Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:

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Teens Making a Difference – Bravo!

28 07 2009

Remember summers when you were a teenager? Going to the movies or the pool with friends, gossiping or talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone, hanging out at the mall, etc.? Three Houston siblings…Stephen (18), Melanie (17), and Dianna (14) Muldrow…have much bigger things on their mind this summer. They have organized a concert to be held at Houston’s Jones Hall on August 29th to benefit organizations that work to combat human trafficking.

The concert features renowned musicians: 3 pianists, a clarinetist, 2 violinists, and one viola player. You can find more information about the concert at www.BrokenCords.com.

Houston is one of the major corridors of human trafficking. I wrote a blog post about cantina workers being trafficked there.

Muldrow Family

Muldrow Family - Credit: http://www.BrokenCords.com

The Muldrow children are home schooled and quite accomplished. Their parents have obviously instilled in their children a sense of compassion, caring, and desire to help others.

From their website:

“Part of a family of 10 children born and raised here in the Houston area, Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna encourage all young people to stand up and use this time in their lives to make a difference in the world around them!”

They have a Facebook page if you’d like to join their cause and be kept up to date. They also welcome donations and/or you can purchase tickets to the concert on their Broken Cords web page.

Bravo to Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna for the work you’re doing to help victims of trafficking! You are real heroes.





1.2 Million Child Prostitutes in India

12 05 2009

This is heartbreaking. Over one million children live treacherous and degraded lives due to being trafficked in prostitution in India. And 100 million people are involved in human trafficking in India. ONE HUNDRED MILLION. These numbers are staggering and incredibly disturbing.

Child Prostitute in India

Child Prostitute in India

This is a country that has so much poverty and yet so much promise. Business has exploded there. And yet it is definitely a country of the haves and the have nots…those who are benefitting from the business explosion and those who live in the slums in abject poverty. Opportunists play both sides…the wealthy buy children to have sex with. The poor sell their children into prostitution. They are all players in this sick and soul-killing game.

If India as a country and as a people does not take bold steps to raise up the poor and stamp out child prostitution, they will see generations of moral and spiritual destitution and poverty that will plague them and destroy any potential greatness their country could realize.

Here’s the CNN article on this:

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India, the country’s federal police said Monday.

Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told a seminar on human trafficking, that India occupied a “unique position” as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade.

India’s home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.

“The number of trafficked persons is difficult to determine due to the secrecy and clandestine nature of the crime.

“However, studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said.

Prostitution in pilgrim towns, exploitation through sex tourism and pedophilia are some of some of the “alarming trends” that have emerged in recent years in India, it noted.

Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

UPDATE 9/27/09: Please visit my friend Shelley Seale’s blog on her book The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children in India. She writes about traveling there four times and witnessing the horrors of children living in orphanages, in the slums, and being vulnerable to being trafficked.





Cantina Workers in Houston: Sex Trafficked

27 04 2009

Women working in cantinas in Houston were trafficked and held in servitude. Now the mastermind is going to jail. People, this happens right in front of our eyes. This happened in the UNITED STATES…less than 200 miles from where I live in Austin. This is a typical story of human/sex trafficking. Take the time to read it. Be alert. You might save a life.

The U.S. Department of Justice website says here is how to report trafficking:

Report trafficking crimes or get help by calling the toll-free hotline 1-888-428-7581 (voice and TTY).

Here’s the article from today’s Houston Chronicle:

Sex-trafficking ringleader gets 13 years in prison

By Lise Olsen

Salvadoran smuggled Central American women into servitude at cantinas

 

He previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for recruiting and trafficking dozens of women and girls to Houston for commercial gain and for holding them “in a condition of indentured servitude.”

Maximino Mondrago - Credit: Houston Chronicle
Maximino Mondrago – Credit: Houston Chronicle

Along with others convicted in the case, he has also been ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to victims, some of whom have obtained visas to stay in the United States and still live in the area.

The case involving Maximino Mondragon, 57, remains one of the largest human trafficking rings ever uncovered in the United States.

The Chronicle reported last year that Mondragon lured the women to the United States with false promises of legitimate jobs. Once here, traffickers charged the women huge fees for their trip and expenses and held them as prisoners until they could work off what, for many, seemed to be impossible debts.

The women were forced to wear skimpy clothes and sell high-priced drinks to men at local cantinas who were then allowed to touch them.

Mondragon “ruthlessly exploited these women’s hopes for a better life through coercion, false promises and threats of harm. The victims were forced into modern day slavery,” Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Monday. “The Justice Department will devote its efforts to prosecuting those who commit such abhorrent and exploitative crimes.”

More than 120 women were liberated on the night of Nov. 13, 2005, when Mondragon and his fellow defendants were arrested in a massive nighttime raid of five of their bars and restaurants in seedy strip malls in northwest Houston.

Mondragon is the last of eight ring members to be convicted and sentenced.

According to records, Mondragon ran cantinas in Houston for more than a decade, along with Walter Corea. Both are natives of El Salvador. Five members of their families and a female abortionist were previously convicted and sentenced as accomplices.

“The victims in this case were subjected to horrible treatment at the hands of these defendants,” said Tim Johnson, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

Several victims told the Chronicle they were threatened and beaten or told their families back home would be harmed or killed if they attempted escape. Most lived in low-rent apartments or houses watched over by ring members or by security cameras.

Mondragon, a legal permanent resident, his girlfriend and two siblings owned and operated most of the businesses used for trafficking. Corea was accused of serving as chief trafficker, importing women from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras for the ring. Illegally in the United States, he also ran a bar here with his wife and son.

Houston’s Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance spent a year investigating and assembling a case against Mondragon.

On the night of the raid, Mondragon was holding his own farewell party in his bar, El Potrero de Chimino, also known as the Wagon Wheel, on Hempstead Highway. He’d purchased a one-way ticket back home to El Salvador.

That ticket went unused.





International Free the Slaves Awareness Day

26 03 2009

Did you know that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today? Shocking, isn’t it? March 27 is International Free the Slaves Awareness Day. Free the Slaves is a not for profit organization that “… liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever.” They have a 25-year plan to eradicate slavery. Here are facts they list about slavery:

slavery-facts-from-free-the-slaves2

Think slavery doesn’t exist in the U.S.? Think again. Slaves are harbored in 90 U.S. cities. An estimated 50% of the over 14,500 – 17,500 slaves trafficked into the U.S. each year are sex slaves; the other 50% are in the agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing, and other industries.

The largest numbers of slaves – as many as 18 million – are in Pakistan, Nepal, and India. The Free the Slaves website has an interactive map you can click on to find out about slavery in any part of the world.

President Obama calls human slavery a “top priority.” In a March 24, 2009 White House press release, “President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Luis C. de Baca as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department.” If you want to help, Free the Slaves has a whole page of suggestions.

You can read other posts I have written about slavery/trafficking:

The average citizen in the U.S. can possibly save a person being held in slavery by being alert to things that don’t seem right and being inquisitive. A slave may even be a teenager living with their family and being coerced into sexual slavery as is the case in the post mentioned above.

Watch this excellent video from Free the Slaves with personal stories of people enslaved under false pretenses. The resiliency and spirit of people who have been through this horror is amazing. Join Free the Slaves and the many other excellent organizations such as isanctuary.org and FreeGirl Foundation that work to stamp out human slavery and trafficking. We all bear responsibility for our brothers and sisters all over the world.





Heroes Helping Child Sex Trafficking Victims

8 01 2009

Imagine selling all you have to move to India to help child victims of the sex trade. That’s what Stephanie Pollaro did. Fresh from getting a Masters degree in counseling, she had an “ah-ha” moment after reading a women’s magazine article on human trafficking…and knew she had to do something. She met Wendy Hicks on a two-week church trip to India to feed the poor. They stayed in touch and after Stephanie went back…this time to Mumbai…they forged a plan to help these sex trade victims.

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie got in touch with the director of a rescue operation that pulled girls out of forced prostitution and torture and relocated them in a safehouse. Stephanie proposed a plan to teach the girls how to make jewelry and it was agreed. Wendy manages the non-profit organization back in the U.S. and sells the jewelry the girls make. The profit from the sales is then given to the girls and they are able to save money and begin to make a living.

Wendy read my post on children being trafficked and contacted me. I am so impressed with their very simple concept that makes such a difference in the lives of so many. Wendy and Stephanie are true heroes.

Another hero is John Curtis of The Grey Man organization in Brisbane, Australia. He, too, contacted me after reading my post. His non-profit organization focuses its efforts on Southeast Asia and works to eradicate the trafficking and exploitation of children. They rescue children and also educate potential victims of the sex trade.

These people and their organizations are helping children, who were living a nightmare of starvation, light deprivation, being locked in a room, being beaten, and being prostituted by pimps, to have new lives. Stephanie, Wendy, and John would make Teddy Roosevelt proud. Here’s an excerpt from an April 23, 1910 speech he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

To learn more about what Stephanie and Wendy are doing through their organization International Sanctuary, read their blog at http://isanctuary.wordpress.com or visit their organization’s website at http://isanctuary.org.

To learn more about what John and The Grey Man organization are doing, visit http://www.thegreyman.org.

Thanks to these heroes and to the many others in the world helping women and children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

UPDATE 6/16/09: The Grey Man organization was featured on ABC in Australia on 6/15. You can read a transcript of their interview.





What Price for the Sale of a Child?

4 01 2009

Nek Mohammed recently sold his  8-year-old son Qassem in Afghanistan for $1500. He said “I sold a piece of my heart to stop my four other children dying of hunger. I don’t have an elder son. I’m also sick.” The story was told on the RAWA News website, where news about the hardships of life in Afghanistan are reported.

afghan-child-saying-goodbye-to-father-before-being-sold2

A cameraman working for a news channel there captured this heartbreaking goodbye upon the sale of the boy to a wealthy woman. The woman says she bought the boy to help the family out and to give the boy a chance for a good future and education. Selling children is becoming routine in Afghanistan due to the desperation of the people there.

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof is just back from a trip to Asia to investigate human trafficking and sexual slavery there. He tells the story of another child sold…this one, 13-year-old Long Pross, was kidnapped by a young woman and sold to a brothel in Cambodia. She was beaten every day and often also tortured with electrical currents  to force her to be a prostitute. She hadn’t even had a period. Her virginity was sold four times at a high price…after each time she was stitched back up and it was very painful. She was never paid for her work and was not allowed to use condoms. She hasn’t been tested for AIDS yet.

She got pregnant twice and was made to have crude abortions.  After the second abortion, she asked for some time to recover and the female owner of the brothel got so mad, she gouged Long’s eye out and threw her out. Long is being helped now by a young woman who was helped by Somaly Mam, a victim of trafficking who started an organization to help other victims.

long-pross-victim-of-sexual-slaveryHere’s a photo of Long Pross. The Children’s Surgical Center in Cambodia has offered to get her a glass eye, but they cannot take away the pain of what she has suffered. That will last a lifetime.

 The Somaly Mam foundation reports that some children are sold for as little as $5 and some are as young as 5 years old. Profits from sexual slavery are estimated at $7 – 12 billion per year and 2 – 4 million women and children will be sold into prostitution in the next 12 months. Pravda online reports that traffickers in Cambodia get, on average, $482 for selling the virginity of a girl.

So just what is the value of a child? $5?   $482?   $1500?  Can you put a price on the life of any child? What about your child? What is your child worth? Can you put a dollar figure on the life of your child? Why should a child in Cambodia or Afghanistan be worth any less? Why do some people think they have the right to buy and sell children? Wasn’t slavery abolished in the U.S. in 1863? This happens in the U.S., too, and equally shameful is that in Cambodia, 9% of the customers who want to have sex with trafficked children are Westerners.

You can read more about this at http://slavery.alltop.com,  http://humanrights.alltop.com, or the new http://humantrafficking.change.org.

What price for the sale of a child? We all pay the price for these travesties. It deconstructs our moral fabric and it ruins the lives of millions of children who could grow up to be productive, contributing members of society. The people who commit these kidnappings and sales of children are even less human(e) than they think the children they are selling are. Each time another child is sold, it puts a chink in the world’s collective heart and soul and we all feel it.





Is Your Neighbor a Victim of Slavery?

17 11 2008

Slavery may be going on in your neighborhood. It happened in mine. Texas is a major hub for human trafficking per a report released today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. One out of every five victims of human trafficking have been in or travelled through Texas. The Department of Justice includes Houston and El Paso, which both lie along Interstate 10, in its list of “most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country.”

How big a problem is human trafficking? “The Texas Response to Human Trafficking” report says:

The U.S. Department of State’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report estimates that approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders each year. Of those victims, between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. These figures do not include the large number of victims trafficked within their own countries, including domestic victims in the U.S. The State Department also estimates that of those trafficked internationally, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.

The report distinguishes human trafficking from smuggling, which is usually done with the participant’s consent. Human trafficking victims:

…Are forced to work in domestic servitude, sweatshops, agricultural industries and the commercial sex trade, which includes prostitution, exotic dancing, pornography and live-sex shows. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking victims can be found working in ordinary locations, including hotels, restaurants and private residences, and are often “hiding in plain sight.”

I lived in a very nice neighborhood a few years back and was shocked to find out that there was a house a block over from mine where it was discovered that a prostitution ring was being run. These girls were human trafficking victims. We may see these people, but we don’t know the suffering they are enduring. Often they are brought to the U.S. on promises of good work, but then are forced into prostitution to pay over-inflated expenses and even to pay for drugs these women are forcibly given. These young women and even children have no way out.

The Texas report cites a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study, which:

…estimated that between 244,000 and 325,000 U.S. children and youth are ’at risk’ of becoming victims of sexual exploitation, including as victims of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g. child pornography, juvenile prostitution, and trafficking in children for sexual purposes).

In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act  to protect human trafficking victims. The goals of this act are to prevent human trafficking abroad, to protect victims and help them rebuild their lives, and to harshly prosecute traffickers. Over the next five years, 42 federally-funded Bureau of Justice Assistance task forces were created in the U.S. to combat human trafficking, with 5 of those being in Texas (Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio).

According to the report, Texas was “…one of the first states to introduce legislation criminalizing human trafficking. Introduced in 2003 and amended in 2007, the state statute is relatively new and largely untested.” Some of the findings in the report:

 • The need for training permeates the entire cycle of human trafficking, from the early detection of the crime, investigation and subsequent prosecution, to the delivery of services and ultimately to the prevention of the crime, and is vital for educating and  cross-training all those working to assist victims of human trafficking.
• Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• Sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• The state statute is rarely utilized to prosecute human trafficking violations.
• The perception exists that only foreign nationals become human trafficking victims, and there are significant incidents of domestic trafficking within Texas and between states.
• Collaboration among state and federal law enforcement agencies promote better prosecution, protection and prevention of human trafficking violations.

I applaud the State of Texas for taking human trafficking seriously and seeking ways to help victims of this horrendous crime. Just as it happened in my suburban neighborhood, you could be living amongst or interacting with people who are in the throes of being treated as a slave. If you notice something that doesn’t look right to you, I urge you to have the courage to report it. You may just save a life.