Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The War On Women: Gender Based Violence And Human Trafficking

A young woman fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Soldiers and militias have been waging a war of rape and destruction against women since the 1990s. Millions have been killed. In Rwanda, up to half a million women were raped during the 1994 genocide.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: 2007, 80% of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls. This means generations of women systematically eradicated from society through enslavement in the sex industry. Their bodies abused into oblivion, their souls cremated in the fires of lust and greed. Girls as young as seven brutally raped in a sex industry that views females as a commodity with the very youngest girls demanding a premium for their virginity.

(Above) Sreypov Chan, at 7 the Cambodian girl was sold into slavery by her mother and raped as many as 20 times a day. The building behind her where she was enslaved. Read her incredible story here.

Worldwide, one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, had her genitalia mutilated or been abused in some way, most often by someone she knows, including her husband or another family member; one woman in four has been abused during pregnancy. One in 5 women has been raped or the victim of an attempted rape. In many societies women are often held responsible for the violence against them, and in many places laws contain loopholes which allow the perpetrators to act with impunity. In a number of countries, a rapist can go free under the Penal Code if he proposes to marry the victim.

Child victims of Forced Genital Mutilation.

In countries with very little rule of law these percentages spiral upward at a perverse rate. When woman are afraid of violent retribution, when they lack confidence in the ability of of law to protect them, they are often silent, even complicit in the exploitation of their daughters.

A young victim of gender violence. Her burn very intentionally placed.

6 out of 10 of the world's poorest people are women and girls. All over the world women wake well before dawn to go about the day's work, sometimes walking hours in one direction just to procure water for their family. Dark roads and deranged men leave these hard working woman at great danger for violent rape or worse. In the most extreme cases of poverty, families with starving children may feel that selling one daughter to save the lives of the rest of the household is an acceptable act in light of their desperation.

Sudanese women, waking the day, busy with their work, at extreme risk for violence.

Two thirds of all children denied access to school are girls. Illiteracy, ignorance and misinformation about every topic from sex to AIDS leaves girls extremely susceptible to violent exploitation. Not to mention that when girls are educated they feel much less desperate, believing that they have the means within them and the opportunity to rise above societal norms that often view them as property, or at very least, second-class citizens.

Part of the ongoing fight to stop violence against women is the structural transformation that comes from empowering young girls through education. Above, an International Justice Mission worker teaches kids about the dangers they may face and how to avoid them.

Sati, or bride-burnings along with other dowry related deaths, take the lives of as many as 60,000 woman a year in India. A poor girl's parents cannot afford the dowry required by her fiance's parents and so she is immolated or violated in some other gruesome way. There are many misconceptions concerning the practice of Sati and even a bit of romanticism involving Hindu mythology, but call it what you will, the reality is the number of dowry deaths are on the rise.

Indian victims of bride-burning.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, 121 (with plenty of Chinese towns over the 150 mark, mostly due to the countries one child policy). Azerbaijan is at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

Above, Chinese propaganda poster championing its one-child family planning policy. Below the rapid increase of female infant mortality since the inception of the policy.

In her book "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men", Mara Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance. By her count, gender-based abortions over the past three decades mean there are 163 million girls missing from the world.

This horrorific trend is often rooted in poverty although certainly a function of the continuing societal prejudice against the female gender. In the the last three decades technologies which reveal the sex of a baby in-utero such as amniocentesis and ultrasound, have been used as a "sex test" in countries where parents put a premium on sons or feel they can only afford one child. "Better 500 rupees now than 5,000 later," reads one ad put out by an Indian clinic; the price of a sex test versus the cost of a dowry.

Ms. Hvistendahl predicts that such a gross gender imbalance is a harbinger of very bad things to come. And rightly so, as Columbia economics professor Lena Edlund corroborates: "The greatest danger associated with prenatal sex determination is...that a significant group of the world's women will end up being stolen or sold from their homes and forced into prostitution or marriage."

Child bride in Afghanistan. Cultural prerogative or child abuse? As the number of females decrease, the number of girls who are forced or sold into marriage will certainly increase.


If you have ever loved a girl, ever stood knees knocking stomach fluttering on the precipice of romance, ever stared tenderly into your daughter's eyes, ever benefited from the nurturing love of a mother or grandmother- then raise your voice today for women. And if you are a woman please stand in solidarity with your sisters. Please support International Justice Mission as they rescue girls from the sex trade, as they fight for widow's rights, as they educate young girls of the risks of exploitation that surround them. Please support My Refuge House as they restore the battered broken lives of the victims of sex trafficking. Give generously to organizations like Samaritan's Purse and Respire Haiti that work tirelessly to end poverty and rescue those most at risk. Please remember, this is a fight for the soul of humanity.This is the fight for the future of us all.

Silence is complicity. Please be a voice for the voiceless.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Barefoot For Father's Day.

Right now, a population of children, the size of the USA, are walking around without shoes. This year one million of them will die from illnesses contracted from being barefoot. As they say, imagine the world to be 100 people in a room, 40 would have no shoes, almost half of those would be kids.

(Above and Below) Children on city dumps, some at play, most foraging for scraps of food, all of them shoe-less.

Boys in Ghana, sold by their parents into slavery in the fishing industry. Their bare feet susceptible to many water borne diseases.

Today is Father's Day. To that end I thought I'd mow my dad's yard. Thing is, his yard's about 3 acres and it's hitting a hundred degrees everyday. Oh and did I mention his riding lawnmower is busted....

So about 4:30 p.m. on Friday, temperature hovering about 98 degrees and heat index in the 110s, I got dad's push-mower from where he keeps it under the trailer and filled it with gas. Then I thought of the children, the shoe-less children, and I decided to mow in my bare feet. Now this was less about some defiant act of solidarity and more because I cannot really imagine their lives, their daily allotment of sorrow and needless suffering. They say you can't understand a man (or child) until you walk a mile in their shoes....I suppose the opposite holds true too. So shoe-less I mowed.

After an hour, with soles full of briers and stone bruises and two rather nasty little puncture wounds I thought, "it's time to put my shoes on." But of course that's not really an option for the 300+ million shoe-less children of the world. So I willed myself on for another half hour until dark was approaching and the yard not going to get mowed unless I made better time. So I put on my shoes and double-timed it til dusk.

A few of the crop circles I did while mowing...

Later as I scrubbed the dried dirt off of my feet, cleaned my scrapes and gouges, and sat tired on my parents couch, I pondered the life of the modern child slave and this blessed life we've been given. The luxury of a bath, the decadence of soap, the impossible comfort of that couch, and I was sad, so desperately sad for the shoe-less kids.

Child with Podoconiosis, a disease contracted from absorption of silica particles into bare feet.

I'm so thankful for my dad. I remember a pair of soccer shoes he bought me in high school that easily cost him a day's wages. And I remember his face in the stands each match even after a 12 hour workday. I am surely blessed. Happy Father's Day dad.

And for the kids, here are some great organizations that provide shoes:

Of course Tom's. Where a pair of new shoes is donated for every pair purchased, a million so far.

Soles4Souls. Where as little as a dollar provides a pair of shoes for a child and where recycled shoes can live again and even give life. 15 million shoes and counting!

Share Your Soles. In 1999, SYS founder Mona Purdy traveled through Central America, and saw children painting tar on the soles of their bare feet so they could run a race during their village's festival. She happened to meet an American orthopedic surgeon who was visiting the village. He told Mona that if these children had shoes to wear, there would be a lot less need for him to regularly travel to the region to perform amputations of children's infected limbs. Since then SYS has donated well over 1 million pairs of shoes.

So, for all you dad's out there, Happy Father's Day from COH!! And for those of you that have lost your dad, or never knew him, you are dear to our hearts and in our prayers this Father's Day weekend. And for the 163 million orphans in the world, those with shoes and those without. Let us all be their fathers, their mothers, the family they have been denied.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

World Day Against Child Labor 2011

In a modern age where days should be ones of celebration, once again we find ourselves forced to reckon with the evils humanity is capable of, once again we commemorate the worst of exploitations, today is World Day Against Child Labor. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are still 215 million children engaged in illegal labor, with half being in the worst forms of slave labor. This includes, but is of course not limited to, the sex trade, child soldiering, bonded labor and the illegal drug trade. The text of their new report.

Like most forms of child exploitation, illegal child labor is born from the womb of poverty. Many children are forced to work solely for their family or for themselves to survive. Many children will not eat if they don't work. And of course this type of desperation gives greed and evil ample opportunity for the most egregious forms exploitation.

Please let your voice be heard today and everyday for the innocent victims of illegal labor. Please make sure the products you consume are slave labor free. Ask your congressmen to support the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Please live simply and give whatever you can to legitimate organizations that fight poverty. Inform yourself. There are also many informative and inspiring videos on the ILO's YouTube page. From all of us at COH, thank you for defending the defenseless. Thank you for being a voice for the voiceless. Thank you for helping organizations like International Justice Mission give justice for the oppressed and exploited.

Child Prostitute in Ghana