Rapha House Kid's Club is where it's at. This is a ministry that is nestled in the heart of a poor community in Phnom Penh with over 500 sponsored children. The social workers here are responsible for going to check on their kids, make sure they are attending school, make sure food is being provided and meeting any other needs that might help the family. In addition to these basic needs, there is a physical property where children come to play do homework, learn about Jesus, play games, dance, and experience the love of their peers and adults. They worship together, pray together and eat together. Our team was allowed to jump into this experience and participate without inhibition. We were loved by both kids and staff, welcomed and embraced. Language is never a barrier to smiles, laughter or even pain and sadness's over the course of our time in Cambodia we would experience all these cross cultural feelings and emotions. Our human condition and frailty was not missed in this foreign land among a different tongue.
How and why does trafficking occur?
The main reasons children or young people are trafficked is poverty and kidnapping. People desperate to make money see children as a commodity and will take them directly off the streets. Poverty leads to desperation and some people are tricked into a job offer in a different city only to be taken, drugged beaten and rapped into submissions others are sold by their family members. If we solved the poverty issue, we could potentially fix a few of the problems but some deeper root issues remain. Mainly the cultural belief that sex is something men cannot control and therefore men should be able to have access to sex whenever they want.
Women or girls who have been rapped are seen as no good and are shamed. Some end up as prostitutes because this seems to be the roll in life they have been given. Men have sex with prostitutes as a form of release, married or not. There is an ancient belief that a pregnant woman cannot have sex because it can harm the baby so many Cambodian couples do not have sex during this time. Many women are okay with their husbands going to prostitutes since men cannot control their urges. It isn't simply that there are girls and women who are forced into prostitution, it's that once a person is a prostitution you become a different class of person that is acceptable among society to subjugate. I thought the problem was simply poverty, but it's much worse. It's the hearts of men who believe that once a women has lost her virginity she has lost her value and worth. This is perception is not just by men but eventually and often by the women themselves. A women believes this projected self-worth and eventually accepts it.
If there was no poverty, would sex trafficking still occur?
Yes, because it isn't just the poor that need money it's people's pursuit of wealth, money and power. This is a billion dollar industry and if there is money to be made, no matter how detestable, people will act on their misguided and self-centered pursuits no matter who they harm.
We have sex trafficking in the U.S. which is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, and yet people still want more. However, how are people able to make so much money off of trafficking? People want to have sex for their own self gratification no matter who they hurt. Primarily men are sexual predators. I would argue that a man who seeks to exploit children for the purposes of sex and the ones who act on their urges to rape these children are no different then sexual predators and pedophiles that we see on the news. The only difference is that a middle man has been hired to do the kidnapping for the predator. Let me be clear, whether someone kidnaps a child and rapes them or someone else kidnaps a child for someone else to rape them has no distinction.
What else do we need to do besides just fighting poverty?
There is a Cambodia saying that women are like white rags and men are like gold. White rags start pure, but will become dirty and cannot be made pure again. Men however can never be tainted. Poverty isn't the only issue, it's the perception of women as a whole.
How can you change a culture? Governments try to change culture, Cambodia is an interesting case study. It was colonized by the French, then courted by the U.S. for a short time and then the Vietnamese for longer after the Khmer Rouge. The culture has remained largely the same. What Christian organizations are doing, like Rapha House, are counter cultural. They are seeking to not just rescue children from brothels, but to teach them the kingdom culture of Jesus. This doesn't mean they abandon the traditions of their people, it means they change the way their perception of what makes them who they are. These girls are worthy of love, have intrinsic value from their maker and a new identity in Christ.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV
I pray you consider the value of our faith for the hurting and broken. I believe that the broken can see God more holistically than the healthy. When we have something healed, have an amazing amount of gratitude toward the healer. If there is anything I learned from the girls at Rapha House, it is that their healing has allowed them to experience God in greater ways that I may never understand. If they can accept their pain and accept Jesus, then how much more should I?
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J. Diaz