Friday, November 18, 2011

All the effort to protect her...and it ends like this.

During the summer, IOFA had the opportunity to partner with Children's Heaven in Ethiopia. Children’s Heaven is a community-based support program for young girls who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. Executive Director, Hanna Fanta, heads the program and has graciously offered to share her some of her thoughts and personal observations as a guest blogger for IOFA this week. As the leader of an organization working with orphaned youth, Hanna has grown increasingly concerned with the challenges facing her girls as they prepare to leave her care. In fact, just this past year, the problem become personal as Children’s Heaven watched its first girl graduate from their program, uncertain of her future path. Please continue reading to hear Hanna Fanta describe, in her own words, the dilemma faced by Children’s Heaven (as well as many other organizations).

Hanna Fanta
Executive Director, Children’s Heaven

Young people transitioning out of the care system are significantly exposed to unemployment, health issues, early parenthood and homelessness. Children’s Heaven is giving basic services to girl orphans to help them fulfill their vision. However, there is a gap of transitioning these young girls from care to adulthood.

Once the orphan girls exit our program, we do not have a system that could help them face the challenges that is waiting for them. At present, this has affected our first girl, Wosene, who just finished our program.

I could say that a few months before graduating Hair Dressing [vocational training], I have been noticing unusual behavior in her character due to uncertainty of her future. Her unpreparedness for the future has made her to take a wrong turn, which she has no clue what the consequence is going to be.

Wosene left the organization two months after her graduation and joined two orphan girls who are leaving by themselves in a small muddy house. Getting a job and supporting herself was not easy for her for she has no clue what to expect and how to get ready. We are afraid she is already in a position that could put her in a situation that is not her choice at all to support herself, prostitution. We are sad that all the years of our effort to protect her from harm and supporting her for a better future has to end this way. Had we had a program that supports adolescents as they transition to adulthood safely, the outcome of Wosene’s future would have been different.

To Children's Heaven Organization, which is taking care of orphan girls, to have a program that will empower our girls to face challenges in their transition is not an option. In order to make this possible, we are delighted to partner with IOFA, an organization dedicated to strengthen the lives of young people around the world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Criminals or Victims?

On Sunday night, the TV show “Our America with Lisa Ling” told viewers the heartbreaking stories of girls, all under the age of 18, who have been victims of sex trafficking. Host Lisa Ling was guided through her investigation of child trafficking in Washington, D.C. by Tina Frundt, who is a trafficking survivor and the founder and executive director of Courtney’s House, an organization that provides services and support to child trafficking victims. Courtney’s House does street outreach work and offers intake assessments, a shelter for trafficking survivors, case management services, therapy, and medical referrals.

All too often, however, children who have been involved in the commercial sex industry are not recognized as victims of human trafficking and therefore do not receive the services they need, services like those provided at Courtney’s House. During the show, Lisa Ling repeatedly made a very important point: all children and youth who are under 18 and who are involved in commercial sex work are victims of human trafficking.

The recognition that youth under 18 who are involved in sex work are, by definition, trafficking victims is an essential first step in making sure they receive the services they need. According to the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), anyone who is involved in commercial sex work as result of the use of force, fraud, or coercion is a victim of human trafficking. However, in the case of children under 18, the TVPA specifies that force, fraud, or coercion need not be present in order for the situation to be considered human trafficking. Here in Illinois, that definition of trafficking was reinforced by the 2010 Safe Children Act, which removed references to “juvenile prostitutes” from the Illinois Criminal Code and provided additional protections for child trafficking victims.

As an implementing partner for the Illinois Safe Children Act, IOFA is launching the ChildRight program to spread the word about this issue and to train service providers on how to identify and provide services to trafficking victims.

We hope that Sunday’s program will help draw attention to this issue. And we hope that you’ll support IOFA’s work to make sure that child trafficking victims get the support and services they need.