-Retired U.S. Schoolteacher on the US Dept. of Justice website
Poverty is very different from being poor. Granted neither condition is remotely favorable, however the effects of poverty force those who touch it to sometimes participate in desperate & even violent/violating acts.
Here is the story of Neary
"Neary grew up in rural Cambodia. Her parents died when she was a child, and, in an effort to give her a better life, her sister married her off when she was 17. Three months later she and her husband went to visit a fishing village. Her husband rented a room in what Neary thought was a guest house. But when she woke the next morning, her husband was gone. The owner of the house told her she had been sold by her husband for $300 and that she was actually in a brothel.
For five years, Neary was raped by five to seven men every day. In addition to brutal physical abuse, Neary was infected with HIV and contracted AIDS. The brothel threw her out when she became sick, and she eventually found her way to a local shelter. She died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 23." -US Dept. of Justice
According to the United States Department of Justice over 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders & millions more within boundaries are transported to locations and forced to participate in sex work and/or servitude with little or no chance of escape. The #1 reason for these human rights violations is poverty.
In 2004 a documentary depicting experiences of child prostitutes in Calcutta, Born into Brothels, highlighted to audiences around the world what these kids dealt with. The makers of that documentary helped the children profiled by teaching them photography which helped to re-build their self esteem, while raising money for them by publishing a book on them as well as selling some of their photographs so the kids could attend school. A non-profit was started for children in brothels in other countries called Kids with Cameras.
The film helped people unfamiliar with such atrocities to put real faces on sex trafficking that comes as a result of poverty. NBC's news program Dateline investigated child trafficking in Cambodia in 2005. Despite Cambodia's law against prostitution, children as young 8 years old are forced to have sex for money with tourists from North America, Europe & Australia. Because of poverty, families will sell their own children. Sometimes young adults will go in seek of legitimate work and find themselves in brothels instead.
The young people who work in brothels are often forced into having daily unsafe, unwanted sex acts, and if they try to leave they are held to a "debt" that must be paid off for working and living in the brothel. This debt however takes years to work off. Worse, if these kids try to escape, they are usually caught and beaten on several occasions and again forced into demeaning situations.
We have little sympathy for those in less impoverished regions who steel & claim they did it because they're poor. Many of us will say "hey you're supposed to get a job & pull yourself up" and for many thieves this may be true. But we can, in the end, understand that being poor in rich countries, where the image of having, makes one feel at times desperate.
What is difficult to imagine is the depth to which poverty travels. Poverty consumes more than just a few homes or families or neighborhoods, it consumes entire regions and countries and cannot be fixed with just money thrown at it. Poverty forces people to have their very spirits nearly erased and somehow, somewhere, someone is thriving because of it.
Who is thriving and why do they wish to do so in such a manner? The who are World banks, various profiteers, government officers & anyone who can make money off the degradation of others is a usual suspect. Poverty allows this but worse makes the very people who suffer from a lack of healthy food, water & necessities, accomplices in such an unfair system by selling their own children & relatives into brothels. Why these rich & very poor people participate in this degrading system boils down to money and greed for the wealthy & sheer survival for those in poverty.
This is not an easy issue to look at. The taboo of sexualized violence and forced labor combined with poverty makes the history, stories, its victims & perpetrators difficult to address. But if we are to "fight" poverty, we must take a hard look at every side of this issue and take action with not just words, but deeds as well.
Resources to help the victims of trafficking
- International Justice Mission is a Christian based organization that provides rescue, legal consultation and aftercare to victims.
- Campaign to Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking is a U.S. based agency that works to educate citizens, governments & corporations and collaborate in finding solutions.
- The Human Trafficking Search is an online regularly updated news engine Created by The National Multicultural Institute to address this issue.
- Amnesty Internationals page on Human trafficking
- Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is an alliance of over 90 NGO's
- The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking works with people trafficked to the United States