freethechildren.com/donate/

Welcome to the modern age.  You would have thought that we left child exploitation back in the dark ages, but it’s time to realize that the atrocities of yesterday have followed us into the present.  It’s time we speak out before even more lambs become sacrifices in front of our very eyes.  They’re crying out; this time are we going to listen?

 

”Sources”

“Agnes.” War Child. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.warchild.org.uk/impact/stories/agnes>.

Chen, Michelle. “Is Your Favorite Chocolate the Product of Child Labor?” The Nation. N.p., 22 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://www.thenation.com/article/your-favorite-chocolate-product-child-labor/>.

“Chuao 003″ by Electrolito – Transfered from en.wikipedia.org. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuao_003.JPG#/media/File:Chuao_003.JPG

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/>.

“Child Slavery.” Anti-Slavery. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/child_slavery/default.aspx>.

“Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Hunger.” United Nations World Food Programme. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://www.wfp.org/hunger/faqs>.

“Hunger Statistics.” United Nations World Food Programme. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats>.

Iaccino, Ludovica. “Top Five Countries with Highest Rates of Child Prostitution.” International Business Times. N.p., 06 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/top-five-countries-highest-rates-child-prostitution-1435448>.

Logan, Lara. “Child Suicide Bombers.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 17 May 2015. Web. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/child-suicide-bombers-lara-logan-60-minutes/>.

“Report Finds 400 Million Children Living in Extreme Poverty.” World Bank. N.p., 10 Oct. 2013. Web. <http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/10/10/report-finds-400-million-children-living-extreme-poverty>.

“Top Charities.” GiveWell. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities>.

2 Comments

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