By Amanda Kloer, Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Amanda Kloer is an editor with Change.org, where she organizes and promotes campaigns to end human trafficking. She has created numerous reports, documentaries and training materials on human trafficking in the United States and around the world.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where civil war and frequent violence have raged for fourteen years, there have been reports of forgotten children known to some as “falling whistles.” These children have been kidnapped from their homes, schools and friends by rebel groups and turned into child soldiers, bush wives, porters, and human shields – the youngest and smallest of them often too small to hold a man-sized gun.
So instead, the tiniest have been sent into battle armed only with whistles. Their job? To make enough noise to scare the heavily-armed rival troops away. And then, with their small bodies, absorb the first round of bullets.
The story of these young soldiers is only one of the many untold tragedies of the ongoing conflict in Congo. According to the Enough! Project, 45,000 people in Congo die each and every month, mostly from hunger and disease resulting from the ongoing conflict. Over 1 million people have been displaced. But some of the most egregious collateral damage from the conflict has been suffered by women and children.
A 2007 UNICEF report on child trafficking found approximately 200,000 victims in Central and West Africa, and the UN estimates there are approximately 3,500 child soldiers in the Congo today. Children are trafficked from Benin, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Togo, and Cameroon. Many are lured with the promise of jobs or apprenticeships, but are then forced to work on farms or in private homes, conscripted into the militia, or exploited in prostitution.
The gravity of child trafficking in Congo is only eclipsed by the challenges of how to help Congo's children, when they face death on the battlefield and violence at home. The many organizations working to advocate for peace in Congo often disagree how best to meet those challenges. But one strategy most Congo advocates agree on is this: the key to ending child trafficking in Congo is bringing peace and stability to the country.
Editor's Note: Emmanuel Jal is a former child soldier in Sudan who has defied the odds to become a musician. His "We Want Peace" campaign raises awareness of justice, equality and conflict prevention. Here he tells his story and why he joined CNN's Freedom Project.
By Emmanuel Jal, Special to CNN
I was born in the most difficult time, when my country was going to war. The first time I heard a bomb I thought the world was ending. The ground was shaking, people were screaming at gunshots, explosions flashing up in different colors.
My mother would pray with us and put her arms around us telling us it was going to be OK, that God was with us. When it was all over, our neighbors and the whole town went quiet and all you could hear were people crying and mourning. FULL POST
When Illinois lawyer and mother Karen Riley Gilles saw a promo for The Freedom Project on CNN this spring, she saw a learning opportunity for the children in her mothers' group. She felt it was important for them to understand that oppression continues against kids who look just like them in other parts of the world.
The boys and girls she talked to in her west suburban Chicago chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a national mothers’ organization, may have been young - 4, 5 and 7 - but they were old enough to have heard the word "slavery."
"'I asked them if they knew the definition of slavery and it was no surprise that the first little girl to answer identified it as concerning the American slavery system of the 19th century," Gilles said. "I took several comments and added more definition before telling them that there are children today all over the world that are enslaved without any of the freedoms we enjoy."
"My next question was, 'Do you want to take a stand and help?' They all said 'Yes.'"
If you're a parent or educator interested in talking to children about modern-day slavery and the CNN Freedom Project, check out these questions and learning activities to help children understand the crisis and steps that can be taken to end it.