But his affliction increased his market value. Longdy is one of five children from a poor family in Cambodia, one of the poorest nations. At the suggestion of a family member, Longdy agreed at the age of eight to travel to Thailand to earn money to support his family. He was trafficked and, because of his disability, forced to beg on the streets. He went out of love for his struggling mother (his father was not around…) and siblings. It was a miserable existence – and in many places in Asia and around the world you can see so many like him, children sold into slavery. He was beaten and starved. He was arrested three times by Thai police but was always returned to his dismal exploitation. We’ll come back to Longdy in a moment.
The trafficking of people has eclipsed trade in weapons to become the second-biggest illegal market in the world, after that for illicit drugs. The average full-time weekly wage in Australia is close to $1500, which is enough to buy about 15 slaves. It is estimated that there are between 21 million and 30 million slaves, three-in-four of them women. The trade generates annual profits of as much as $US120 billion – bigger than the economy of two-in-three nations.
There are all the children like Longdy. There are children trafficked to paedophiles. There are countless women tricked and/or sold into sex work all over the world. This graphic from aid agency Hagar, which was founded 20 years ago to help individual women and children rebuild their lives after being rescued from trafficking, gives you the size and scope of the problem. Look at just how prevalent it is in our region.
Only days ago, a mass grave was found in a human trafficking camp in southern Thailand.
Then there are men tricked and/or sold into slavery, like the 550 young men and boys, many from Cambodia and Myanmar, recently rescued from locked cages on an isolated Indonesian island. Some of them had been forced for years to work on fishing trawlers, under fear of death, for up to 22 hours a day. Here they are only several weeks ago, responding to their rescuers’ question of whether they want to go home.
Here they are being processed by the Indonesian police who finally saved them from the traffickers.
In a departure from its usual focus on women and children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan, Hagar is helping, on a case-by-case basis, around 60 of these rescued men find safety, shelter and work, and, where possible, to reunite with their families. Here are some of the men:
I wrote about Hagar and its chief executive Kate Kennedy, when she took on the role back in 2012. At the invitation of Kate, who had some left-over educational funds from The Pratt Foundation, I recently went to see Hagar’s work in Cambodia. Here’s Kate at a secret, guarded school for some of the children that have been saved from slavery and other forms of abuse, particularly sexual abuse. This picture was taken by international portrait photographer Sealey Brandt.
Here a child, whose face I can not show you because of Hagar’s child protection policies, working on a mask, again photographed by Sealey.
Our government, in the budget it has just delivered, has again cut the foreign aid budget, taking it to its lowest level, as a proportion of national income, in 40 years. Australia is cutting aid to African countries by an average of as much as 70 per cent, while regions other than the Pacific lose about 40 per cent on average. Cambodian direct aid will not be much altered in the aggregate, but because government funding to some of the organisations that support Hagar is being cut, Hagar is facing a reduction at the very moment it is significantly adding to its caseload by taking care of so many of the trafficked fishermen. If you want to help the organisation help these men, you can do that here.
And what of Longdy, one of the 15,000 people to whom Hagar has provided structured, individualised support? Well, he was referred in 2003 to Hagar, which put him through school. He is now 25. He is studying psychology in Phnom Penh, and working part-time as a mentor in Hagar’s recovery shelter for boys.