“The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Psalm 33:5
Among the most vulnerable children in Bangladesh are the daughters of prostitutes. When I traveled to Bangladesh in November to learn about World Vision’s child protection work, I was especially interested to find out how World Vision is protecting this particular group of children.
The fierce love of a mother and father is God’s primary plan for the protection of children. When this kind of love is supported by a country’s strong justice system with laws designed to protect children and leaders who value girls as much as boys, children will grow and thrive. There is no limit to the things they can do. Sadly, this is not the reality in Bangladesh . . . yet.
Our group of travelers met mothers working in brothels who desperately want a good future for their children. However, these mothers lack the power to make it happen. They themselves live under the authority of madams who peddle their flesh for profit and look forward to the day they can sell the daughters at a premium. When a madam buys a girl, she owns her for the rest of her life.
The story of Reshma and her two daughters is unfortunately too common. Reshma has been a sex worker for twenty-five years. She is only thirty-five now. Yes, it’s horrifying. Reshma was enslaved in a brothel at age ten.
We were honored when Reshma invited us (the women in our group) to see her room at the brothel in Jessore where she lives and works and raises her family. Reshma is now one of the “old” ones in the brothel and earns only $2.50 per customer instead of the $6.50 younger workers can earn. But the money all goes to the madam anyway. The workers keep only tips they might receive. Most sex workers use their tips for drugs and child care. Reshma pays a woman down the street to watch her youngest daughter, Silver. Her oldest daughter, Golden, comes to World Vision’s Child Friendly Space across the street.
Reshma said that she is tired of this life. “When I lie down on the pillow I think, I lost my mom. Now I have children myself. What will I do to care for them?” She added, “I am working hard in the brothel for my children’s education. It is their way to a better life.”
Reshma confided that she’s in debt $700 to the madam, the cost of several surgeries she needed. She will likely never be able to pay this off. Before we left the brothel, we asked Reshma how we could pray for her. She simply asked that we pray she can be a good mother and raise her girls well.
World Vision wants nothing more than to see Reshma’s girls raised well. World Vision staff visit the brothel almost every day and check on the health and well-being of Golden, Silver, and the other children.
World Vision has established twenty Child Friendly Spaces in Bangladesh where vulnerable children, both boys and girls, spend the day in a safe and loving environment. These Spaces are strategically positioned across the street from brothels and in the poorest slum neighborhoods. They are places where young children can play, sing, dance, and learn school lessons. Children enjoy healthy meals and prepare for entering public school. World Vision staff working in the Spaces love the children and do all they can to protect them from harm. With a mother’s consent, staff will often arrange a foster home or a shelter placement for a girl in order to remove her from the dangerous brothel environment.
Older children also meet in the Child Friendly Spaces to learn life skills lessons so they are prepared to defend their rights and protect themselves. Some of these young people form Child Forums to help teach other youth in the community these important lessons. We witnessed an impressive outdoor concert performed by one of the Forums. Through song and dance, they warn children and adults about the ways of traffickers.
World Vision’s child protection work— prevention, protection, restoration, and advocacy—is a safety net that spreads out across the nation from brothels, to poor neighborhoods, to community centers, to police stations, to government offices, into all spheres of life where the well-being of children can be influenced for good.
Here is a partial list of World Vision’s child protection activities and accomplishments in Bangladesh:
• Educated a million youth and adults on anti-trafficking issues
• Distributed new means of employment to 700 vulnerable families so their children can stay in school instead of working in hard labor or becoming vulnerable to trafficking
• Facilitated Life Skills workshops for ten thousand youth, many of whom are passing the information on to their peers
• Worked with over twelve hundred law enforcement officials in anti-trafficking training
• Oriented thirteen hundred journalists on how to report on trafficking issues
• Formed a cross-border (India) and in-country network with other organizations to combat trafficking and rescue lost girls and boys
• Established community committees to stop early marriage and protect girls from trafficking
• Launched “Bride Not Before 18” campaign to stop early marriage
• Rescued and reintegrated 116 trafficking victims, including shelter, income generation support, counseling, medical care
• Developed television campaign on protection issues
• Leading national anti-trafficking campaign
This list grows daily as the work continues in each of these areas.
During one of our last meetings with the World Vision Bangladesh staff, I wanted to encourage them by suggesting that since their work is intense, they must take care of themselves and find times to rest and refresh physically and spiritually. One of our new friends on staff named Richa quickly responded, saying her work is her joy and there is no time to rest. There is too much to be done.