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Can we put a dent in the world's child trafficking industry? One Journalist Thinks it's Possible

Diana Scimone : Jun 19, 2008

"Whenever kids get awareness training, the rate of trafficking plummets."

It was early evening in Mumbai, India, as a guide quietly drove journalist Diana Scimone down a crowded street. This wasn't your usual tourist destination. It was Falkland Road, Mumbai's notorious red-light district.

"The doorway of every building was packed with young women waiting for customers," recalls Scimone, who writes frequently about human and religious rights. "Every woman had the same look on her face: hopelessness and shame."

Scimone's guide, whose ministry reaches out to prostitutes, pointed at something barely visible in an open window on a second floor. "See that?" he asked. "Those are the cages that hold little girls smuggled from Nepal."

Horrified, Scimone learned that the caged girls?some as young as 5 years old?are raped and tortured? until they no longer have a will to resist. Only then are they ready to become child sex slaves.

Scimone has been to more than 40 countries and written about the devastation that many of the world's children face. India, for example, has half a million child prostitutes. In Thailand and Cambodia, brothels are filled with little girls. In Moldova, traffickers wait outside orphanages to lure new recruits.

Each year more than 1 million additional children enter the sex trade.

"Child sex trafficking is everywhere, in every country," Scimone says, "including the United States. In most countries of the world, it's possible to buy a child?for the night or for life. It is global organized crime."

In fact, human trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal industry in the world, after guns and drugs. "You can sell a gun or drug only once," Scimone says, "but you can sell a child over and over again."

Paw Paw's PalsTo respond to the needs she saw, Scimone launched a non-profit organization, PawPaw's Pals, Inc., and looked for a way to help. She knew God wasn't calling her to rescue girls, build shelters, or provide after-care for traumatized kids. She couldn't do any of those things?but she could write.

"Everywhere I went, I kept hearing that kids get taken because they don't know any better," she explains. "They really think they're going to be models or waitresses in the big city. Parents believe the lies of traffickers who promise to educate their daughters at far-away schools?and never see them again."

Scimone was meeting with counselors and safe-house directors in northern Thailand when she had an idea. "If I write awareness materials for kids and parents," she asked, "could you use them?"

The answer was an enthusiastic yes. "Whenever kids get awareness training," Scimone says, "the rate of trafficking plummets. There's just not enough of it or in languages for kids who are most at-risk."

Scimone came home, launched the Not For Sale child-trafficking awareness campaign, and started writing. When she was done she had a 35,000-word novel for kids called Born to Fly about a caterpillar who has a dream to soar. In her journey from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly, she learns important lessons about following her dream.

"It's a parable for trafficking," Scimone says. "The take-aways for kids are right out of the mouth of a safe-house director I interviewed in Thailand: Choices have consequences, you are valuable, it's important to know who your true friends are, and more."

Scimone is now looking for an agent to help publish the book in the U.S. to raise awareness and funds for the project.

Meanwhile she and illustrator Leah Wiedemer are working on the next stage of the Not For Sale campaign: taking the plot of Born to Fly and turning it into a small picture book for at-risk children around the world ?a wordless picture book.

Why wordless? "So we don't have to get it translated and printed in hundreds of languages. A wordless picture book will save millions of dollars on translation and printing," explains Scimone, who's also taken on the task of raising funds for the project?about $500,000.

Once the wordless picture book is printed, PawPaw's Pals will partner with schools and non-profit organizations around the world to distribute it to at-risk kids. A companion curriculum will also be available for teachers and counselors.

"Education and awareness can make a huge dent in the international sex slavery industry," Scimone says, "because it helps cut off the pipeline. Awareness is not the only answer, but it's a large part of the answer. It's something we can do?now?to stop the traffic, and prevent more little girls from being enslaved."

For more information on Paw Paw's Pals, follow the link provided.