Welcome to the Bridge to Freedom Foundation Blog

Thank you for visiting the Bridge to Freedom Foundation (BTFF) blog, where we look forward to bringing you inside information on the inner-workings of BTFF, inside information on our volunteer team and leadership, in-depth coverage of BTFF and partner events, news and happenings from across the globe and so much more.

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Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forgotten in the Shadows of War: Female Child Soldiers

Female child combatants are overlooked both in the media, as well as in the rehabilitation process.  All too often, female child soldiers are also expected to perform sexual services for older male soldiers; in many countries of conflict, girls in armed forces are claimed by militia leaders as “wives.”

The use of child soldiers in armed conflict plagues our global society, as thousands of children continue to be recruited into armed conflict by both government forces and armed rebel groups in spite global efforts to combat the continued use of children. UNICEF estimates there are some 300,000 child soldiers actively fighting in at least 30 countries across the globe with the majority, an estimated 200,000 in Africa. According to PE Singers book, Children at War, he estimates that 43 percent of all armed organizations in the world use child soldiers, 90 percent of whom see combat.

Unfortunately the use of child soldiers is not a new topic; throughout time children have been used in military conflict. However there is on story in the plight of these children that is too often untold.  While the conditions of armed conflict leave few, if anyone, in a conflict zone unaffected, however in the case of child soldiers is the struggle of young boys who are thrust into both the minds of most, and who are more likely to be seen in the media’s coverage.

Those children abducted and forcibly recruited to fight in rebel armies who are often lost in the shadows are that of the girl child soldier.  According to Save the Children, in their 2005 report, Forgotten Casualties of War: Girls in Armed Conflict, of those children caught in the violent and deadly conflicts across the globe, some 40 percent, or 120,000 child soldiers are girls.  As with boys, the majority of girl child soldiers are abducted or forcibly recruited into armed groups which include government-backed paramilitaries, militias, self-defense forces to anti-government opposition, and rebel factions who often based on ideological, partisan, ethnic or religious differences.

Undoubtedly armed conflict compounds all families and communities ability to protect children, regardless of their sex; however girls, many who are already living in patriarchal dominated societies where they are marginalized socially and culturally, as well as often sexually or physically abused, in times of peace.  Girls often not only serve as active combatants, but also perform other military services, from intelligence and medical support to cleaning and cooking.  Gender inequality follows girls into the ranks as many girls are raped, used as sex slaves to service the troops and, or are forced into pseudo marriages with their rebel commanders.

Previously published by Cassandra Clifford, please continue reading the three part series on the Foreign Policy Association: Children's Rights Blog:  http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2011/02/19/forgotten-in-the-shadows-of-war/

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clinton releases 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report

Monday, June 27, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Demobilized Chadian child soldiers will need help with re-integration
The top United Nations official concerned with children in armed conflict said Chad would need assistance in re-integrating into society the child soldiers that are being demobilized under an agreement signed with the UN last week.

Investor Statement Urges Business to "Do its Part" to Make Modern Day Slavery History
27 Corporate Leaders in 6 High Risk Sectors are Urged by Global Investor Coalition to Institute Policies to Eradicate Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery from their Operations and Recognizing the broad influence of business on the global supply chain, an investor coalition representing over 90 organizations worldwide and led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has issued a statement asking 27 companies to take a leadership role in abolishing human trafficking and slavery.

Gender-based violence in DR Congo continues
Sexual and gender-based violence continues unabated in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the passage five years ago of laws intended to protect civilians and deter would-be perpetrators. Inaction by judges, combined with indifference by the country’s legal system are being blamed for the law’s irrelevance in daily life.

Judge stays servant lawsuit against UAE officer
A federal judge has put on hold a lawsuit brought against a military officer from the United Arab Emirates by a former employee alleging human-trafficking violations. The order was made in US District Court in Providence Monday.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011-2012 President of the National Association of Attorneys General, choses human trafficking as focus of his presidential initiative

Last week the human trafficking movement was given a great push forward by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). The much needed increase in support and awareness is thanks to Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, the 2011-2012 President of NAAG, who has chosen human trafficking as the focus for his presidential initiative. The presidential initiative; “Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General Unite against Human Trafficking” is based on the following four pillars:
  1. increased coordination of victim services, 
  2. improved methods of compiling data on state level human trafficking cases, 
  3. stronger laws to prosecute traffickers, and 
  4. increased public awareness.
 The initiative is composed of the creation of a Presidential Leadership Council consisting of 10 Attorneys General, aided by he support of all 50 states Attorneys Generals, which thus is a major win for the increase of political will in all 50 states to increase legislation and prosecutions of human trafficking.  The support and endorsement of the Attorney Generals in each state to use his/her political leverage to support passage of, and to implement, anti-trafficking laws will aid in the increased prosecutions of traffickers (pimps) and johns.

The NAAG President’s Initiative will also enable the anti-trafficking movement to improve police training efforts, to support research and data collection efforts, and provide increased victim care.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chad signs plan to end recruitment and use of children in national army and security forces

Last week on 16 June 2011 the government of the African nation Chad signed an action plan to end recruitment and use of children in its national army and security forces.  In a press release issued by the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  The Secretary-General, Radhika Coomaraswamy, traveled to Chad to witness the signing of the plan.  The new action plan is an agreement with between the Chadian Government and the United Nations to end recruitment and use of child soldiers. The action plan spells out concrete steps, which when taken, will result in Chad being removed from the Secretary-General’s list of parties who recruit and use children.

The much needed and long over due agreement comes only one month after Chad was cited in the 11 May 2011 release in the Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, for their violations against children and the use of child soldiers.  Each year the report is published to lists those parties involved in the recruitment of children in armed conflict, as well and use, kill and maim or commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in conflict.  The report gives an overview of the situation of those children who are directly impacted by armed conflict and report on the actions by listed parties over the course of the previous year regarding their protection.

Previously published by Cassandra Clifford, please continue reading on the Foreign Policy Association: Children's Rights Blog: http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2011/06/22/chad-signs-plan-to-end-recruitment-and-use-of-children-in-national-army-and-security-forces/

Monday, June 20, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Human trafficking Measure Heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal
On Tuesday, the Louisiana Senate unanimously approved legislation creating a separate crime for aiding or knowingly benefiting from human trafficking.  The penalties for someone convicted of aiding or knowingly benefiting from trafficking would be the same as for the person who directly carries out the trafficking.  The bill has been sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to sign it into law Hotel to Train Employees to Spot Signs of Human Trafficking.

Millennium Hotel partnering with Covering House to train its employees to spot the signs of human trafficking
The Millennium Hotel in St. Louis is partnering with a local advocacy group to train its employees to spot signed of human trafficking.  "We're going to train all of our staff on the awareness of human trafficking, the signs to look for," said Dominic Smart, general manager of The Millennium.  Some of the red flags covered in the training include signs of abuse, lots of traffic in and out of rooms and people checking in with no luggage.  The hotel has plans sign a formal anti-trafficking pledge, but has already begun the training process.

Sexual-slavery bills aid minors around Tennessee

Tennessee lawmakers approved a series of bills designed to curb human trafficking in the state.  Police will now return minors engaged in prostitution to their parents or guardians rather than subjecting them to arrest.  Cars, homes and other property used in sex trafficking will now be subject to forfeiture.  The crime of paying for sex with a minor or mentally disabled person has increased penalties, changed from a misdemeanor to a felony.  The property forfeiture change is expected to offset a portion of the costs of increased prison terms.   The bills were signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on June 7th. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Looking deeper into child marriage

Everyday across the globe 25,000 girls are married according to World Vision’s report, Before She’s Ready. Despite these shocking statistics the topic of child marriage has become somewhat taboo, to many it is nothingness than unimaginable, but this unspeakable practice while outdated is alive and well in many cultures across the globe.
Why are childhood marriages so common and desired? There are a multitude of reasons that societies continue to practice early marriage and feel the benefits out way any undesirable consequences. For example if a girl is married young her virginity is more likely to be guarantee, but the main reason is that with early marriage come increased economic and social benefits. A wedding in a rural community is a great source of joy and pride for a family, especially the family of the bride, for they can now see that their child is cared for and has a future. Marriage is also of social importance, as the family receives a great standing in the community, based on the family of the groom or bride. Economically the families of the bride additionally benefit with the increase in social status and having one less mouth to feed, and often benefit from a dowry. In rural agricultural societies once families are joined they often pull their resources together to increase their output and probabilities.

Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste.Child marriages cover the globe, and are most common in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, including Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. However child marriages continue in other parts of the world, including South America and among the Roma of Europe.

Previously published by Cassandra Clifford, please continue reading the two part series on the Foreign Policy Association: Children's Rights Blog:http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2011/05/24/looking-deaper-into-child-marriage/

Monday, June 13, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

New Phone Line in UK to Crack Down on Human Trafficking 
The metropolitan police and an anti-trafficking charity have launched a new phone line to help the victims of human trafficking.  It will be advertised on a poster campaign which show women attached like puppets on strings in a dark and dingy room. They carry the strapline: 'Stop traffickers controlling you. You make the call. We'll make it stop'.  The freephone number 0800 783 2589 is for victims and those who suspect trafficked victims are living in their community, to pass on information in confidence to the police.  It has been launched by the Metropolitan police and STOP THE TRAFFIK.

Awareness, access are key to helping child brides
Child marriage not only increase risks to young women but damages the development of communities as a whole, photographer Stephanie Sinclair says in this interview about her work on the issue. Increased awareness and programs to help child brides access education and health care should be part of efforts to help bring an end to underage marriage and help those young women who have already been married.

Massachusetts House Approves Human Trafficking Bill
Pimps and others who traffic children under the age of 18 for sex or forced labor would face life in prison under a bill passed by the Massachusetts House on June 1st.  Human rights advocates and top law enforcement officials have long pushed for the measure, which they say will give police and investigators the authority to go after traffickers while also treating young people forced into sexual servitude as victims instead of criminals.  The legislation would for the first time create the crime of human trafficking in Massachusetts, one of just a handful of states without a trafficking law. It now heads to the Senate, which passed a similar measure in the last session; that bill died in the House.

Maryland Fails to Act on Human Trafficking
In Maryland, authorities can't employ many of the tools routinely used against drug traffickers against those who traffic in human lives, such as confiscating their cars and cash.  Even a relatively modest proposal to allow trafficking victims to sue pimps for restitution and compensation damages failed to pass the Maryland legislature this year. Another bill permitting victims' rights groups to post a national hotline number for trafficking victims at bus stations, truck stops, highway toll booths and other places trafficking victims might visit was approved only over determined opposition from the state's tourism and hospitality industry.

Slavery in the Tomato Fields
Author Barry Estabrook released his exposé Tomatoland last week, detailing the "human and environmental cost" of tomato production.  The Atlantic publishes an excerpt from the book, revealing the grim realities of forced labor through the story of trafficking victim Mariano Lucas Domingo.

Woman Convicted of Forcing Nannies into Slavery in Suwanee
Georgia woman Bidemi Bello was convicted on eight human-trafficking charges on Friday.  Bello lured two young women into the country under false pretenses and forced them to work against their will, one from 2001 to 2004 and the second from 2004 to 2006.  The convictions included two counts of forced labor, two counts of trafficking for forced labor, one count of alien harboring, two counts of making false statements in an application to become a U.S. citizen, and one count of "document servitude," for taking her victims' passport and government documents to prevent them from leaving.  Sentencing will occur on August 24th.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

30 girls freed from suspected Nigeria baby-sale operation
Police raided a clinic in southeast Nigeria and rescued about 30 girls allegedly used in a "baby industry" in which they would give birth to children who then would be sold, authorities said Thursday. In addition to the expecting mothers, 12 children were found at the clinic ranging in age from 2 to 12 years old, according to Arinze Orakwue, a spokesman for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons. It was not clear whether the children found were related to the pregnant girls and women.

Saudi Arabia considers setting marriage age
Saudi authorities are considering setting a minimum marriage age of 17 in the wake of public outcry over the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to a 58-year-old man. Rights activists expect conservative elements within Saudi society, which consider child marriage part of Saudi tradition or allowed under Islam, to attempt to derail government approval of the change.

Trafficked Myanmar women become Chinese brides Seventy percent of 2010 trafficking cases out of Myanmar involved females tricked into traveling to China for work only to find themselves forced into marriage, according to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. Chinese men seek to purchase brides from Myanmar to avoid paying heavy dowries demanded by Chinese women.

Philippine militias shirk bill banning child soldiers
The Philippines’ House of Representatives approved the bill criminalizing the use of children in armed conflict, leaving many applauding the significant steps made. However, the potential for the new legislation to reduce the recruitment and use of children faces two significant obstacles, he said. “First, most of the recruitment and use of children is being carried out by three armed political groups over whom the government has no control: the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Abu Sayyaf Group.”

Girl's fate highlights slave, sex trade in India
An Indian social worker has begun a shelter program for prostitutes and their children, most of the girls among whom -- some 90% -- end up in the sex trade, as well. The program, and international attention, might not be enough to save one 10-year-old girl who excels in school from the same fate.

Azeris increasingly poor, brides increasingly young
The number of underage weddings is on the rise in Azerbaijan, where rights workers and police observe brides as young as 12 years old entering arranged marriages. Some girls are effectively sold into marriage, rights workers say, in part due to the extreme poverty gripping the country.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Virginia Governor signs legislation to protect victims of human trafficking

On Tuesday, May 31, 2011, delegates from various law enforcement agencies and NGO’s providing services to survivors of human trafficking filled a conference room at the Washington Dulles International Airport; to witness Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) signed three bills, all of which work to prevent human trafficking in the state.

House Bill 1893 was the most rigorous of the three bills that Governor McDonnell signed. The bill reclassified the trafficking of a minor to be a class two felony. Under the new classification anyone convicted of abducting a minor for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography or prostitution will face a penalty of 20 years to life in prison.

Governor McDonnell also signed Senate Bill 1453, which requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to advise law enforcement agencies of human trafficking issues and House Bill 2190 which requires the Department of Social Services to develop a service plan for victims of human trafficking. McDonnell said between 4 million and 27 million people are said to be trapped in modern-day slavery around the world.

The most crucial bill that Governor McDonnell signed was House Bill 1898, which improves protections for child sex trafficking victims. HB 1898 makes the following changes to current Virginia law: Adds the crimes of abducting "any person for the purpose of prostitution" and abducting "any minor for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography" to current abduction law, which are class two felonies; Prevents a defendant from using reputation and opinion evidence concerning a victim's "unchaste behavior or prior sexual conduct" in prosecutions of abducting a person for the purpose of prostitution; and Amends the law to create a class four felony for any person who receives money or value for "causing any person" to engage in forced labor or services, concubinage, prostitution, or manufacture of any obscene material or child pornography