Countering worldwide sexploitation of kids

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 26, 2003

So, this classy-looking lady comes to town and searches out the lowest-income families with girls barely school age. She introduces herself to them in all her philanthropic graciousness and makes the struggling parents an offer too good to be true: the opportunity for their young daughters to travel to a distant city and have a future grand beyond their wildest imaginations. As a gesture of good faith, she hands the parents a wad of money equal to their income for a whole year.

Wanting the best for their daughters, the unsuspecting parents agree and wave good-bye to them – probably forever – as the wheeler and dealer takes the girls by the hand on the first leg of their descent into the hell-hole of the child sex industry.

And a hell-hole it truly is, according to my friend Naomi, who is all too painfully aware of what lies in store for the Nepalese village girls. They will be snuck out of their country and sold to a series of sex-trade wholesalers, she says. Eventually they will wind up in a brothel in Bombay or a trick pad in Thailand – a sure sentence to death by physical, emotional, and drug abuse, or by AIDS.

What a future! And all for the pleasure too often of kinky Westerners in search of kicks with kids.

Naomi "S." is a team member with Servants Anonymous, an organization dedicated to countering the worldwide sexploitation of women and children. In the few months that I have known Naomi and the work of Servants Anonymous, she has opened my eyes to a reality I wish never existed.

"Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the other more impoverished countries in the region have become synonymous with 'Source Countries'," I learned from one of her letters. "This means that procurers specifically target desperate areas in these countries in order to provide a continuous 'supply' of young women and children for the sex industry and meet growing 'consumer' demands."

One way Servants Anonymous attempts to interrupt this trafficking in children is through providing programs and support services at border crossings between Nepal and India. They are there to rescue and care for the victims before they wind up in the big cities.

But this nightmare is not limited to South Asia and the Far East, Naomi has stressed.

Right here in our own province, according to Alberta government statistics, children account for more than 10 per cent of those involved in street prostitution.

Causes for this include low self-esteem, being the victim of abuse, insecurity, drug and alcohol abuse at an early age, FAS and FAE (fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect), family rejection, coercion, influence of peers, and attraction to the "glamorous life."

Rev. Faith Brace, a Cochrane resident and Lutheran minister well acquainted with the awfulness of the child sex trade, spoke passionately with me about the kind of intervention work Naomi is doing:

"For me, it's important to support the efforts of Servants Anonymous because I have worked as a pastor among girls and women who are involved in prostitution on the streets of Edmonton," Faith said. "Those girls and women are there because of poverty – especially economic poverty, but also emotional and social poverty – and because of the misuse of money and power by those in positions of power.

"These young people end up in street prostitution because no one is there to help them at critical times in their lives, and because no one challenges that kind of abuse by the powerful in society.

"The same is true of some young girls and women in Nepal, except that the poverty is deeper and the future is darker."

Naomi will be leaving soon for Nepal to be part of the solution there. But before going, she has accepted an invitation from Cochrane Family and Community Social Services to speak on "Understanding the International Child Sex Trade and What We Can Do to Resist It."

The free public lecture will be held at 7 p.m., March 7, at the Frank Wills Memorial Hall, Cochrane.

As the FCSS poster rightly says: "You will be exposed to this overwhelming human tragedy and be challenged to become part of the solution."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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