Child trafficking: Notes from the front lines

June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labor.  Globally, at least 2 million children are trafficked annually for child labor and sexual exploitation. World Vision is working in places like Bangladesh, a human trafficking source and transit country, to protect vulnerable children from trafficking and forced labor. Traveling in Bangladesh to see World Vision's child protection programs in action, Jesse Eaves, our child protection policy advisor, reflects on what he sees at the Benapole border crossing between Bangladesh and India.

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I see the trucks long before I see the actual border -- colorful, well-used, laden with cargo and people, lined up one after another on the shoulder of the road.

In fact, I almost don’t even see the border gates for all the trucks and the mass of humanity congregating at the exit point. The Benapole border crossing is the busiest in Bangladesh. More than 5,000 people a day cross this inauspicious boundary with India.

The first thing I notice is that lots of people are trying to enter India -- and almost no one is coming over to Bangladesh.

This isn’t surprising. Bangladesh has over 180 million people in an area the size of Alaska. Most are earning about $2 per day. As a result, the vulnerability that comes with poverty is everywhere.

According to the U.S. State Department, Bangladesh is a source and transit country for human trafficking, and the problem exists within its borders as well.

Bangladeshi children are trafficked to India and Pakistan to serve as sex slaves and domestic servants. Young boys are often used as camel jockeys in the Middle East. Most of these children willingly cross this border, searching for a better life. What they most often find is a hell far worse than the world they left.

However, we’ve come here today to see how your voices play a direct role in stopping the flow of human beings into slavery, including those who come through Benapole. Due to U.S. engagement authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the government of Bangladesh is working to prevent trafficking, protect survivors, and crack down on offenders.

Last year, the Bangladeshi Parliament passed a landmark anti-human trafficking law. Last month, through assistance provided by USAID, the government released a national action plan to implement the law across the country, including here at Benapole.

U.S. pressure and guidance helped make the law possible, but the real work has yet to begin. Laws are just words on paper. Putting those words into direct action is where it counts. I can already see some progress. Right at the border, posters warn travelers about human trafficking and explain what to do if they find themselves in forced servitude.

But posters are not enough.

“We know what human trafficking is,” says the police chief of Benapole. “What we need is a place to put the survivors. We need to be better in identifying traffickers, and we need all authorities to ask basic questions to determine if someone is a victim or not.”

By “authorities,” he means the immigration officers at the border. Sometimes, a few simple questions can reveal a world of evil.

The local World Vision staff members traveling with me confirm this sentiment. “If something seems wrong, they need to ask questions,” says Provosh, the project director of a child safety net project in Bangladesh -- a long-term project aimed at raising awareness of trafficking, partnering with the government and other organizations to provide services for survivors, and helping to refer cases to police.

As if on cue, three girls looking to be about 13 years old walk across the border from India into Bangladesh. The border guards are distracted by a meeting of government officials at the border -- and barely notice the girls as they wave them through.

“You see,” says Provosh, “what are those girls doing crossing the border? It’s probably nothing, but how can we know unless the officers ask the basic question, ‘why are three girls walking unaccompanied across the border?’”

Simple questions can make a difference.

Here’s another simple question: When will Congress pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act?

We see impact of this law in every conversation we have with government officials in Bangladesh. However, without continued pressure and increased opportunities to partner with the Bangladeshi government as they work to combat trafficking, all the gains we’ve seen will be lost.

Just as sustained pressure helped strengthen the fight in Bangladesh, we need your sustained voices to pressure Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act -- before we let all the gains slip through our fingers.

From border crossings like Benapole to the massage parlor down the street, this legislation has a direct impact on the lives of those impacted by modern-day slavery -- and those working to fight it.  We need your voices to help us in that fight.

Read related post: Child trafficking is no joke
Read related story:
Bangladeshi girl faces torment of exploitation in Mumbai

Never before have the voices of our advocates been more crucial in the fight against modern-day slavery -- and lawmakers do listen when they hear from their constituents. Contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Make a one-time gift to our Children in Crisis Fund. Your donation will help World Vision provide assistance to children devastated by trafficking and exploitation, providing interventions like safe shelter, medical care, nutritious food, trauma counseling, and more.

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