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Don't treat us like zoo animals, say trafficking survivors

by Nellie Peyton | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 15:27 GMT

Sophie Otiende speaks at Thomson Reuters Foundation's annual two-day Trust Conference in London, November 14, 2018. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION

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Young survivors do not need sympathy but support including housing, healthcare and education in order to stop them falling back into slavery

By Nellie Peyton

LONDON, Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Survivors of child trafficking said they do not want sympathy but to be taken seriously as they called on Wednesday for an end to the global scourge of child trafficking and exploitation.

A quarter of the estimated 40 million slaves worldwide are children – from victims of sex trafficking and forced marriages to those trapped on farms, factories and fishing boats – according to the United Nations.

As awareness grows about their plight, survivors said that they do want to be heard from, but are too often objectified.

"There's a lot of education that needs to happen, because people see survivors as others," said Sophie Otiende, a programme consultant at HAART Kenya, an organisation working to stop human trafficking.

"We've lost funding because I refused to parade victims in a zoo," she said at the Thomson Reuters Foundation's annual Trust Conference in London.

Otiende herself was held captive and abused at age 13 by an uncle who promised her parents he would give her an education.

But it frustrates her that people care more about this than the years of research and activism she has done since, she said.

"People will only listen when I say I'm a survivor... as if somehow that qualifies me rather than all the work I've done."

"Something really horrible happened to me, and basically you're judging me for it for the rest of my life."

Young survivors do not need sympathy but support including housing, healthcare and education in order to stop them falling back into slavery, activists say.

But some said they want to see more resources go into freeing those who are still enslaved.

"I do not want sympathy. It's in the past now. But there are still people in the situation I was in," said Joseph Mwuara, a survivor of orphanage trafficking in Kenya.

Orphanage trafficking is a phenomenon in developing countries in which children are taken from their families, often lured with the promise of an education, and put in orphanages to attract foreign donations.

About 80 percent of an estimated 8 million children in orphanages or other institutions worldwide are not actually orphans, according to Lumos, a charity founded by "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling.

"Let's try to get these children out," Mwuara said.

Human rights advocate Snezana Vuckovic said it took her years to speak about the abuse she faced in an orphanage in Serbia because she knew people would define her by it.

Sick of lying, she now tells the truth but hopes people will see beyond it.

"Pity is not welcome. Don't pity me," said the 24-year-old. "I'm not just a victim, I'm a person." (Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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