Sold: putting a face on modern slavery victims

A look back at a harrowing film.

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Photo: Sold

Around 200 people gathered in the Byre Theatre to see “Sold,” a film adapted from the harrowing book by Patricia McCormick and executively produced by Emma Thompson. The film presents the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year-old Nepalese girl trafficked to a brothel in India. The projection was followed by an expert panel, which was organised by Childreach International as part of the campaign “Taught, Not Trafficked,” aiming to tackle the root causes of child trafficking in Sindhulpalchowk, Nepal.

The event spread a strong message and made a mark on the minds of many. Not only were the film’s visuals brutal and painful to bear, the realisation that it brought was emotionally scarring. The audience could see, as the film unfolded, the intricacies of modern slavery and the roots of its existence. It became clear that people could indeed sell their child for money, for the prospect of a better future, or through coercion. They could see how easily and unwittingly a child was driven into a cycle of exploitation, and physical and psychological abuse.

This movie put a face – the face of a beautiful, clever, and hopeful 13-year-old girl – on the reality of millions of child victims of modern slavery. About 32-54 girls from Nepal are trafficked every day. Children are recruited, moved, or transported, and then exploited, forced to work, or sold. They are trafficked for child sexual exploitation, benefit fraud, forced marriage, domestic servitude, forced labour in factories, or agriculture or criminal activity.

An expert panel, comprising of Stephen Gethins MP for northeast Fife, Most Revd David Chillingworth Bishop of St Andrews, Professor Ali Watson (the director of Third Generation Project), and Dr. Jeffrey Murer then shared their views about the issue of modern slavery. Questions were asked that fostered an environment for informative and thought-provoking discussion. The exchange focused on the political and socio-economic causes of child trafficking. Dr. Jeffrey Murer justly pointed out that although factors such as the lack of education, poverty, political instability, and corruption were key in the problem of child trafficking, it was not a geographical localised phenomenon. Just as Lakshmi crossed the border to India, other children were crossing the borders of the UK, or France. They are placed on a transnational industry, and, consequently, the solution to this issue cannot be found solely on a local, regional, or national level.

Child trafficking, far from being an issue only pertaining to underdeveloped or developing countries, touches the UK in a surprisingly important way. In 2014-2015, 590 children were suspected or identified as child trafficking victims, 167 of whom vanished from foster and care homes across the country. With the growing rate of immigration, a now larger number of unaccompanied children from mainly Afghanistan, Eritrea, Vietnam and Albania go missing while under the protection of local authorities. This highlights the importance of policies that work towards the improvement of visa and asylum applications processing. An emphasis was also put on the importance of the civil society and NGOs in improving the situation.

In addition, MP Gethins insisted on the need for us citizens to voice our demands and concerns, and communicate them, for example through emails, for him to act effectively as the representative of northeast Fife.

With this perspective, a group of St Andrews students are now fundraising to go to Nepal during the summer and help the local community rebuild a classroom destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. This project comes under the broader campaign “Taught, Not Trafficked,” which rebuilt nearly 90 schools since 2015, and focuses on both providing local children with education and cutting the roots of trafficking short.

The team is still looking for members to join the project. For more information, contact: Abbie Greig, abg21@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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