It's been an embarrassingly long time since I blogged... there's been so much happening that I haven't known where to start! So: more posts to follow this week (for real) with some stories about what the kids have been up to.
A few weeks ago I wrote that I was working with my staff on a plan to end the trafficking of kids from central Vietnam to the garment factories of Ho Chi Minh City. Since 2005 we've been getting kids out, and putting a stop to trafficking village by village in Hue province, but we want to see now if we can put a stop to this trade in children altogether.
I know that a lot of people who read this blog have supported our anti-trafficking, so I think it's only right that I share what has come out of that meeting, and give an overview of our plan.
First the bad news: we don't believe that we can completely end the trafficking. We can't take it from its current level right down to zero. Why not? Well, for the same reason that Australia, and the US, and every country on earth has human trafficking... People do bad things that we just can't control.
But we do believe that, given a time frame of about 5 years, we should be able to get as close to ending the trafficking as anyone can. If I have to put a target on it, I'd say we aim to reduce the trafficking by at least 80%... but that just raises the question "80% of what?" There isn't much data on how common this problem is. One of our goals is to try to get a more complete picture of how widespread the trafficking is by arranging community meetings where local people can talk with us about how many children from their village have gone to the factories, both now and in the past.
After some lengthy discussion about what impact our work has had so far, what's been working and what's failed, we came up with a set of 5 'conditions.' Our thinking is that the trafficking will come to an end when:
1. Children and their families no longer want or need to go to work in the factories.
This is a big one. To achieve this, we need not only some poverty alleviation work and income-generating training, but also some significant work on the local culture. In many of the villages we work in, we find that families consider it 'normal' to send their children to work in factories. This is not typical of Vietnamese culture, but is a sub culture specific to these areas that have long been targeted by traffickers. We'll need to help the families and communities change their minds by showing them the reality of factory life in Ho Chi Minh City - it ain't pretty.
2. Factory owners no longer want to employ children.
To achieve this, we will need to keep on taking the kids out of the factories - because every child we take home represents a significant expense for the business, and some weeks of lost labour. We also need to work with the police and Vietnam's Chamber of Commerce so that we're not alone in changing the minds of the factory owners.
3. The traffickers are too scared to continue their work.
If we can keep the stories of child abuse in factories alive in the newspapers, and if the police will arrest and prosecute the traffickers, they'll pretty quickly find a new career.
4. The general public considers child labour and trafficking unacceptable.
Again, the media will have a big role to play in this. Already the tide of opinion has started turning against having children in factories.
5. The government actively enforces the law.
Just a few months ago, a new law on trafficking was passed by the National Assembly, and for the first time trafficking within Vietnam is considered a crime. But of course, just because it's a law doesn't mean it's enforced. We'll need to work more closely with the police to enable them to go after the traffickers and shut down factories which use children.
Clearly, this isn't our action plan - just the set of goals we need to reach. We also need to be sure that, in reaching these goals, we don't simply end up with children from central Vietnam being trafficked to other types of work, or the factories filling up with kids from other regions. We really need to solve this problem by coming at it from all angles at the same time.
Even though we don't think it's realistic to achieve 'zero trafficking', we do believe we can change the context so that trafficking is no longer a common, widespread issue, but rather an occasional aberration.
In coming months and years we'll be rescuing more kids from factories, opening more community centres in the villages being targeted by traffickers, working more closely with the government and media, and spending more time getting to know the families who need our help.
It's bound to be a lot of hard work, but if we really can achieve these goals there's no question that it will all be worth while.