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The Photo That Changed My Life

The Photo That Changed My Life

Early one Saturday evening I was in Mumbai, India, working on an article about forced prostitution of women. My contact was taking me through Mumbai’s red-light district, one of the largest in Asia.

“See that window?” he asked pointing to the second floor of a decrepit building. “See the cages?”

“Cages,” I replied with horror. “What’s in them?”

“Five-year-old girls. They’re smuggled across the border from Nepal, and for 30 days they’re held in those cages. They’re raped, tortured, starved and urinated on until they no longer have a will to rebel. Only then are they fit to become child prostitutes.”

I wanted to throw up.

“You can take a picture,” my contact added, “but don’t let the pimps see you or they’ll steal your camera.”

I got my photo. It’s not the best in the world, but you can clearly see the outlines of the bars. I call it the photo that changed my life. I came home from that trip determined to do something about what I’d seen.

I learned 1 million kids are trafficked for sex all over the world. Girls and boys as young as 4 years old are raped for profit 20, 30, even 40 times a night. And it’s not just “over there” but “over here,” too.  With a few clicks of your mouse, you can book a child-sex tour—to Atlanta and other cities around the U.S. Pick your child, hair color, sex and age, and she or he will be waiting for you.

Child trafficking is organized crime. It’s the second-highest grossing illegal industry on the planet after illegal drugs (in eastern Europe it’s already number one). You can sell a drug once, but you can sell a child over and over again.

Supply and Demand
Child trafficking everywhere is based on the simple law of supply and demand.  As long as there is a demand, traffickers have a ready supply. You can rescue one child, but there are 100 more where she came from. We have to rescue kids and provide aftercare for them—absolutely. But if we really want to shut down child trafficking for good, we have to cut off the supply line.

After I got back from that trip to India 10 years ago, I knew I wanted to do something to stop this horror but didn’t know what. So I went to Thailand to learn more. I set up interviews with safe house directors, talked to teens who’d been rescued from trafficking, met with social workers and counselors who helped them heal, and talked with attorneys who worked to get traffickers behind bars.

Everywhere I went it was as if God had a big clipboard and was crossing off everything He wasn’t calling me to do. I’m not a social worker. I’m not an attorney. And if I tried to build a safe house, they’d have to implode it after I left. (I’m not handy.)

But I kept hearing that kids get lured into trafficking because they believe the lies traffickers tell. Their parents do, too. They honestly trust the well-dressed “auntie” who shows up in the village offering to educate their daughter in the big city.

Last Day
On my last day in Thailand I still didn’t know what God wanted me to do. I wasn’t panicking because I figured He wouldn’t take me halfway around the world and send me home again without an assignment. My final meeting was with two social workers and an attorney.  I gave them my laundry list of what I couldn’t do.

“But I keep hearing that kids get taken because they don’t know any better,” I told them. “I’m a writer. I’m really big on awareness. And I’ve written children’s books and curriculum. If I write books for the kids and curriculum for the schools, can you use them?”

“Oh yes,” they replied. “We don’t have anything like that.”

I don’t know who was more excited—them or me.

I had my marching orders. I came home, launched a nonprofit, and spent the next five years (including another trip back to Thailand) compiling a team of writers, illustrators and educators. Together we produced the Born2Fly Project to stop child trafficking. It’s a six-session awareness and prevention program that includes an 80-page graphic novel (wordless so we don’t have to translate it into hundreds of languages) and companion curriculum—all designed for teens and young kids.

We’re beta-testing it right now in Bulgaria, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines. As soon as we get feedback from kids, teachers and parents, we’ll make changes and begin distribution. Already we have a waiting list of dozens of organizations all over the world that have found out about the program and want it for the kids in their area.

If you’ve read this far, you probably have “justice” seared on your heart, also. Maybe you’re looking for where you can plug in. This is my story, but God is writing your story, too. He’s the one who gave you that heart for justice in the first place and He has the exact right place for you to plug in, using all the gifts and talents He’s built into you.

Diana Scimone is director of The Born2Fly Project to stop child trafficking. She was named one of the Top 10 Women Warriors of Twitter. [email protected],,, @DianaScimone.

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