Tag Archives: Poverty

Zimbabwe Child Brides Fight Back in Court

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two former child brides have taken Zimbabwe’s government to court in a ground-breaking bid to get child marriages declared illegal and unconstitutional.

Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi say child marriage, which is rife in Zimbabwe, is a form of child abuse which traps girls in lives of poverty and suffering.

“I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible,” said Tsopodzi, a mother of one, who was married at 15.

“I want to take this action to make a difference,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Harare on Tuesday. “There are a lot of children getting married.”

Data published last year indicates one third of girls in Zimbabwe marry before their 18th birthday and 5 percent before they turn 15.

Child marriage deprives girls of education and opportunities, jeopardizes their health and increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death or serious injury in childbirth.

In their statements to the Constitutional Court, Tsopodzi and Mudzuru, now 19 and 20, say Zimbabwe’s Marriage Act is discriminatory because it sets the minimum age at 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The Customary Marriage Act sets no minimum age.

They say the law should be brought into line with Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution as well as regional and international treaties banning child marriage.

The 2013 constitution says every child under 18 has the right to parental care, education and protection from “economic and sexual exploitation”.

It does not set a minimum marriage age, but states that no one should be forced to marry against their will and indicates that 18 is the minimum age for starting a family.

VICIOUS CIRCLE

Poverty is the driving force behind child marriage in Zimbabwe. Parents often marry girls off so they have one less mouth to feed. Dowry payments may be a further incentive.

Some communities also see child marriage as a way of protecting girls from having premarital sex.

In her affidavit, Mudzuru described how child marriage and poverty create a vicious circle.

“Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again,” she stated.

Mudzuru, who was married at 16 and had two children before she was 18, said her life was “hell” and she spent her days trapped in drudgery.

“My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard,” she said by phone from her home in Harare. “I should be going to school.”

The girls’ lawyer, former finance minister Tendai Biti, presented the legal challenge in January.

Beatrice Savadye, who heads rights group ROOTS which is backing the ground-breaking case, said it had generated a lot of interest both inside Zimbabwe and in other countries in the region.

She said it was unclear when the court would give its decision, but that it had to rule within six months.

Globally, some 15 million girls are married off every year. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

 

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Mothers as Sex Traffickers

Ngao, Ann and Neoung live amid poverty in the Cambodian fishing village of Svay Pak. When faced with a financial crisis, each made the extraordinary decision to sell their adolescent daughter to sex traffickers.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN)

When a poor family in Cambodia fell afoul of loan sharks, the mother asked her youngest daughter to take a job. But not just any job.

The girl, Kieu, was taken to a hospital and examined by a doctor, who issued her a “certificate of virginity.” She was then delivered to a hotel, where a man raped her for two days.

Kieu was 12 years old.

“I did not know what the job was,” says Kieu, now 14 and living in a safehouse. She says she returned home from the experience “very heartbroken.” But her ordeal was not over.

After the sale of her virginity, her mother had Kieu taken to a brothel where, she says, “they held me like I was in prison.”

She was kept there for three days, raped by three to six men a day. When she returned home, her mother sent her away for stints in two other brothels, including one 400 kilometers away on the Thai border. When she learned her mother was planned to sell her again, this time for a six-month stretch, she realized she needed to flee her home.

“Selling my daughter was heartbreaking, but what can I say?” says Kieu’s mother, Neoung, in an interview with a CNN crew that traveled to Phnom Penh to hear her story.

Like other local mothers CNN spoke to, she blames poverty for her decision to sell her daughter, saying a financial crisis drove her into the clutches of the traffickers who make their livelihoods preying on Cambodian children.

“It was because of the debt, that’s why I had to sell her,” she says. “I don’t know what to do now, because we cannot move back to the past.”

It is this aspect of Cambodia’s appalling child sex trade that Don Brewster, a 59-year-old American resident of the neighborhood, finds most difficult to countenance.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your mother sell you, to have your mother waiting in the car while she gets money for you to be raped,” he says. “It’s not that she was stolen from her mother — her mother gave the keys to the people to rape her.”

Sephak's mother Ann (left), and Kieu's mother Neoung, are cousins and live nearby each other. Like many mothers in Svay Pak, when times were tough for their families financially, they saw selling their daughters' virginity as a way to make money. Both say they now regret the decision.

Sephak’s mother Ann (left), and Kieu’s mother Neoung, are cousins and live nearby each other. Like many mothers in Svay Pak, when times were tough for their families financially, they saw selling their daughters’ virginity as a way to make money. Both say they now regret the decision.

Brewster, a former pastor, moved from California to Cambodia with wife Bridget in 2009, after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood where Kieu grew up — Svay Pak, the epicenter of child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation.

“Svay Pak is known around the world as a place where pedophiles come to get little girls,” says Brewster, whose organization, Agape International Missions (AIM), has girls as young as four in its care, rescued from traffickers and undergoing rehabilitation in its safehouses.

In recent decades, he says, this impoverished fishing village – where a daughter’s virginity is too often seen as a valuable asset for the family – has become a notorious child sex hotspot

“When we came here three years ago and began to live here, 100% of the kids between 8 and 12 were being trafficked,” says Brewster. The local sex industry sweeps up both children from the neighborhood — sold, like Kieu, by their parents – as well as children trafficked in from the countryside, or across the border from Vietnam. “We didn’t believe it until we saw vanload after vanload of kids.”

Global center for pedophiles

Weak law enforcement, corruption, grinding poverty and the fractured social institutions left by the country’s turbulent recent history have helped earn Cambodia an unwelcome reputation for child trafficking, say experts.

UNICEF estimates that children account for a third of the 40,000-100,000 people in the country’s sex industry.

Svay Pak, a dusty shantytown on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, is at the heart of this exploitative trade.

As one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in one of Asia’s poorest countries – nearly half the population lives on less than $2 per day — the poverty in the settlement is overwhelming. The residents are mostly undocumented Vietnamese migrants, many of whom live in ramshackle houseboats on the murky Tonle Sap River, eking out a living farming fish in nets tethered to their homes.

Svay Pak, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is the epicenter of Cambodia's child sex trade. Many of its residents are undocumented Vietnamese migrants, living in a community of ramshackle houseboats connected by rickety walkways.

Svay Pak, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, is the epicenter of Cambodia’s child sex trade. Many of its residents are undocumented Vietnamese migrants, living in a community of ramshackle houseboats connected by rickety walkways.

Most residents here are fish farmers. Beneath the platform on which the ducks are resting is a net teeming with fish, which will be fattened up to maturity over the course of months to provide what is often the family's sole source of income.

Most residents here are fish farmers. Beneath the platform on which the ducks are resting is a net teeming with fish, which will be fattened up to maturity over the course of months to provide what is often the family’s sole source of income.

It’s a precarious existence. The river is fickle, the tarp-covered houseboats fragile. Most families here scrape by on less than a dollar a day, leaving no safety net for when things go wrong – such as when Kieu’s father fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, too sick to maintain the nets that contained their livelihood. The family fell behind on repayments of a debt.

In desperation, Kieu’s mother, Neoung, sold her virginity to a Cambodian man of “maybe more than 50,” who had three children of his own, Kieu says. The transaction netted the family only $500, more than the $200 they had initially borrowed but a lot less than the thousands of dollars they now owed a loan shark.

So Neoung sent her daughter to a brothel to earn more.

“They told me when the client is there, I have to wear short shorts and a skimpy top,” says Kieu. “But I didn’t want to wear them and then I got blamed.” Her clients were Thai and Cambodian men, who, she says, knew she was very young.

Don Brewster, a former pastor from California, is the founder and director of Agape International Missions, an organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of child trafficking in Cambodia and smashing the networks that exploit them. He moved to Cambodia with his wife in 2009 after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood.

“When they sleep with me, they feel very happy,” she says. “But for me, I feel very bad.”

The men who abuse the children of Svay Pak fit a number of profiles. They include pedophile sex tourists, who actively seek out sex with prepubescent children, and more opportunistic “situational” offenders, who take advantage of opportunities in brothels to have sex with adolescents.

Sex tourists tend to hail from affluent countries, including the West, South Korea, Japan and China, but research suggests Cambodian men remain the main exploiters of child prostitutes in their country.

Mark Capaldi is a senior researcher for Ecpat International, an organization committed to combating the sexual exploitation of children.

“In most cases when we talk about child sexual exploitation, it’s taking place within the adult sex industry,” says Capaldi. “We tend to often hear reports in the media about pedophilia, exploitation of very young children. But the majority of sexual exploitation of children is of adolescents, and that’s taking place in commercial sex venues.”

The abusers would often be local, situational offenders, he says. Research suggests some of the Asian perpetrators are “virginity seekers,” for whom health-related beliefs around the supposedly restorative or protective qualities of virgins factor into their interest in child sex.

Whatever the profile of the perpetrator, the abuse they inflict on their victims, both girls and boys, is horrific. Trafficked children in Cambodia have been subjected to rape by multiple offenders, filmed performing sex acts and left with physical injuries — not to mention psychological trauma — from their ordeals, according to research.

In recent years, various crackdowns in Svay Pak have dented the trade, but also pushed it underground. Today, Brewster says, there are more than a dozen karaoke bars operating as brothels along the road to the neighborhood, where two years ago there was none. Even today, he estimates a majority of girls in Svay Park are being trafficked.

Virgins for sale

Kieu’s relative, Sephak, who lives nearby, is another survivor. (CNN is naming the victims in this case at the request of the girls themselves, as they want to speak out against the practice of child sex trafficking.)

Sephak was 13 when she was taken to a hospital, issued a certificate confirming her virginity, and delivered to a Chinese man in a Phnom Penh hotel room. She was returned after three nights. Sephak says her mother was paid $800.

“When I had sex with him, I felt empty inside. I hurt and I felt very weak,” she says. “It was very difficult. I thought about why I was doing this and why my mom did this to me.” After her return, her mother began pressuring her daughter to work in a brothel.

Toha listens to her mother explain how she came to sell her to sex traffickers. She no longer lives with her family, opting instead to live in a residence for trafficking survivors run by Brewster’s organization — but still provides her family some financial support from her new job.

Not far away from Sephak’s family home, connected to the shore via a haphazard walkway of planks that dip beneath the water with each footfall, is the houseboat where Toha grew up.

The second of eight children, none of whom attend school, Toha was sold for sex by her mother when she was 14. The transaction followed the same routine: medical certificate, hotel, rape.

About two weeks after she returned to Svay Pak, she says, the man who had bought her virginity began calling, requesting to see her again. Her mother urged her to go. The pressure drove her to despair.

“I went to the bathroom and cut my arms. I cut my wrists because I wanted to kill myself,” Toha says. A friend broke down the door to the bathroom and came to her aid.

Mothers as sex traffickers

CNN met with the mothers of Kieu, Sephak and Toha in Svay Pak to hear their accounts of why they chose to expose their daughters to sexual exploitation.

Kieu’s mother, Neoung, had come to Svay Pak from the south of the country in search of a better life when Kieu was just a baby. But life in Svay Pak, she would learn, wasn’t easy.

When her husband’s tuberculosis rendered him too sick to properly maintain the nets on the family’s fish pond, the family took on a $200 loan at extortionate rates from a loan shark. It has now ballooned to more than $9,000. “The debt that my husband and I have is too big, we can’t pay it off,” she says. “What can you do in a situation like this?”

“Virginity selling” was widespread in the community, and Neoung saw it as a legitimate option to make some income. “They think it is normal,” she says. “I told her, ‘Kieu, your dad is sick and can’t work… Do you agree to do that job to contribute to your parents?'”

“I know that I did wrong so I feel regret about it, but what can I do?” she says. “We cannot move back to the past.”

But she adds she would never do it again.

Sephak’s mother, Ann, has a similar story. Ann moved to Svay Pak when her father came to work as a fish farmer. She and her husband have serious health problems.

“We are very poor, so I must work hard,” she says. “It’s still not enough to live by and we’re sick all the time.”

The family fell on hard times. When a storm roared through the region, their house was badly damaged, their fish got away, and they could no longer afford to eat. In crisis, the family took out a loan that eventually spiraled to about $6000 in debt, she says.

With money-lenders coming to her home and threatening her, Ann made the decision to take up an offer from a woman who approached her promising big money for her daughter’s virginity.

“I saw other people doing it and I didn’t think it through,” she says. “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t do that to my daughter.”

On her houseboat, as squalls of rain lash the river, Toha’s mother Ngao sits barefoot before the television taking pride of place in the main living area, and expresses similar regrets. On the wall hangs a row of digitally enhanced portraits of her husband and eight children. They are dressed in smart suits and dresses, superimposed before an array of fantasy backdrops: an expensive motorcycle, a tropical beach, an American-style McMansion.

Life with so many children is hard, she says, so she asked her daughter to go with the men.

She would not do the same again, she says, as she now has access to better support; Agape International Missions offers interest-free loan refinancing to get families out of the debt trap, and factory jobs for rescued daughters and their mothers.

The news of Ngao’s betrayal of her daughter has drawn mixed responses from others in the neighborhood, she says. Some mock her for offering up her daughter, others sympathize with her plight. Some see nothing wrong with she did at all.

“Some people say ‘It’s OK — just bring your daughter (to the traffickers) so you can pay off the debt and feel better,'” says Ngao.

Toha's mother Ngao says she sold her second daughter to sex traffickers to try to make ends meet for the rest of the family. She has eight children.

Toha’s mother Ngao says she sold her second daughter to sex traffickers to try to make ends meet for the rest of the family. She has eight children.

A new future

Not long after her suicide attempt, Toha was sent to a brothel in southern Cambodia. She endured more than 20 days there, before she managed to get access to a phone, and called a friend. She told the friend to contact Brewster’s group, who arranged for a raid on the establishment.

Although children can be found in many brothels across Cambodia — a 2009 survey of 80 Cambodian commercial sex premises found three-quarters offering children for sex – raids to free them are infrequent.

The country’s child protection infrastructure is weak, with government institutions riven with corruption. Cambodia’s anti-trafficking law does not even permit police to conduct undercover surveillance on suspected traffickers. General Pol Phie They, the head of Cambodia’s anti-trafficking taskforce set up in 2007 to address the issue, says this puts his unit at a disadvantage against traffickers.

“We are still limited in prosecuting these violations because first, we lack the expertise and second, we lack the technical equipment,” he says. “Sometimes, we see a violation but we can’t collect the evidence we need to prosecute the offender.”

He admits that police corruption in his country, ranked 160 of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, is hampering efforts to tackle the trade in Svay Pak. “Police in that area probably do have connections with the brothel owners,” he concedes.

Toha’s nightmare is now over. She earns a steady income, weaving bracelets that are sold in American stores, while she studies for her future. Her dream is to become a social worker, helping other girls who have been through the same ordeal.

Brewster believes that corruption was to blame for nearly thwarting Toha’s rescue. In October 2012, after Toha’s call for help, AIM formulated plans with another organization to rescue the teen, and involved police.

“We get a warrant to shut the place down,” recalls Brewster. “Fifteen minutes later, Toha calls and says, ‘I don’t know what happened, the police just came with the owner and took us to a new place. I’m locked inside and don’t know where I am.'”

Fortunately the rescue team were able to establish Toha’s new location, and she and other victims were freed and the brothel managers arrested – although not before the owners fled to Vietnam.

Toha’s testimony against the brothel managers, however, resulted in their prosecutions.

Last month, at the Phnom Penh Municipal Courthouse, husband and wife Heng Vy and Nguyeng Thi Hong were found guilty of procuring prostitution and sentenced to three years in jail. Both were ordered to pay $1,250 to the court, $5,000 to Toha, and smaller sums to three other victims.

Brewster was in court to watch the sentencing; a small victory in the context of Cambodia’s child trafficking problem, but a victory nonetheless.

“Toha’s an amazingly brave girl,” he says on the courthouse steps, shortly after the brothel managers were led down to the cells.

“Getting a telephone when she’s trapped in a brothel to call for help, to saying she would be a witness in front of the police…. She stood up and now people are going to pay the price and girls will be protected. What it will do is bring more Tohas, more girls who are willing to speak, places shut down, bad guys put away.”

Like the other victims, Toha now lives in an AIM safehouse, attending school and supporting herself by weaving bracelets, which are sold in stores in the West as a way of providing a livelihood to formerly trafficked children.

In the eyes of the community, having a job has helped restore to the girls some of the dignity that was stripped from them by having been sold into trafficking, says Brewster.

It has also given them independence from their families — and with that, the opportunity to build for themselves a better reality than the one that was thrust on them. Now Sephak has plans to become a teacher, Kieu a hairdresser.

For her part, Toha still has contact with her mother – even providing financial support to the family through her earnings – but has become self-reliant. She wants to be a social worker, she says, helping girls who have endured the same hell she has.

“(Toha)’s earning a good living and she has a dream beyond that, you know, to become a counselor and to be able to help other girls,” says Brewster. “You see the transformation that’s happened to her.”

The Child Rape Assembly Line

IN RITUAL BATHHOUSES OF THE JEWISH ORTHODOXY, CHILDREN ARE SYSTEMATICALLY ABUSED

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, the lone whistleblower among the Satmar, a powerful Hasidic sect, who recently was the victim of a bleach attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. All photos by Christian Storm.

By Christopher Ketcham

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg—who is 63 with a long, graying beard—recently sat down with me to explain what he described as a “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be graphic,” he said.

A member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim fundamentalist branch of Orthodox Judaism, Nuchem designs and repairs mikvahs in compliance with Torah Law. The mikvah is a ritual Jewish bathhouse used for purification. Devout Jews are required to cleanse themselves in the mikvah on a variety of occasions: women must visit following menstruation, and men have to make an appearance before the High Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of the devout also purify themselves before and after the act of sex, and before the Sabbath.

On a visit to Jerusalem in 2005, Rabbi Rosenberg entered into a mikvah in one of the holiest neighborhoods in the city, Mea She’arim. “I opened a door that entered into a schvitz,” he told me. “Vapors everywhere, I can barely see. My eyes adjust, and I see an old man, my age, long white beard, a holy-looking man, sitting in the vapors. On his lap, facing away from him, is a boy, maybe seven years old. And the old man is having anal sex with this boy.”

Rabbi Rosenberg paused, gathered himself, and went on: “This boy was speared on the man like an animal, like a pig, and the boy was saying nothing. But on his face—fear. The old man [looked at me] without any fear, as if this was common practice. He didn’t stop. I was so angry, I confronted him. He removed the boy from his penis, and I took the boy aside. I told this man, ‘It’s a sin before God, a mishkovzucher. What are you doing to this boy’s soul? You’re destroying this boy!’ He had a sponge on a stick to clean his back, and he hit me across the face with it. ‘How dare you interrupt me!’ he said. I had heard of these things for a long time, but now I had seen.”

The child sex abuse crisis in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like that in the Catholic Church, has produced its share of shocking headlines in recent years. In New York, and in the prominent Orthodox communities of Israel and London, allegations of child molestation and rape have been rampant. The alleged abusers are schoolteachers, rabbis, fathers, uncles—figures of male authority. The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.

In these cases, the accused men “very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.” The goal, she told me, is “to excise the mother from the child’s life.” Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is “amputated.” One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.

Rabbi Rosenberg inspects a ritual purification bath, known as a mikvah. In 2005, he witnessed a young boy being raped inside a similar bath.

Seven years ago, Rabbi Rosenberg started blogging about sex abuse in his community and opened a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints. He has posted appeals on YouTube, appeared on CNN, and given speeches across the US, Canada, Israel, and Australia. Today, he is the lone whistleblower among the Satmar. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis. In Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, advertisements taken out by the self-described “great rabbis and rabbinical judges of the city of New York” have denounced him as “a stumbling block for the House of Israel,” “a public rebuker and preacher of ethics” who “persists in his rebelliousness” and whose “voice has been heard among many Jewish families, especially young people in their innocence… drawn to listen to his poisonous and revolting speeches.” Leaflets distributed in Williamsburg and Borough Park, the centers of ultra-Orthodoxy in Brooklyn, display his bearded face over the body of a writhing snake. “Corrupt Informer,” reads one of the leaflets, followed by the declaration that Rabbi Rosenberg’s “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”

When Rabbi Rosenberg wants to bathe at a mikvah in Brooklyn to purify himself, none will have him. When he wants to go to synagogue, none will have him. “He is finished in the community, butchered,” said a fellow rabbi who would only talk anonymously. “No one will look at him, and those who will talk to him, they can’t let it be known. The pressure in our community, it’s incredible.”

The powerful men—and it is worth noting that this community is regulated by men only—who govern the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism would rather their adherents be blind in their faith, their eyes closed to the horrors Rabbi Rosenberg is exposing. Like the Catholic establishment, the rabbinate seeks to cover up the crimes, quiet the victims, protect the abusers, and deflect potential criticism of their institutional practices. Those who speak out are vilified, and the faithful learn to shut their mouths. When the father of the seven-year-old boy whom Rabbi Rosenberg rescued from the Jerusalem bathhouse showed up to collect his son, he couldn’t believe his son had been raped. Trembling, terrified, he whisked his son away to get medical help, but was still too scared to raise a formal complaint. According to Ben and Survivors for Justice, “The greatest sin is not the abuse, but talking about the abuse. Kids and parents who step forward to complain are crushed.”

As for Rabbi Rosenberg, when he voiced his concerns to the rabbinate in Israel, he was brought up on charges by the mishmeres hatznuis, the archconservative Orthodox “modesty squad,” which regulates, often through threats of violence, proper moral conduct and dress in the relations between men and women. The modesty squad is a sort of Jewish Taliban. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, the rapist he caught in the act was a member of the modesty squad, which charged him with the unconscionable offense of having previously been seen walking down a street in Jerusalem with a married woman. “But it’s OK to molest children,” he adds.

The abuse and its cover-up are symptoms of wider political dysfunction—or, more precisely, symptoms of socially disastrous political control by religious elites.

“This isn’t a problem about a few aberrant cases or an old-fashioned community reluctant to talk to police about sexual matters,” said Michael Lesher, a practicing Jew who has investigated Orthodox sex abuse and represented abuse victims. “This is about a political economy that links Orthodox Judaism with other fundamentalist creeds and with aspects of right-wing ideologies generally. It’s an economy in which genuine religious values will never really rise to the top, so long as they’re tied to the poisonous priorities that elevate status and power over the basic human needs of the most vulnerable among us.”

Michael, who is completing a book on the topic, noted that the infamous Rabbi Elior Chen, convicted in 2010 in what was arguably Israel’s worst case of serial child abuse, is still defended in public statements by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Among other legal and moral crimes, the rabbi forced his victims to eat feces, claiming that this cruelty was necessary to “purify” the children he abused.

According to Ben, the ultra-Orthodox community has never been as repressive as it is today. The repression, as he describes it, stems from the burden of having too many children. Huge families are encouraged: every child born to a Hasid is seen as “a finger in the eye of Hitler.” Ben also told me that the average family size among Williamsburg Hasidim is nine, and that some families include more than 15 children.

Mikvah Israel of Boro Park, one of the many mikvahs in Brooklyn that no longer accept Rabbi Rosenberg.

Families saddled with an increasing number of children soon enter into a cycle of poverty. There is simultaneously an extreme separation of the sexes, which is unprecedented in the history of the Hasidim. There is limited general education, to the point that most men in the community are educated only to the third grade, and receive absolutely no sexual education. No secular newspapers are allowed, and internet access is forbidden. “The men in the community are undereducated by design,” Ben said. “You have a community that has been infantilized. They have been trained not to think. It’s a sort of totalitarian control.”

The rabbis, dominating an ignorant and largely poverty-stricken flock, determine the fate of every individual in the community. Nothing is done without the consent of the rabbinical establishment. A man wants to buy a new car—he goes to the rabbi for counsel. A man wants to marry—the rabbi tells him whether or not he should marry a particular bride. As for the women, they don’t get to ask the rabbi anything. Their place is beneath contempt.

Michael told me that current Orthodox leadership, accruing wealth from the tithes of subservient followers, is “drifting to the right, politically as well as religiously.” Many rabbis in New York City have taken up the banner of neoliberalism. “Every English-language Orthodox publication I know embraced Romney during the 2012 elections, decried national health insurance, blamed liberals for bribing the lower classes,” he said. “In Orthodox society, just as in America at large, the financial mismatch between the elite and the rest of us is ominously large.”

Michael also notes that the problem is not confined to the extremists. “The same patterns of victim-blaming, covering up, idealizing the rabbis so that cover-ups aren’t even acknowledged, are found all across the spectrum of Orthodoxy,” he told me. “The Orthodox left was shamefully slow to react to Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s abuse or to the similar case of Rabbi Mordechai Elon.” Rabbi Lanner, a former New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was found guilty in 2000 of sexually abusing dozens of teenage students over the decades of his tenure. Rabbi Elon, who had publicly denounced homosexuality, was convicted last August on two counts of forcible sexual assault on a male minor, following several years of reports of his abuse of young boys.

“I have children come to me with their parents, and the blood is coming out of the anus,” Rabbi Rosenberg told me when we met. “These are zombies for life. What are we to do?”

This of course is the key question, and no answers are forthcoming. Michael holds out little hope that the situation will change. “If Orthodox institutions continue on their current trajectory,” he said, “I’d say things could get worse before they get better.”

A few weeks after our interview, Rabbi Rosenberg was walking through the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn when an unidentified man rushed up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and threw a cup of bleach in his face. He went to the hospital with facial burns and was temporarily blinded. Such is the measure of justice among the Satmar that a once-respected rabbi, now amputated from the community, should find himself chemically burned on a street in a neighborhood considered holy.

Later Rabbi Rosenberg told me a story of being surrounded by young boys in Williamsburg. The boys cursed him, laughed at him, threatened him, and spat at him. He wondered how many of them would end up molested.

Bodies of 92 Nigerian Migrant Workers Found Near Algerian Border

Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert. Women and children who tried to cross desert on foot to reach Algeria suspected to have been trafficked

Graves dug for stranded migrants in Sahara

Graves are dug for the migrants who died in the Sahara in October. Of this migrants’ group 21 who survived reached the nearest town, Arlit, in Niger.

The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger.

An aid worker in Niger, a vast, landlocked country that straddles the desert between north and sub-Saharan Africa, told the Guardian that the scene was traumatic for the rescuers. They had discovered the bodies scattered in small groups around the desert.

“This is extremely difficult and the most horrible thing I have ever seen,” said Almoustapha Alhacen, a rescuer who lives in Arlit, a uranium mining town 50 miles away. “These are women and children; they were abandoned and left to die. We found them scattered over a large area, in small groups. Some were lying under trees, others exposed to the sun. Sometimes we found a mother and her children. Some were children alone.”

“They were left there for so long that their bodies are decomposed. Some of the bodies are still there.”

The group was discovered after survivors reached Arlit on foot. Local experts said that the people were victims of human trafficking and were believed to have died two weeks ago as they tried to walk 12 miles in scorching sun to reach a well after the lorry they were travelling in broke down leaving them stranded.

Sources in Niger said that the group, who began their perilous journey across the desert in late September, was comprised of local people from Zinder, the second largest city in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria.

“We think that all these people are from the villages around Zinder,” said Alhacen. “But until the investigation is finished, we cannot know all the details. It is very common for migrants to travel through this part of Niger. We have people from Nigeria and Burkina Faso, as well as people from Niger. They are trying to reach Libya and Algeria.”

One security expert stressed that the group were not economic migrants but victims of trafficking.

Moussa Akfar, a security expert based in Niamey, Niger’s capital, said: “This was in fact a case of poor people and children who were being trafficked to Algeria. There is an inquiry underway but we know that this was trafficking because economic migrants go to Libya – in Libya you find people of all nationalities, from Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries, heading to Europe.

“In this case all the victims were Nigerien from Zinder, and they were being trafficked. The questions that have to be asked now is how officials on road checkpoints did not alert the authorities about this group. There is endemic corruption at work.”

Details are still emerging about what happened to the group. The discovery of the 92 people – they were known to be 32 women and 48 children among them, reports said – comes after a further 35  bodies were found this week.

The two groups were believed to be of the same set of migrants who were travelling north  aboard two lorries in an attempt to reach Algeria.

They died in October, only six miles from the border between Niger and Algeria, after one of their two vehicles broke down and left them stranded as it headed off looking for replacement parts.

Niger security sources told the local press that 21 had survived, including two who had walked across the desert to Arlit, the nearest town and site of a plant for the French nuclear company Areva.

A further 19 who continued on their journey to Algeria and reached the town of Tamaresset, in southern Algeria, were turned away and repatriated back to Niger, local press reported.

The route taken across Niger’s desert, which often begins in the southern town of Zinder and then proceeds through desert to the town of Agadez, is a well-known traffickers’ route for transportations to north Africa.

Beyond the Sahara some people then try to board boats to Europe, while others end up in Algeria seeking work.

“Zinder and Agadez, these are the main migrant routes, as well as human trafficking routes in Niger,” said Johnson Bien-Aime from the children’s development organisation Plan Niger. “We know that trafficking is happening every day in these areas, but unfortunately, until now, nothing has been done about it.”

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rocked by repeated food crises in recent years. Last year Save the Children termed Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother amid its warnings that continuing poverty levels were driving people to undertake life-threatening journeys to higher income nations.

While many in Niger said that the October deaths were linked to trafficking, Algeria being the intended destination, Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, said the group could have been trying to reach Europe.

“They were probably heading to the Mediterranean to try to go to Europe, or else to Algeria to work,” said Feltou.

Rescue workers who found the bodies said the group could have included a party from an Islamic madrasa school, given the large number of children and an elderly man among the victims who appeared to be an Islamic teacher.

The plight of migrants from Africa and the Middle East is increasingly under the spotlight after a series of tragedies in which large numbers have died trying to reach Europe, including the 365 who perished off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October when their boat capsized.

Tens of thousands of west African migrants, many of whom have paid as much as $3,000 to be taken across the desert from Niger to north Africa, arrive in Europe by sea each year, according to the United Nations.

“Sadly this is a typical migration that has been going on over last number of years,” said John Ging, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “We estimate that 80,000 make that journey every year from the Sahara, and basically they are economic migrants so impoverished they have to make these hazardous journeys.”

The Bangladesh poor selling organs to pay debts

Mr Hossen

Mohammad Moqarram Hossen had a kidney removed and says he can no longer do heavy work

Kalai, like many other villages in Bangladesh, appears a rural idyll at first sight. But several villagers here have resorted to selling organs to pay back microcredit loans that were meant to lift them out of poverty. Journalist Sophie Cousins reports on an alarming consequence of the microfinance revolution.

Green rice paddies surround the dusty, narrow road to the heart of Kalai, a village six hours north of Dhaka, in Bangladesh’s Jotpurhat district. Children play naked, hanging off stringy bits of bamboo that hold up the makeshift hut they live in.

They, like millions of other rural Bangladeshis, grow up facing a life of hardship. In an attempt to alleviate poverty, countless numbers take on debt with microcredit lenders, only to find themselves in a difficult situation when they are unable to repay the loan.

Some have even turned to selling their organs as a last resort to repay the loans and escape the vicious cycle of poverty.

The idea of selling organs is not new and those in poverty throughout South Asia have resorted to it for years. But what is less known, is that more people are turning to the trade because of feeling under pressure to pay back microcredit lenders.

These lenders were originally set up to help lift people out of poverty by offering small loans to people who do not qualify for traditional banking credit, to encourage entrepreneurship and empower women.

Microcredit in Bangladesh

  • As of December 2011, more than 34 million Bangladeshis had accessed microcredit since 1997, when it began collecting data
  • Of those 34 million, more than 26 million live under the poverty line – on less than $1.25 a day
  • There are currently 20.65 million borrowers in Bangladesh
  • It is estimated the sector constitutes around 3% of GDP

Selling a kidney

Mohammad Akhtar Alam, 33, bears a 15-inch scar on his stomach where he had a kidney removed. The organ removal – which is illegal in Bangladesh unless the organ is being given to a spouse or family member – combined with the inadequate post-operative care he received, has left him partially paralyzed, with only one eye working and unable to do any heavy lifting.

To earn money, he runs a small shop in the village that sells rice, flour and the occasional sweet treat.

A couple of years ago Mr Alam’s income from driving a van was not enough to make the weekly loan repayments he was required to make from up to eight different non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which lend microcredit.

“One day [a man] rode in my van and asked me why I was doing this,” he recalls.

“I told him that I was very poor and that I had loans from seven or eight NGOs. I owed about 100,000 taka [$1,442; £900] and I could not return the money to the NGOs. I used to try and sell furniture and things for cooking to try to repay the money.”

Mr Alam had got caught in a web of loans in which he first borrowed money from one NGO and, when he was unable to pay it off, he borrowed from other NGOs.

His passenger worked as a middleman between organ seller and recipient and persuaded him to sell a kidney, promising 400,000 taka ($6,360; £4,000).

Seventeen days later, Mr Alam says he returned home from a private hospital in Dhaka, barely alive and carrying only a fraction of the money he was promised.

“I agreed to sell my kidney because I couldn’t return the money to the NGOs. As we are poor and helpless, that is why we are bound to do this. I regret it,” he says.

Mohammad Moqarram Hossen, also from Kalai, is another victim.

“I took the decision to return the money I borrowed from NGOs,” he says as he reveals the scar he has been left following an operation in India to remove his kidney.

“The doctor told me there was no risk but now I can’t do any heavy work. I can’t work.”

How many loans?

Microcredit, hailed as a saviour for millions, aims to break the cycle of poverty by stimulating income-generating activities through providing collateral-free loans.

Kalai

In an attempt to alleviate poverty, millions of Bangladeshi villagers take out micro-credit loans

But its repayment structure and the apparent inability of microfinance institutions to determine whether borrowers have multiple loans with other institutions rarely come under scrutiny.

Consequently, it can create a vicious cycle in which borrowers borrow money from other NGOs to repay existing loans, leaving many unable to repay and some to take extreme measures such as selling organs to make repayments.

Professor Monir Moniruzzaman from the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University has been researching the organ trade in Bangladesh for 12 years and says some people feel they are left with no choice but to sell a body part.

“A lot of people’s debt from NGOs has spiraled out of control. Because they cannot repay the loans, there is only one way for people to get out and that is to sell their kidney,” he says.

His research into Bangladesh’s organ trade reveals that of the 33 kidney sellers he interviewed, some had sold their organs due to feeling under pressure to repay loans.

He alleges that NGO officials, from organisations such as Grameen Bank and BRAC, among others, pressure people into repaying loans by sitting all day long at the defaulter’s house, verbal harassment and threatening to file a police case.

“One of the sellers mentioned that he left his village for about a year for not being able to face the NGO officials,” Professor Moniruzzaman says.

“The social and economic pressures from NGOs was unbearable so he decided to sell his kidney to pay off his loan.”

Grameen Bank denies harassment or applying any such pressure. It points out that it has never lodged a case against a borrower for failing to pay a loan.

“Our approach does not require that,” Mohammed Shahjahan, the bank’s acting managing director, told the BBC. He says that because Grameen does not impose any penalty for failure to repay debts and because borrowers are free to reschedule their loans at any point there is no pressure.

“Most borrowers have savings in their accounts more than or equivalent to at least 75% of their loan amount. As a result they are not in a ‘distress’ situation at any point for payment of their installments,” he says.

And Mohammad Ariful Hoq, an analyst at BRAC, one of the largest development organisations in the world, says repayments for their clients are “not a very big issue” – their interest rate is 27%; Grameen’s maximum interest rate is 20%.

BRAC denies pressuring borrowers or that there could be any link between microcredit and organ trafficking.

“In our work that doesn’t happen because we don’t create any extra pressure on our borrowers,” Mr Hoq says.

Throughout the microfinance sector, interest is calculated on the declining balance – which means that rather than charging interest on the original loan amount it is charged only on the amount of money that remains in the borrower’s hands as the loan is repaid.

Repayment policies

  • Although repayment policies vary with each lender, a strict repayment structure is common
  • If a BRAC borrower fails to make a repayment within 15 days, a loan officer will determine if the default is willful – and if so they will repeatedly request payment
  • If this fails, management will decide on legal action on a case-by-case basis – figures for this are unavailable
  • If default is not deemed willful, a borrower could eventually see the loan rescheduled and in cases such as natural disaster, written off
  • Grameen’s policy in similar cases is also to reschedule the loan, but many other micro-credit lenders do not
  • Grameen says that if a loan does not get paid on time, it is converted into a “flexible loan” in which 50% of the loan is written off on the last day of the month

Mr Hoq does admit that one-third of their 4.3 million borrowers have multiple loans: “You’ll find people who are taking three loans from different organisations. There is a 30% overlap for micro-finance institutes in Bangladesh.”

However he says there is no systematic way to check if borrowers have loans with other institutions so lenders are unable to determine a borrower’s risk or their level of debt. BRAC says that one method they use is to knock on a neighbour’s door and ask them about their friend’s economic situation. Grameen Bank says that it also has checks to see if borrowers have multiple loans.

But analysts maintain that in practice such checks are very difficult to carry out and it is far from certain that banks are always able to get an accurate assessment of a borrower’s credit history.

Liver removed

And recent research says the industry’s loan repayment structure combined with the infrequent incomes of rural Bangladeshis can cause problems.

The Institute of Developing Economies in Japan showed that some households were taking risky measures such as selling assets and borrowing from loan sharks in order to maintain a clean record of repayment to be assured future access to microcredit.

Mr Alam

Mohammad Akhtar Alam got caught in a web of loans

Research from one body which loans money to microcredit agencies in Bangladesh found in studies between 2006-2007 that only 7% of micro-borrowers were able to rise about the poverty line.

Nevertheless, a study earlier this year by the World Bank found that the benefits of borrowing outweighed the accumulated debt. And the Microcredit Summit Campaign believes microcredit lifted 10 million Bangladeshis out of poverty between 1990 and 2008.

But as the demand for human organs continues to facilitate an illegal black market in Bangladesh, members of poor rural communities will continue to be lured by false promises of a better life.

Mohammad Mehedi Hasan, 24, from Molamgari village, not far from Kalai, didn’t know what a liver was when he was manipulated into believing that removing part of it for 700,000 taka ($9,690; £6,000) would be a “noble act” that would save the life of a Singaporean man.

“I have been left without knowing how much of my liver was taken out,” he says as he explains how he was transported to Dhaka for an underground operation at a private clinic.

“After the operation I raced home and after two days I got the news that the patient had died.

“I thought that I would be OK after I had part of my liver removed but sometimes I have pain in my chest and I have to urinate more than 50 or 60 times a day.”

Mr Hasan received 150,000 taka ($2,046; £1,280) and says he was forced to sell his family home.

Prof Moniruzzaman says the implications of organ trafficking are devastating.

“There is no safeguard as to where the organs are coming from and how safe they are, and on the other hand, the seller’s health deteriorates after the operation. That has a huge impact on their earning capacity because they cannot go back to their old physically demanding jobs.”

There is no doubt that microcredit has empowered millions around the world.

But as the polarization between rich and poor increases, experts say those most impoverished will take on more debt – sometimes resorting to measures as desperate as selling their organs.

The men of Kalai wish they had known better.

 

 

Kids Pimping Kids in Indonesia

‘The money was too strong to resist’: Indonesian kids pimp out other kids for sex

Teenage pimp, or “mami,” identified as Chimoy, right, applies make-up as one of her “children” adjusts her hair in a room at a boarding house in Bandung, Indonesia.

By Margie Mason

BANDUNG, Indonesia — Chimoy flicks a lighter and draws a long drag until her cheeks collapse on the skinny Dunhill Mild, exhaling a column of smoke.

Her no-nonsense, tough-girl attitude projects the confidence of a woman in her 30s, yet she’s only 17. Colorful angel and butterfly tattoos cover her skin, and she wears a black T-shirt emblazoned with a huge skull.

Chimoy — by her own account and those of other girls and social workers — is a pimp.

She got into the business when she was 14. A boyfriend’s sister asked her to sell herself for sex, but she recruited a friend for the job instead. Then she established a pimping operation that grew to include a car, a house and some 30 working girls earning her up to $3,000 a month — a small fortune in a poor country.

“The money was too strong to resist,” she says. “I was really proud to make money on my own.”

Two years ago in Indonesia, there were zero reports of child pimps like Chimoy who work as the boss with no adults behind the scenes. But the National Commission for Child Protection says 21 girls between 14 and 16 have been caught working as “mamis” so far this year, and there are likely far more.

It’s easier than ever. Kids can use text messages and social media to book clients and make transactions without ever needing to stand on a dark corner in a miniskirt and heels.

“The sickening thing is you see 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, getting into these practices,” says Leonarda Kling, Jakarta-based regional representative for Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a nonprofit working on trafficking issues. “You think: ‘The whole future of this child is just going to waste.'”

Chimoy, who has occasionally worked as a prostitute, and other teens in the sex industry interviewed for this story are identified by their nicknames. The Associated Press does not typically identify children who have been sexually abused.

Recently, in the eastern city of Surabaya, a 15-year-old was busted after escorting three other teens to meet clients at a hotel. Police spokeswoman Maj. Suparti says the girl employed 10 prostitutes — including classmates, Facebook friends and even her older sister — and collected up to a quarter of the $50 to $150 received for each call.

She conducted business over the popular BlackBerry Messenger service, earning up to $400 a month, says Suparti, who uses one name like many Indonesians. The girl also met potential clients in malls or restaurants first to size them up.

“She was running her pimp action like a professional,” Suparti says.

‘I had to have the BlackBerry’
The U.N. International Labor Organization estimates 40,000 to 70,000 children become victims of sexual exploitation in Indonesia annually.

Much of this abuse is driven by adults, but poverty and consumerism play a role. Indonesia’s have-nots rub up against a growing middle class obsessed with the latest gadgets and the ultra-wealthy flaunting their designer clothes and luxury cars.

Dita Alangkara / AP
A teenage sex worker checks messages on her cellphone at a boarding house in Bandung, Indonesia.

It was a smartphone that drove soft-spoken Daus into prostitution at age 14. The son of a factory worker and a street food vendor, the lanky boy says he was soon making $400 to $500 a month for having sex regularly with three women in their 30s and 40s.

“I didn’t want to do it, but I had to have the BlackBerry,” he says. Indonesia is a social-media crazed country that ranks as one of the world’s top Facebook and Twitter users. “If we don’t have a BlackBerry, we feel we are nothing, and we are ignored by our friends.”

But the biggest issue is not money. It’s problems at home, including neglect and abuse, says Faisal Cakrabuana, project manager of Yayasan Bahtera, a nonprofit in the West Java capital of Bandung that helps sexually victimized children.

Many girls end up on the street and connect with others facing similar situations. Sometimes they band together and rent a small room or apartment, with one girl emerging as the pimp.

Often she’s the one with prior experience. The other girls may pay her in cash, booze and drugs, or simply contribute to the group’s rent and utilities, Cakrabuana says. In other cases, no money is collected at all from pimps, some of whom continue to receive support from well-off parents.

“They are just seeking what their family doesn’t give them: attention,” he says. “They make big families of their own.”

Foreign customers
Chimoy was an only child living alone with her mom. She says her father was always gone, taking care of his four other wives. Polygamy is not uncommon in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

She recalls with a proud smile how she was always among the top students in her class, with a knack for business and cooking. At one point, she even opened a small shop selling traditional spicy crackers.

In sixth grade, Chimoy was already running with a tough, older crowd. She was drinking and regularly using drugs by ninth grade, when she dropped out of school to manage the prostitution business full time. She got pregnant and had her first daughter at 15. The second baby came a year later.

Chimoy worked at karaoke bars, sometimes also selling herself, and racked up a list of clients. Money began to flow, and so did the drugs: She became hooked on crystal methamphetamine, known here as shabu shabu.

First she had three girls working for her, and later many more. Most were 14 to 17 years old, but some were in their 20s. All waited for her call to meet a growing list of local and foreign customers in the popular tourist town of Bandung.

“We rented a house to live together,” she says. “It makes life easier to yell out: ‘Who wants this job?'”

Customers called or sent texts asking for a specific type of girl: tall or maybe light-skinned. Facebook was sometimes used to display photos of the girls, but Chimoy says no services were offered directly online.

Once, she says, a client paid around $2,000 plus a BlackBerry and a motorcycle in exchange for a girl’s virginity. Chimoy pocketed $500 from that deal.

Nuri, a chopstick-thin 16-year-old with long auburn-dyed hair, says Chimoy is family and never demands a cut of her earnings. The girls decide how much to pay her. A high school motorcycle gang serves as their muscle.

“She’s different from my previous adult pimps because money doesn’t matter to her, but my safety means everything to her,” adds 16-year-old Chacha, who started selling sex three years ago at a karaoke bar in western Indonesia.

“I feel very comfortable working with her,” she says. “She is even a mother to us.”

Prostitution operations around the world are typically led by adults, but enterprising teens in many countries have figured out how to get money for sex on their own, says Anjan Bose of ECPAT International, a nonprofit global network that helps sexually abused children.

Well before smartphones and social media, school girls in Japan, often from middle-class families, left their numbers at phone booths near train stations for men to call. Today, Bose says children as young as 13 in the Dominican Republic earn more than their teachers selling sex for everything from free car rides to mobile phones. In Thailand and the Philippines, teens go online and strip or perform sex acts in front of webcams, often for customers in Western countries. And a Canadian high school girl has been on trial this month for allegedly using Facebook to lure teens as young as 13 to have sex with men for money.

Both teen prostitutes and teen pimps need help to leave the business, says Bose, who’s based in Bangkok.

“A child cannot consent to prostitution,” he says. “It’s an exploitative situation where they are serving the needs of the customers. We have to look at them as being victims.”

A struggle to quit
Today, Chimoy sits on the floor of a rented ground-floor room just big enough for a twin-size mattress. This is home since she lost nearly everything to her ravenous meth addiction.

Now, she says, she’s given up drugs, and also wants to quit pimping. She’s been working with Yayasan Bahtera for two years and says people there have given her the support she needs to start scaling back her operation.

The foundation offers skills and counseling. Cakrabuana, the program manager, says children who seek help are not judged or turned away, even if they are still involved in the business.

“I’m trying to get rid of my past,” says Chimoy, who is raising her children with help from her mother. “I also explain to the girls, ‘Don’t do this anymore. You can find another job. This job is risky.'”

But she still conducts business regularly with about five girls who are also in the program. They’re trying to quit too, but when money runs low, they call Chimoy to arrange clients.

They are not hard to find. As Chimoy sits talking about her dream of becoming a pastry chef, a gangsta rap ringtone keeps interrupting, along with several text messages.

All are calls from men looking to book girls.