January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. From January 1st through January 11th, we’ll be posting daily blogs -- staff reflections, inspirational quotes and more that reflect our passion to see child trafficking and exploitation ended. Our resolution is to protect and defend the vulnerable and to restore and empower survivors. Join us in 2013 as we continue onward towards abolition!
I’ve been traveling to Thailand almost every summer of my life since I was six months old. As a kid, I took these trips for granted. It was routine for our family. Once school was dismissed for the summer, we’d grumble at the thought of a torturous 17-hour flight to Tokyo before another 7-hour flight to Bangkok. But we anticipated it, and we knew it would be worth it for the weeks of scrumptious Moo Ping, sticky rice, and sunshine ahead. I never realized the impact that these trips would have on my worldview as an adult.
We always landed at night. By the time we collected our luggage, reunited with relatives, and made our way to a market for a late dinner, it was past midnight. Famished and blurry eyed, we would stare in wonder at the world that buzzed after dark.
Back in our small Connecticut town, everyone was quietly tucked into their houses by 9. But in Bangkok, streets burst with an electrifying liveliness once darkness falls over the city.
As an aspiring teenager, I wondered about the girls who looked to be about my age who were allowed to wear so much colorful make-up. I wondered who gave them permission to wear such short skirts, and high heels. Why were they allowed to stay up so late when I was being ushered home? I asked, “Who are they?” and “Why don’t they have a bedtime?” The response to my questions was always the same: “Shush, yah mong, look away.”
Years later I know. I know that I was privileged enough to be sheltered and protected from violence and harm. And I now wish that I could have traded their high heels for more age appropriate light-up sneakers. I was raised by conservative Thai values, in which the proper thing to do with a difficult issue is to respectfully look away, and be insistent upon the idea that if it isn’t happening to us, it isn’t our business. But, like many of my friends working in the human rights field will tell you, these are issues that once they’ve been uncovered to us, they can’t be unseen or forgotten. I am whole-heartedly dedicated to abolishing child trafficking and exploitation because I hope that all children can be protected against human trafficking, and that they, their families and communities, and we as a society, will have the tools to recognize and refuse the issue from occurring.
We at Love146 say that our motto is, “The abolition of child trafficking and exploitation. Nothing less.” But, as a newcomer I am learning what that really entails. To me, it starts by not looking away when we hear the words, “child prostitute” or “child sex slave” in the media, but rather, call it what it is: exploitation, abuse. No child should be associated with such inappropriate labels. We as a society have a job: to break down the barriers of stigma, and to insist change.
So, I dare you – don’t look away, and perhaps we can create lasting change.
Juli Juabsamai is Love146's Partnership Care Coordinator. She answers questions, guides supporters towards deeper involvement and leads our volunteer and intern programs.