Thursday, October 04, 2012

Counting the cost

I recently ran into a social worker from another charity who had heard about Blue Dragon's rescue of a trafficked Vietnamese girl back in August.

The girl, aged about 16, had been trafficked and sold as a bride to a Chinese man. Although we've mentioned this rescue in our social media, we haven't given all the details because the trafficker is now on the run and has yet to be caught.

The social worker, rightly enough, asked me about how Blue Dragon justifies the cost of such rescue trips. Given our limited resources, and the seemingly endless needs of children and families in Vietnam, how do we decide to allocate money to sending staff on risky trips into China to find individual girls (or sometimes groups of girls) and bring them home?

It was a good question, and thinking later I felt that my explanation deserves also to be blogged. So here goes.

First, it's worth pointing out that Blue Dragon rarely journeys into China to find trafficked girls; most of our rescue work is done within Vietnam. But when we are contacted by girls who are in China, or their family members here in Vietnam, pleading for help, it's very difficult to decline. In the most recent case, we were in direct contact with the girl who was desperate to escape but had no idea where she was or how to get home. She was there against her will, and it was within our power to find her and get her home.

In such a situation, it would be almost inhumane to tell her that we thought that helping her would be too expensive..

In the western world, how much would we consider "too much" to rescue a teenage girl who has been abducted? Such cases do some up reasonably frequently, although they might not be trafficking as such. In recent months in Australia there have been cases of Australians detained in Libya; in one case, the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, flew to Libya to intervene on behalf of the detained woman.

Can you imagine how much that cost? A bill of half a million dollars would not be out of the question.

By contrast, a typical rescue of trafficked children within Vietnam costs around $400 per child; a rescue trip into China can cost $2000 - $4000 per rescued person.

In the grand scheme, $4000 isn't a lot of money, and yet the point stands that the same $4000 to help one person might seem excessive when you consider how many others it could help.

However, when Blue Dragon organises a rescue trip, we are doing much more than bringing home a single person.

In the last few months, 10 individual traffickers from cases we've been involved with have been sentenced in court. That's 10 men and women who would otherwise be trafficking girls, right now, into China.

How have they been sentenced? The starting point in each case has been the evidence provided by the girls Blue Dragon brought back from China. Without their testimony, there was no case against the traffickers.

Put simply: To stop the traffickers, we first need to bring their victims home. 

Our experience so far has been that each trafficker has several girls 'in the wings' at any one time. In one case, the trafficker had groomed a girl over the course of a whole year before finally taking her into China and selling her. We know that the same man had trafficked at least 2 other girls, but it's reasonable to suspect that there could have been at least another 5 to 10 victims already; and it's also a reasonable assumption that he had several other victims lined up ready to go.

Unless he was arrested, how many more girls would he have trafficked? Five more? One hundred?

So part of the value of our rescue work, in addition to bringing home individual girls, is that we follow up with the prosecution in order to put a complete stop to the same traffickers taking even more girls.

And there's one more effect of this work: with stories being published in the local media, other traffickers and would-be traffickers must see that they cannot get away with this forever. The prosecutions act as a deterrent to others. This in itself will not stop trafficking, and it's unlikely that scores of traffickers will go out and get a real job just because they've heard of someone else getting caught. But if the traffickers had free reign, and nobody was challenging them, how much worse would the situation be?

It's definitely worth stopping to count the cost of rescuing trafficked girls and boys. When we do so, we see that the cost of NOT rescuing them is even higher.


Linda said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the cost of rescuing trafficked children,teenagers or young adults and the costs involved Michael. A price should not be put on a human life. I think it helps to think of it terms of it is was my child, my sister or my brother, would we pay whatever it took to rescue them. Yes we would! As you rightly pointed out the funds are not just spent on rescuing a child, two, three, or more, but also reduce the amount of traffickers out there and it's a warning to the others. The amount you spend on rescuing children and giving them a decent future is money worth while spending!

Steve Jackson said...

I've said it before but the real reason NGOs don't like small numbers or individuals helped is that they can be too easily proved. NGOs like big, unprovable numbers who they've helped in such a small way that their progress is hard for others to disprove.

Making tangible change to individuals is a little too real.

Also large NGOs are not against fundraising using individuals - help this girl, buy this goat for this family etc - but as well all know - after that your cash just goes into the pot with everything else.

Keep up the good work.

Michael Brosowski said...

It sure is strange when NGOs say "We don't get involved in individual cases." If there is no "individual case," then what is there? How do you help a million if you don't help one?