I always thought that sex trafficking was the most heinous and incomparable crime until I came face to face with rescued victims of organ harvesting. Worse yet, I met sweet little children who were solely raised as livestock to gut, butcher, and dismember. My focus on the sexual exploitation of children staged my ignorance to other grave crimes against humanity. Let me show you another face of evil.
There exists four sets of shelters in Malaysia specifically for survivors of human trafficking, although they are distastefully called "detention centres". These detention centres provide secure and guarded protection for willing and unwilling victims of human trafficking or smuggling. I met women and children from all corners of the world including India, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China. There are victims of sex trafficking. labour trafficking, domestic servitude, and organ harvesting. They entered Malaysia both legally and illegally. For example, an Indian woman with the most gentle face approached me in the shelter and told me how she came to Malaysia as a hair stylist. Her employer kept her passport, visa, and refused to pay her wage for several months. She had the courage to contact the police and was brought to this particular shelter to wait for trial. Meanwhile, many Vietnamese women were brought to this shelter when police raided several massage parlours and found these women without proper work permits, visas, or documentation. They were trafficked illegally to Malaysia for "work" that often end in providing sexual services. Some of these women knew their fate while others naively believed their traffickers when they were promised fair wage and honest work. In the case of foreign women illegally working in Malaysia, the government expedites their exit rather quickly; however, they do so without social assistance and assurance that these women would not be in danger once they are transported back home. Rehabilitation services lack in both Malaysia as a destination country and the women's country of origin. And what happens to the pimps and traffickers? Often, nothing. The malicious evil-doers roam free while these women and children are barred in what seems like a prison for months on end without contact with their families. Where is the justice?
Organ trafficking seems to be a subject that is swept beneath the government carpet of denial, complacency, and corruption. Governments like Malaysia and Cambodia have come a long way to admit that human trafficking is a problem that needs to be addressed. They now host hotlines and awareness ads to satisfy the international eye. However, when I tried to research organ harvesting in these countries, very little is said or admitted. As if organ harvesting was any less gruesome than the rape and sexual exploitation of men, women, and children! Imagine you have accrued debt more than one million USD and the anguish, hopelessness, and desperation that you would feel. Many people in India, Myanmar, Bangledesh, and Southeast Asia are so desperate to pay their $500-1000 USD debt that is comparable to our one million. They agree to sell their kidney (most needed) or liver to an organ trafficker for $5000 USD in hopes to pay off their debt and move their family out of poverty. They are transported by boat or air to Malaysia with a fraudulent visa to get their operation. Once the organ is removed, the botched victim wakes up in an abandoned warehouse or even on the side of the street, dazed, confused, in pain, and alas, without pay. The person is now in a foreign land, without money, without language skills, and without any possible way to get back to their home country. They risk imprisonment for months if they report to authorities, because they are illegal migrants. They might think that dying from a raging post operative infection would be lucky at this point. Is this the epitome of rock bottom? Meanwhile the filthy rich gluttonous and sedentary man with end stage renal failure who paid $40,000 USD for this poor soul's kidney gets a second chance at life and a clean bill of health. I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
What about children? They surely cannot agree to sell their organs for money. Of course not. They are snatched from their mother's loving arms to be groomed not for sex, but this time for their vital organs. Perhaps they will be used for sex later when their prime organs have been exhausted for the benefit of other (more privileged) children. Children do not even have to be born yet to be subjugated to cruelty and enslavement. I met a mother and her sweet six month old baby in the children's shelter. She was a prostitute and organ traffickers had already placed a bid and hold on her baby when she was pregnant. If she were to deliver in the brothel, her baby would have been stolen from her at his first breath. Lucky for her, the police raided the brothel when she was 8 months pregnant. She was so proud and happy to hold her beautiful baby boy in front of me, although I wonder what life has in store for them next. I also fell in love with the most handsome 2 month old Indian baby boy at the shelter. He was just rescued the day before I arrived. His long dark lashes brushed lightly on my cheek as he nestled his head in the crook of my neck. He probably wanted a loving embrace from his mother, or even any mother, and that broke my heart. I foolishly thought that he was an orphan who was rescued from perhaps destitute living conditions but I was shocked to learn that he too was soon to be harvested for his kidneys if the police had not found him. It is not uncommon to find babies and children disembodied in dumpsters. To many of those who have no heart or soul, children are just meat to be slaughtered, dismembered, and thrown away like trash.
To me, dead on arrival means that children in these developing countries are stripped of life and freedom even before birth. Their parents are slaves to poverty and corruption, and they too will be slaves inevitably. Why am I so lucky to be born in a place of privilege? My parents were far from rich, I grew up in low-income housing and was raised in a neighborhood of drug addicts and thieves, yet I was and still am free. Free to pursue education. Free to pursue love. Free to pursue life and happiness. These children were born with chains already shackled to their feet with no key in sight. I won a life lottery and unjustly, they lost. I believe so strongly in the work of One Body Village because I wholeheartedly believe in #freedomforallchildren.
This is a photo taken outside of one of four shelters for child survivors of sex trafficking in Malaysia. The facility is gated and guarded 24/7 for their protection. Oddly, the shelter is adjacent to other "detention centres" for criminals and drug addicts. The children are offered Protection Orders and case management for a period of 6-12 months. Malaysia children who are trafficked within their own country have to stay in these shelters for a minimum period of two years before they are released to their families or foster care. This is because of the high risk of re-victimization. Foreign children who are trafficked to Malaysia are returned to their countries of origin as quickly as possible. Either way, the children do not receive formal education in these shelters. They cannot contact their families. They cannot receive or write letters to anyone. While they are kept safe, they are also kept in limbo and isolation.
I met four Vietnamese girls from the ages of 14 to 17. They were trafficked to Malaysia for "work" at a hotel when the police raided the facility and brought them to this shelter. They have been there for two months and waited anxiously everyday to be able to return to Vietnam. Our OBV representative works in collaboration with other NGOs in Malaysia to manage the girls' files and facilitate their return home. Trial, paperwork, legalities, and formalities always delay their repatriation. At our first acquaintance, the girls seemed rough around the edges, guarded, and withdrawn. It was difficult to gain their trust. I can imagine why - most people in their lives up until this point have been deceitful. After a few hours of arts and crafts, they opened up just enough to crack a smile. On the following day, we visited the shelter again where I had the chance to teach all of the girls in the shelter first aid and personal hygiene. The change in their attitude was remarkable and they even worked up the courage to ask me embarrassing questions in front of the group.
I wish I could take them home and give them freedom. The sad look on their face when we left the shelter is ingrained in my mind. I couldn't imagine their anguish to see volunteers and staff walk into and out of the shelter with ease when they are trapped and forever waiting to see their families again. I wish that they do not lose hope when it seems that hope is all they have.