Saturday, December 13, 2008

The real danger

As I write this, Blue Dragon staff are in the process of rescuing children as young as 12 from garment factories in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the kids are from central Vietnam; some are from northern provinces. All have been taken by child traffickers who promised their families a chance at a better life, but instead were put to work up to 16 hours a day for no pay. The role of Blue Dragon is to demand the release of the children, take them home, and support them to live again in their communities.

The big question we get asked all the time is this: Isn't this work dangerous?

Certainly this work is not a ride in a fun park. There are plenty of people who get upset by what we do, most of all the traffickers and factory owners. Even some NGOs are unhappy about it. From 2005 to 2007, we worked hard at busting up a trafficking ring that was taking kids to use on the streets. Some big NGOs had developed programs aimed specifically at working with those children - but not to take them home. The programs were just teaching them English, so that they could make even more money for their traffickers. People would be shocked if they knew which organisations were so stupid. And they weren't thrilled when we took away their entire beneficiary group and returned them to their mothers and fathers, either.

So our work doesn't make everyone happy. This afternoon, a Blue Dragon staff member was surrounded by traffickers armed with sticks, threatening violence. Fortunately, the police came - and arrested my staff! The traffickers walked away having won the battle... (... but not the war, fellers!)

So yes, there's definitely an element of danger. But there's another way to look at this.

Why are the traffickers prepared to resort to violence? What is so precious that they have to protect? And if this is how they deal with other adults, how do you think they deal with the children?

We are yet to meet a child in a factory who doesn't want to get out immediately. Nobody's having a good time there. There ain't no bonus system for those overtime hours, but there are plenty of beatings for children who fail to keep up with the work.

All of this leads me to one conclusion: rescuing trafficked children is indeed dangerous work; but the real danger is in not rescuing them at all.

I hope to have an update on Monday - and if all goes well, there'll be a train-carriage load of happy children on their way home by then.



Anonymous said...

oh gosh, aarrgghhh!!! my blood is so close to boiling point it's not funny! :(
all my thoughts are with you & the team in HCMC this weekend, Michael. It WILL go well and the kids WILL get to go home to their families.

Oh how i wish we could find out which clothing / footwear brands those traffickers work for. To think that we could be unknowingly supporting those businesses just sends chill down my spine.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to say that I am still reading - still missing Hanoi and still humbled by the work you are doing.

Good luck for the New Year.