Table Speech

Magazine Month Regular Meeting
The Power to Turn Your Aspiration into Activities --- Putting an end to “child trafficking and exploitation” in Cambodia and India ---

April 1, 2015

Ms. Sayaka Murata
Co-representative, Kamonohashi Project

 As a 19-year-old university student, I started to work on the “issue of child trafficking and exploitation,” trying to put an end to tragic deaths of children sold to brothels. We have been implementing projects in Cambodia and India during the past 14 years.

 I found a newspaper article handed out in a class on international cooperation during my sophomore year which later determined my path in life. The article reported on a poor girl named Miicha from Myanmar. At the age of 12, she went to Bangkok, Thailand, believing to work as a baby-sitter to support her family. But she found herself in a brothel where she was physically abused and forced to work as a prostitute every day until she died from HIV at age 20. Her last words were “I wish I could have gone to school to study.” I was devastated to know about the harsh reality that a girl, born in the same year as I, was forced to lead a tragic life simply because she was born in a different place. All the money Miicha’s family received was 10,000 yen, on which she sacrificed her life. Her earnings were all taken away.

 Statistics by UNICEF taught me that the number of these children totaled 1.8 million a year. Victimized children suffer from a life-long struggle against emotional trauma and physical damage. Children also suffer from deep-rooted stigma in Asia, making them social outcasts. Some children commit suicide because they cannot live with their beloved family. Sexual exploitation is said to be the worst form of child labor, as a child is deprived of their rights to study, live with their family and get married happily.

 I decided to focus on Cambodia where a lot of procurers were profiting from child trafficking and labor. Engaged in the civil war over many years, the country was left with the third largest number of landmines in the world and 35% of Cambodian people had to live on less than 1 dollar a day. There was no legal mechanism to protect the rights of children. As of 2003, tens of thousands of children were victimized in a country of 13 million people. I saved money from a part-time job and flew to Cambodia to visit a shelter for victimized children. The reality there was much worse than what I had read in books. I was shocked to find even preschool children among victims, who were forced to take customers from developed countries. Children I met were kind and gentle. They remembered to be grateful even after devastating experiences. I became determined to “do whatever I can” to put an end to such reality.

 I started to read publications on child prostitution. I also attended the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in 2001 as a youth delegate representing Japan. I realized this issue attracted little attention and there were only a few organizations working on it. To my great disappointment, Japanese people were becoming notorious as perpetrators.

 After working by myself for about one year, I had a life-changing encounter with two university students who came forward to join my initiative as social entrepreneurs. They persuaded me to launch a private organization as soon as possible if I wanted to prevent more children from being victimized.

 After two years, we secured the fund to set up our first local office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I moved to Cambodia, aged 22, rented a house, got registered as a NGO and recruited one Cambodian staff member to start off our activity.

 Let me share with you some of our activities in Cambodia which target both children who are trafficked and adults who buy them. We run a community factory to provide jobs to adults in poor rural areas and prevent them from becoming migrant workers. The factory in Siem Reap Province employs about 100 women below the poverty line who produce souvenir items from straw, sold to 3.5 million tourists visiting the nearby Angkor Watt site. Salary earned from factory work allows children to go to school. The area has a 100% enrollment rate. Children no longer need to work away from home.

 We also work to reduce the number of adults who buy children by ensuring efficient law enforcement and higher standards in the Cambodian police force. In collaboration with the government and UNICEF, we provide training sessions to police officers throughout Cambodia to deepen their knowledge of the law and to improve arrest techniques. The number of arrests increased dramatically in 9 years as stricter punishment came to be imposed on both brothel owners and customers. The number of child trafficking fell to one-tenth of the peak level and we find few children at brothels today. Thanks to the collaboration among the government, local communities, private enterprises that created jobs and our supporters who assisted NPOs and NGOs, we were able to achieve concrete results in just 10 years. Our experience in Cambodia has taught us we can solve grave issues by a constructive approach.

 We are currently launching our activities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal where situations are as serious as Cambodia 10 years ago. South Asian countries have suffered from child trafficking for over 40 years.

 Let me close my speech by asking for your generous support to our initiative. Donation of 3,000 yen will support a family of 5 in rural areas for one month. Adults can work and children can go to school. You can make a dramatic change to their lives.