It could have been different


Turn your mental clock back 10 years to 2003. Where were you? What memories stand out for you about that year? For some of you this may be an easy thing to do, while others a more painful exercise. 

The bargain we think we are getting may have come with a serious human price tag.

Ten years ago I’d recently turned 14. It’s an age I can easily think back to and recall many of the friends, feelings and fun I had. In some ways I felt pretty mature and accomplished. I was nearing the end of my Pathfindering days, I enjoyed cooking, canoeing, fishing and windsurfing in Vanuatu’s Port Vila harbour and supervising the pikininis (kids) down at the solwota (sea). 

Life seemed burden-free (whether or not my parents felt the same way is another thing). For the most part, life on Efate, a 900km2 tropical island in Vanuatu that sometimes weathered ravaging cyclones and shocking earthquakes, was very sheltered. The concerns occupying significant parts of our teenage girls’ conversations were generally school, Pathfinders and boys who were giving us the “eye”. 

But my worries were a stark contrast to those of thousands of 14-year-old girls who were silent statistics in India’s sex trafficking industry. It’s difficult to believe that 10 years ago, I was the average age of females forced into prostitution there. 

Today, while I feel extremely blessed to have escaped a potential 10 years of a living nightmare, my heart is outraged at the life that has been stolen from so many girls at such an early age. These are girls (and sometimes boys) who have been trafficked by relatives, friends and partners, and left in bondage in brothels where they service men—sometimes 20 a day. Promises of medical care, a steady income and a future were lies. 

Slavery (the A21 Campaign defines it as a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his/her life, liberty and fortune), a 27 million human strong “business”, occurs in many ways. Let’s not be numbed by the horrific realities of trafficking. 

Have you ever thought about where your cheap goods (clothing, appliances, toys or food) come from? After the recent and tragic factory fires in Bangladesh, which killed nearly 1000 people, I am especially challenged to think about where the things I buy are made. But more importantly what the pay and workplace conditions are that the workers experience. The bargain we think we are getting may have come with a serious human price tag. 

Our actions and decisions no doubt have effects on others that we are often unaware of. In the same way, the effects of our good actions, of giving hope and righteousness (justice) to people, can be positive and long lasting. Even if others are unaware of them. 

Last year I had the privilege of visiting an Asian Aid supported project in India that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates trafficked women and children. In seeing the contentment and joy in their lives, I realised that where there is freedom—whether it be from the bondage of prostitution, slavery, pornography, alcoholism, greed, pride, unhealthy relationships, money or something else—there is also life and peace. 

In John 10:10, Jesus said He came that we might have life—and have it to the full. Let’s allow Jesus to daily be our life—so that His power can be seen within us. Only then can we truly be His hands and feet in this world.

Sonja Larsen is communication coordinator for Asian Aid Australia.