Wildlife loss and child welfare might seem like two disparate issues, but new research is showing how one is inextricably linked to the other. As reported in BBC, less wild animals means that more child slaves are used to help find food in many Asian and African countries.
Buying and Selling Innocent Children
Industries, in particular the fishing industry, are scooping up children, stripping them of their childhoods and using them to fill the need for cheap labor. As reported in BBC, a study from the Science journal indicates that “the harvesting of wild animals from the sea and the land is worth $400bn annually and supports the livelihoods of 15% of the world’s population.”
Humans have already caused the loss of 322 species in five centuries, and the current extinction rate is an alarming 1,000 times faster than before. Industries are desperate to keep up with the growing demands and the dwindling resources.
Industries are trying to catch up with extreme species decline by using adult and children slaves. For instance, men from Burma, Cambodia and Thailand have been bought and sold to fishing boats. There’s nothing else to call it but slavery. The men spend years at sea with no pay, and they are forced to work inhumane hours of forced labor, sometimes up to 20 hours per day.
The buying and selling of children is also happening. There’s just not enough money to hire and decently pay laborers as wildlife becomes harder to find.
It‘s Not Just Child Slavery
Like we’ve seen in Central America’s narco-deforestation trend, wildlife always seems to pay the price for illicit activities. Along that same vein, terrorism and political destabilization are also moving in as species are making their way out.
Did you know that the Somali conflict and Somali pirates that are all over the news were born out of the increased loss of wildlife? Somali fishermen started looking for other fishermen who were illegally in their waters. They also took guns with them. Somewhere down the line, some of those fishermen splintered off when they realized that: 1) they were armed, and 2) they could earn more money by ransoming than by fishing alone.
While some experts disagree, some evidence suggests that poaching — particularly for rhino horns, elephant ivory and tiger parts — and wildlife trafficking (with the illegal wildlife trade valued at $19 billion) are fueling terrorist attacks. Groups like “Janjaweed, the Lord’s Resistance Army, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram” have all been involved in one form of poaching.
If children don’t end up becoming slaves, then some will inevitably be recruited to terrorist groups or be forced to fight in conflicts. Political and social tensions never benefit the most innocent.
How to Fix This?
As reported in BBC, the authors of the journal study express that it’s time for governments to get their act together. This two-headed problem of wildlife loss and child slavery won’t be solved by declaring and winning a “War on Poaching.” The only way to truly solve this is to fix broken governments and to fix “the global free for all” mentality.
There’s already been some minor success when local governments step up. For instance, if governments give fishermen or hunters exclusive rights to specific areas, then social tensions can be reduced.
More Costs of Wildlife Loss
The Wildlife Conservation Society highlights how animals in their natural habitats can be worth more than dead animals. Protecting local wildlife tends to spill over to improved conditions for locals in more revenue streams, improved health and better infrastructure.
Keeping wild animals in their natural habitats also makes us healthier. The Wildlife Conservation Society explains that the risk of Chagas disease in Panama and Brazil and Lyme disease in the U.S. is linked to “reduced mammalian diversity.” Or when meat becomes more difficult to harvest in Madagascar, children in the area are at a thirty percent increased risk for developing anemia.
Like we saw in the case of Iran and the Asiatic cheetah, wild animals are deeply interwoven in the fabric of our cultural legacies. Since times immemorial animals have been main actors in human creation stories to instruments of gods or kings.
We can’t escape our interconnectedness. It’s much more than about saving the animals. It’s about saving childhoods, saving communities, saving natural habitats, saving our health and saving our culture. If you’d like to learn more ways to save the animals, then check out the National Wildlife Federation to learn how you can make a difference today.
Photo Credit: Geraint Rowland