A Family’s Journey into Degrading Work
NOTE: This is a guest post from Cheryl Hotchkiss, Senior Manager of Advocacy and Public Engagement at World Vision Canada. World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision’s Help Wanted: End Child Slavery campaign is focused on reducing the number of children who are pushed, forced or trafficked into 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and degrading.
Throughout my life, I have been consistently encouraged to “take the road less travelled.” I have been lucky enough to have opportunities that provided me with safe choices for where to further my education, where to live and where to work. Even when I’ve hit roadblocks, I never felt that the paths in front of me might threaten my life. Like many other Canadians, I have not experienced the kind of poverty that would force me to find a job that threatens my physical and mental health or life.
Would you risk your life in a job to help pay for food, shelter, or schooling?
More than 115 million children are experiencing this kind of poverty. They have no option but to take jobs that can result in injury or death. Poverty enslaves children, and in some cases, sends children with traffickers seeking to take advantage of their vulnerability. Children living in extreme poverty are harvesting cocoa or tobacco; making clothes or bricks, fishing, cleaning houses or are subjected to sexual exploitation.
A journey in and out of misery
In Myanmar, Ma Ni* and her three children took a risk. The result: they became victims of traffickers who forced them into 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and degrading). After losing her husband to malaria, Ma Ni explained that she “didnít even have a penny in [her] hands.” As the impact of poverty set in, Ma Ni met a broker who offered to reconnect her with family in Thailand and provide jobs for her eldest daughter and her in a book shop. Not knowing where they were going, Ma Ni and her three girls were instead smuggled into Malaysia and sold to another broker.
For eight months, the eldest daughter, along with her mother, were forced to sell books at a Malaysian bus terminal without payment. Her daughter explains that she was terrorized if she didn’t sell enough books, “every day I had to sell 150 books a day at least. I was beaten daily for missing targeted amounts.” As a final insult, all three children were forced to beg on the street if not enough books were sold. But even work in degrading conditions could not break the spirit of this family.
Guided by their mother, the children took a chance one day to flee to the Myanmar Embassy. Myanmar’s anti-trafficking task force helped the family return home where they were connected with World Vision. The children are now in school and a small home has been built for the family.
A road well-travelled
After hearing the story of Ma Ni’s children, I really can appreciate how lucky I have been to consider what “road” I travel and to know that there are resources there to help me — family, friends, social programs. As we can see with Ma Ni’s family, extreme poverty often forces children and families into very risky decisions or leaves them with no choices at all. With an estimated 1.2 million children trafficked globally each year, the roads into dirty, dangerous and degrading work are well-travelled.
I also know, however, that progress is being made. In June, the Canadian Government launched the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. This plan, if implemented well, will help the government take coordinated and effective action in Canada and overseas to help address and prevent trafficking. Right now we need more people to ask the government to make sure this Plan is implemented and ensure that it pays particular attention to the needs of boys.
What you can do
1. Sign our petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to take the next steps to End Child Slavery.
2. Visit the Help Wanted: End Child Slavery website and find out what more you can do to help end the exploitation of children.
*Name changed to protect her identity
Ma Ni and her three children never expected they would be trafficked into dirty, dangerous and degrading work after putting their trust in a visitor. Photo by Khaing Min Htoo courtesy of World Vision Canada