The unimaginable

I have been wanting to write about my current work for a while now, but there’s something about it which has held me back. I think it has to do with the cruelty of it, the unimaginable becoming imaginable. Child trafficking goes into your bones, your core and it sticks somewhere, where you don’t want to hear, read or think about it. There’s only one reality, one reality possible when you think of a child being taken for purposes of abuse, whether it’s sexual, child labour, domestic service, camel jockeying, organ trade, circuses etc., it is a nightmare without an exit of waking up.

Anyone’s response to this topic is emotional, and the first question is why? Why don’t we save these children? Why do parents fall into the trap of traders? Why does nobody care? Why are governments not doing anything to prevent this?

The problem is, if you take this perspective, you hardly get your work done. You get distracted on working on potential relief – a solution I think is too much to acclaim for. You need to distance yourself and try to understand the context and analyse where interventions are necessary that can contribute to a change. If you would have time (and also the stomach) I could take you through some of the basics in a couple of hours, but I think there’s one main point you need to understand first.

Child trafficking often takes place at the core of failing states and societies that suffer from large economic, social and political inequalities. This leads to a severe lack of opportunities for their citizens, which in turn creates huge potential for exploitation (people willing to do anything for money), actions of desperation (giving up your child whilst knowing it might be abused, but anything better than the poverty they are living in), but also the need for undocumented migration (seeking greener pastures for your child in hope of better schooling and work opportunities). The situation is being exacerbated by many factors such as geographical make up (uncontrollable border areas), lack of legal framework (trafficking goes unpunished), economic motives (corrupt officials close their eyes for making some extra money) and when victims are rescued their rights might actually be violated (instead of helping them return when ‘rescued’ they are locked away to be ‘rehabilitated into society’).

In child trafficking nothing is black and white, but there’s one thing that is certain, it is a highly political issue. Addressing it, is putting your finger on a sore spot, or in most cases a festering open wound, that governments and societies like to hide as it shows their inability to protect the most vulnerable: their children.

The project I’m currently working on developed by Plan International is hence not a solution, but an intervention aimed at addressing the issue, and trying one avenue of making a difference both on the ground and on the political level, by bringing stakeholders together to work on this. If you understand Dutch you can see an explanation in the 20 minute program below, aired on Dutch television in May.

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