Pineapple program fights traffickers in Sierra Leone
April 2nd, 2014
04:36 PM ET

Pineapple program fights traffickers in Sierra Leone

By John Lyon, Special for CNN

Editor's note: John Lyon is the President and CEO of World Hope International. Based in the United States, WHI is a direct partner of Sierra Leone in the fight against human trafficking. In Sierra Leone, WHI helps trafficking victims find a safe, healthy life through emergency after-care and community education programs.

(CNN) - Selina was just 10 years old when her parents sent her off to Freetown to live with her uncle, who promised education and better opportunities.

Her parents, petty-traders in a small fishing village in Sierra Leone, barely made enough to feed their children.

The uncle's offer seemed like the break they had been waiting for - an opportunity to give their daughter a better life than the one they could provide for her. They never anticipated the nightmare that would ensue.

When Selina, whose name has been changed to protect her, arrived at her uncle's house, it quickly became clear she would not be getting the education she had hoped for.

Instead, Selina was immediately locked inside her uncle's house, where he proceeded to sexually assault her over the course of the next several months, often raping her multiple times a day.

Selina’s story is one of many that have been shared with World Hope International’s staff since we started anti-trafficking prevention and rehabilitation efforts in Sierra Leone in 2004.

Unfortunately, stories of exploitation and servitude are not unusual in this country where more than 60% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

FULL POST

Topics: Life In Slavery • Solutions
February 4th, 2014
04:32 PM ET

Cocoa-nomics: Now can chocolate companies stamp out slavery?

Two years ago, the documentary Chocolate's Child Slaves exposed the plight of youngsters forced to harvest the beans that make the chocolate we eat around the world. Many of the children made to work in the cocoa plantations in countries like Ivory Coast have never even tasted chocolate. Now CNN has returned to the plantations, this time with the Executive Vice President of Nestle, to find out if anything has changed and to see if the chocolate industry is willing and able to eradicate slavery from its supply chains.

Cocoa-nomics, presented by Richard Quest, will air on CNN International for the first time on February 27. You can watch the trailer above. And we'd like to hear from you too if you are taking steps to make sure the food you eat is not produced by slave labor. Find out more in our iReport assignment.

January 10th, 2014
11:29 AM ET

The Gambia: How one teenager stood up to child marriages

In The Gambia, child marriages help alleviate poverty for many families. But Ramatoulie Jallow, a straight-A student with ambitions to be a doctor, wanted a different destiny and stood up to her father. Now she is an activist for children's rights, fighting to replace a culture of silence and early marriage for girls with education and the confidence to speak out.

Topics: In The News • Life In Slavery • Solutions • Voices
January 9th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Ghana: Journalist goes undercover to expose traffickers

Police in Ghana storm a camp being used to keep children in slavery after one journalist spent weeks infiltrating the traffickers. In this video, CNN correspondent Vlad Duthiers meets the journalist and asks the minister responsible for protecting children what the government is doing to help.

December 13th, 2013
04:06 PM ET

How students in Cambodia take up the fight against trafficking

Cambodia has a young population and awareness about the dangers of modern day slavery is spreading, thanks in part to student activists. During filming for the documentary "Every Day in Cambodia", actress Mira Sorvino met some of the teenagers who are warning communities against falling for the traffickers' false promises.

Watch Mira Sorvino's report
Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Two: Meeting Heroes and Survivors
Lim, one of the girls working at the artisan space in Rahab's House, and Mira wearing a bracelet Lim made.
December 12th, 2013
02:30 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Two: Meeting Heroes and Survivors

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) – Today we drove out to Svay Pak, a slum notorious as a hub of child sex trafficking.  There we met Don Brewster, a white haired, blue-eyed bespectacled man in flip-flops with a pleasant face and high energy. He runs Agape International Missions (AIM), a non-profit for trafficked and at risk children and teenagers. The residence, Rahab’s House, is filled with bustling energy with a school and a children’s center. It takes its name from an Old Testament prostitute who provided sanctuary and was blessed. He says this and every other building used by AIM is a former brothel."

Don takes me on a walking tour of Svay Pak; we pass “The Lord’s Gym,” a center Don started, filled with local guys—human traffickers-turned-kickboxers. How he did it: He invited a “power team” of U.S. bodybuilders to display their might through the streets, leading the young men to the gym to work out, where they are inspired by a coach who teaches them respect for women and children.  They have traded the high money (they used to make U.S. $200 or more a month bringing girls in from Vietnam and selling them to brothels) for the prestige of being known pro-fighters. I'm very impressed by Don’s outside-the-box methodology, proving transformation is possible in this generation of young men.

As we continue our walk, Don points out a group, mostly men, sitting around a couple of tables at the end of road.  They are all traffickers, he says: They sell not only other people’s children, but their own.

As we approach with the cameras, they start to disperse, like roaches exposed to the light.  A feeling of utter revulsion and ire rises in me. I finally burst out: "It's not ok to sell children! It's not ok to sell children to pedophiles … The world is watching."

I felt so impotent with a rage that could do nothing in the moment. I felt a little ridiculous but I couldn’t walk away saying nothing.

Don felt we should move out of there quickly. Then we looked at each other and both started crying. I just can't stand it, that little children and teenagers are being hurt a stone’s throw away and we can’t get to them, can't swoop in like guardian angels and pluck them out of harm’s way; that those men and shifty-eyed women are using children for profit and going through with their ipso facto destruction without a shred of empathy or humanity.  I’m crying again thinking about it. FULL POST

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Three: The Front Lines
December 12th, 2013
02:28 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Three: The Front Lines

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) – This morning Don Brewster takes us to the Agape Restoration Center, a secure facility in Phnom Penh for the protection and development of the most-at-risk girls. We are brought through gates into a lush courtyard with pools and a gaggle of smiling young girls, awaiting our arrival.

I’m experiencing déjà vu ; the very first time I met young survivors of sex trafficking was when I pulled into a secret shelter deep in the heart of Mexico City, and hoped desperately that the smallest kids I saw were the sisters or daughters of victims. This time I know better: At least three girls I met today were just six years old and had been rescued from sex trafficking.

In the courtyard, we interviewed another young virgin sale victim.  Kieu was probably somewhere between 13 and 14 (they have few birth records).  She was very lovely with the shy expression of a young doe. She wore an intricate braid plaited in her hair, and a pretty green dress.  She told of how she had been sold by her mother to a Khmer man of “maybe more than 50” who had three children of his own. The price set in advance for her virginity: $1,500, though she was ultimately only given $1,000, of which she had to give $400 to the woman who brought her to the man. Her mother used the money to pay down a debt and for food for the fish they raise under their floating house-their primary income source.

Beforehand, Kieu said, “I did not know what the job was and whether it was good for me.  I had no idea what to expect.  But now I know the job was not good for me.”  After she lost her virginity to the man, she felt “very heartbroken.” Her mother supposedly felt bad too, but still sent her to work in a brothel.  Kieu said she did not want to go, but had to.  She said, “They held me like I was in prison.” FULL POST

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Four: Holding Feet to the Fire
Svay Pak, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is the epicenter of Cambodia's child sex trade.
December 12th, 2013
02:22 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Four: Holding Feet to the Fire

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) – Today we scored a last-minute interview with Chou Ben Eng, the head of Cambodia’s Human Trafficking Task force: the Secretary of State of the Ministry of the Interior, and a woman to boot.

As I sat down I was impressed with her elegance (she wore a traditional floor-length silk-satin dress) and her forthrightness; she shook a firm hand and spoke excellent English. This interview would not need an interpreter.

I think it also allowed me to be a little more aggressive.  I was tired of getting the pat answers, of the party lines. I had seen the reality of the victims’ pain and was not going to be so polite this time.  She began by presenting the achievements of her working group. We then brought up the issue of the undercover authority for police in human trafficking cases. I had begun to realize that anything that was going to cost a big infusion of money might not be a realistic goal for us to press for in the here and now, but this bit of legislation, the explicit authorization for the use of undercover investigative methods and techniques, was something we could press for that might seriously change the equation in the pursuit of justice for this crime. FULL POST

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Five: The Future
December 12th, 2013
02:18 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Five: The Future

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

Siem Reap, Cambodia (CNN) –Today we drove two hours north in rural Cambodia to meet with a group of student activists. As we arrived at the school, we saw a group of bright green t-shirted teenagers at a picnic table under a tree. Our youth leader, Han Hunlida (nickname: Lyly), was instructing her peers on their plan of action for the day: split into groups of four and go door-to-door in the community to share information about human trafficking and how not to become its victims.

This region, Banteay Meanchey, is a crossroads for Cambodians migrating for work into Thailand and Malaysia. They are all at great risk for being trafficked by wily recruiters, who prey on impoverished people desperate for work, without local savvy or support.

Lida, 16, is a tiny powerhouse. Inspired by a Somaly Mam Foundation visiting lecturer at her school two years ago, she is a Cambodian girl taking stewardship of her country and its future. I was stirred by her palpable compassion for the vulnerable and victimized.  She emanated a kind of unstoppable positivity; her compatriots looked up to her, sharing in a powerful movement towards change.  They were humble and excited at the same time and - very encouragingly - there were teenaged boys with them, not only girls. FULL POST

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Six: Hope and Healing
December 12th, 2013
02:17 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Day Six: Hope and Healing

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

Siem Reap, Cambodia (CNN) –This morning we got up bright and early to go to the temples of Angkor Wat. It was a boiling hot day, and by 7 a.m. it was already beginning to swelter.  We entered the long walkway across water and grass to the main temple complex.

This is the remnant of a very powerful, accomplished kingdom, and a source of great pride for the Cambodian people. The grey stone structures are slightly discolored from erosion, but their grandeur, imposing stature, and artistic accomplishment remain intact.

I chuckle to think that in the fictional feature film I made about child sex trafficking in Cambodia, “Trade of Innocents,” (all filmed in Thailand) we shot our climactic action scene in a replica set of Angkor Wat; the temple structures were made of wood and Styrofoam. Yet I have to hand it to our director Christopher Bessette and our art department; it really did look like the real thing, if only a small section of it. FULL POST

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Final Thoughts
December 12th, 2013
02:16 PM ET

Mira’s Cambodia Journal – Final Thoughts

By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN

(CNN) My time in Cambodia is over.  On the plane and beyond, it is time for me to reflect.

One journalist told me that Khmer people smile all the time, no matter how unhappy they are. It made me think of some of the smiles I saw, like that of the sweet-faced general.  Behind it does he really possess the will to step up the police response to this situation, and press for the authorization for undercover authority?  I hope so.

At least one of our young heroines has seen her day in court and succeeded!  Even though the perpetrators were charged on lesser crimes than trafficking and were only given three years as opposed to a stiffer sentence commensurate with the most serious offenses, it is a victory.  Toha's bravery has paid off – and if they receive the payments due them from their traffickers they will feel even more vindicated. Hopefully this case a harbinger of more justice to come, and will reverse the trend of dwindling human trafficking arrests and convictions. This should send a message out that Cambodia is willing to try to convict those who exploit young girls, followed by vigorous law enforcement and legal action that can truly end the impunity the criminals now enjoy.

The problem remains: how do you teach someone not to sell their child?  The interviews with the mothers of our three young survivors were eye-opening.  Don admits they may not be successful at reaching this generation, athough Toha’s mother openly acknowledged Don’s assistance stopping her from selling another child. “If it gets worse again, this time I know I can ask for help.” FULL POST

'We need more recruits'
December 12th, 2013
09:03 AM ET

'We need more recruits'

Don Brewster, a former pastor from California, is the founder and director of Agape International Missions, an organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of child trafficking in Cambodia and smashing the networks that exploit them. He moved to Cambodia with his wife in 2009 after a harrowing trip to the neighborhood and worked with CNN on the documentary 'Every Day in Cambodia'.

He has written a post on Agape's site in which he explains why he agreed to be a part of the documentary. He says: "We need more recruits ... in order for the truth to win out it must be spoken out."

Read his blog post here
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