I recently spoke at the Yale Conference for Undergraduate Students for UNICEF. They asked me to talk about the unique perspective Love146 has in using the concept of love to address the issue of the infringement of children’s rights.
I thought this could be a fascinating approach to our work. Which children’s rights are we targeting? What does the expression of love look like in the reality of children we are trying to serve? Better yet, why do we believe love is our best foot forward in this fight against child trafficking and exploitation?
I thought the best way to answer these questions would be to see how we’re answering specific articles within the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children all over the world.
Article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says this: “Children who have been neglected, abused or exploited should receive special help to physically and psychologically recover and reintegrate into society. Particular attention should be paid to restoring the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.”
This article is really where our story began, back in 2002 when we encountered the girl who wore number 146 and knew we never wanted to see this happen to any child, anywhere, ever again. We got to work, began serving trafficked and sexually exploited girls, and soon opened the Round Home in the Philippines. We were (and still are) able to make dreams come true for some girls who had lost all hope of ever dreaming again. Love restores.
In an endeavor to do Article 39 well, we also must do Article 12:
“When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.”
We’ve purposed to listen and to ask why when we don’t know. That is what love does. Not only do we listen to those children in our care, we listen to the vulnerable who have not been in our care but have something we need to hear. Through the Butterfly Longitudinal Research project, we ask reintegrating survivors about the challenges they face in their families and communities, the positives and negatives of program assistance, the health impacts after sexual exploitation, to name a few.
We listen to boys and young men as they talk about what makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking – things such as family indebtedness, extreme poverty, homelessness, and even a lack of awareness to their own vulnerability. We have and continue to report some of this in our various pieces of research.
Article 24 says, “Children have the right to good quality health care…”
Part of restoring the whole child has to include their physical well-being. We make sure the girls in the Round Home and the boys in our shelter have access to good health care on a regular basis. Through our partner Urban Light in Thailand, we reach out to homeless boys and provide basic first aid.
“All children have the right to a primary education,” according to Article 28.
We know that extreme poverty will drive a family to send their children to work rather than allowing them to be educated. In Cambodia, through our Asia Capacity Building program, we partner with an organization that provides a dormitory for children who otherwise live too far away to attend high school. They are able to be educated beyond the primary level, which in turn provides them with more livelihood opportunities and greatly reduces their risk of being trafficked or exploited.
Article 17 says, “Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being.”
This article reflects that dearly held value that drives us: Love protects. Therefore, we offer prevention education to children in order to protect them from being trafficked or sexually exploited. We know that if they understand the realities and risks of human trafficking and exploitation, they are better equipped to protect themselves and their peers.
Our task forces raise awareness about child trafficking and exploitation in their local communities, and network with other anti-trafficking organizations to join the movement. They advocate for better laws (such as S.1823/H.R.1732) in order to protect and defend. In short, the advocacy we promote is meant to put pressure on states and governments to do what they’ve already agreed to in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a whopping 42 articles worth!
We believe love is our best foot forward in this fight against child trafficking and exploitation because we believe in the value, the practice, the momentum, and the transformational power of love.