In this LKL Web Exclusive, actress and UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu sheds light on the disturbing practice of human trafficking. Its wide is reach, and the numbers are staggering. We are also discussing the topic on the show tonight, and Lucy is among our guests.
The horrifying rape and murder of five-year old Shaniya Davis in North Carolina shattered her community and left a nation struggling to comprehend the unspeakable depravity of such acts.
This by no means is an easy task. Trafficking in people is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative international crimes, generating approximately $9.5 billion in profit every year. Sexual exploitation accounts for the vast majority — more than 79 percent — of the pervasive trade in human beings. It is unfortunately difficult to get reliable numbers because of the hidden nature of these crimes and the reticence of victims to come forward.
Most appalling is the buying and selling of children, who should not even know of these atrocities much less experience them. Yet, as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide each year, and in some countries children account for the majority of trafficking victims. Little girls and little boys are sold as slaves — forced to work, forced into marriage, forced to beg, forced to fight in wars, and forced into prostitution. This violent underworld robs children of their childhood, deprives them of an education, exposes them to abhorrent abuse, increases the risk of HIV infection, and can lead to early death or a life of extreme poverty, cruelty, and alienation.
The reality is detestable, nauseating — but we cannot allow ourselves to turn away. In order to put an end to this worldwide injustice, we must become as organized, as sophisticated, and as relentless as the criminal syndicates who perpetrate it.
I recently co-produced and narrated a documentary film entitled Red Light, about children sold into the sex trade in Cambodia. This Southeast Asian country is an international hub for human trafficking, and, astonishingly, the traffickers are not just organized criminals: They are also parents, relatives, friends, intimate partners, and neighbors.
Filmed over the course of four years, Red Light follows the stories of young Cambodian girls who were trapped in a sickening world of terror and abuse, and who are heroically struggling to reclaim their lives. The film also highlights two remarkable advocates, Somaly Mam, a grassroots activist, and Mu Sochua, a local politician, who have dedicated themselves to helping these girls recover and to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Both women have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and they serve as a constant source of inspiration for me.
It is heartening to know that there are many other individuals and organizations, including UNICEF, who have made combating child trafficking a top priority. But we need more people to join us in the fight — we need a growing chorus of voices to let governments around the world know that trafficking must not be tolerated.
As a UNICEF Ambassador, I believe the most effective strategy for protecting children is a holistic one. We cannot address the violations of human trafficking in isolation. In countries around the world, everyone needs to work together to make sure that laws guarding against trafficking are enforced — and that children, parents, teachers, and others are armed with the knowledge and skills they need to prevent and report abuse.
In many countries, UNICEF has helped initiate community surveillance systems that monitor and prevent attempts to exploit children. UNICEF also helps train police officers to be more aware of the issue, works with governments to strengthen laws that protect children, and provides resources for programs that help victims.
Child trafficking won’t be stopped unless we also attack its root causes, which include poverty and a lack of access to education. UNICEF and other excellent organizations are working on those fronts as well, but they cannot do it alone.
As we enter the holiday season and reflect on the needs of others, let us vow to shine a light of hope in the dark corners of the world. Let us do it for Shaniya Davis, for the girls who have been sold into brothels in Cambodia, for all those other children whose terrible suffering goes on unchallenged and unnoticed. Children are our most precious resource. If we can’t protect them, what is worth protecting?
To learn more and to donate, please visit: http://www.unicefusa.org.
For more information about the organizations working to stop human trafficking, and how you can help, visit Impact Your World.