We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

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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.





Who Wants to Buy a Slumdog Millionaire Actress?

19 04 2009
That’s what 9-year-old Rubina Ali’s impoverished father Rafiq Qureshi is asking. He’s offering her for sale. An undercover team from News of the World, self-described as “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives,” traveled to Dubai after receiving a tip from someone close to Rubina’s family and posed as a wealthy Dubai family interested in illegally purchasing the girl.
 
Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

One Middle Eastern family has legitimately offered to adopt the girl, but her father has gotten greedy and wants 200,000 pounds for her now (equal to $294,880 in dollars).

The News of the World article points out the father’s utter lack of concern of what could happen to his daughter if she were sold:

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

Children are often seen as commodities in poor areas of India and other countries and parents are left with difficult choices. Rubina’s father said: “We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

It is difficult to imagine living in such poverty as the people who live in the Mumbai slums. If you have seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you got a glimpse of how they live…and of how Rubina lives.

Rubina’s father is being an opportunist. He knows that she can attract the attention of wealthy people who can give her a better life. In that regard, he is no different from the father of Madonna’s Malawi child giving his son up for Madonna to adopt so he could have a better life. Rafiq Qureshi also sees this as his one chance in life to provide for himself and the rest of his family.

To raffle his child off to the highest bidder sends chills up my spine. It is to see a child as an object…something to sell to get money. I think of the preciousness of a daughter…the hopes for her future, the love she gives and brings to the family, the delight in seeing her grow up and develop into her own person, the pride in knowing that she came from you, etc….I cannot imagine under any circumstance selling her or giving her up.

Is this what poverty does? Harden people to the point that they don’t see children and women as precious? Or is there something in the character and genetics of people…people who are so callous and selfish and money-grubbing that they would sell their own daughter even in the face that she could be prostituted…that leads to their poverty? Can one be so bankrupt in morals and love and basic caring for a child and also expect to live in anything but poverty? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

To realize the preciousness of a child is to see oneself as abundant. All the riches in the world come with having a child. And to see a child only as something to be sold means that the poor cannot see true abundance when they have it and will never truly attain it.

UPDATE 4/21/09: The producers of the Slumdog Millionaire movie have now hired a social worker to look after Rubina after this happened. Rubina’s father has been arrested and there is a huge uproar about this in India. Rubina’s biological mother is demanding custody of Rubina.

UPDATE 4/22/09: Officials have released Rubina’s father and say they have no proof he tried to sell her.





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.