More than one million children around the world are sold and sexually abused. The Body Shop is working hard to put an end to this criminal industry.
-Diana Denza, BettyConfidential.com
Be it a daughter, a sister, or the little boy next door, almost every single one of us has a precious young one in our lives. We keep a watchful eye over this child. We watch him or her grow and learn and discover.
Meanwhile, according to UNICEF, each year approximately 1.8 million innocent children just like the ones we know and love are trafficked in the global sex trade. They must face deplorable conditions, perform unspeakable acts, and suffer a lifetime of irreparable damage.
Today, January 11, known as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, marks a time for men and women to take a stand against the sexual exploitation of defenseless children and teens. In honor of this day of awareness, The Body Shop will hand over a petition with more than 720,000 American signatures to AG Rob McKenna, the President of the National Association of Attorneys General. Created with ECPAT USA and The Somaly Mam Foundation, The Body Shop's petition is a powerful public stand against the sex trafficking industry.
"Many people I've encountered are under the impression that sex trafficking occurs far, far away,"Shelley Simmons, The Body Shop's Director of Brand Values, told us in an exclusive interview. "In reality, this is occurring in virtually every country in the world. Since child sex trafficking was kept largely underground even just several years ago, it can be difficult to fathom the scope of it. When people learn the truth, reality strikes and they realize this is an issue that desperately needs their attention."
The statistics only back up Simmons' assertions. In the United States alone, a University of Pennsylvania study found that up to 300,000 young people were at risk of being sexually exploited. Worse, these victimized children can be arrested for prostitution in most states. And according to Shared Hope International, an organization committed to ending the sexual slavery of children, there are only about 100 beds for these victims in the entire nation.
"In the United States, the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act has been signed into law in New York," Simmons said. "Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington have enacted similar laws. Essentially, this means that we as a country have a long way to go. In most states, children victimized through sex trafficking are being picked up and arrested. These are minors -these are children -they should be rehabilitated and supported, not thrown in prison."
The Washington State Office of the Attorney General discovered that human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry in the entire world. And child sex trafficking comprises a significant portion of this criminal trade.
That's where The Body Shop steps in. For the past two years, their Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People campaign has worked to make people aware of the extent of this exploitation, encourage countries to enact laws to protect child victims, and eventually end trafficking altogether.
"The Body Shop has a long history of tackling human rights issues like domestic violence and HIV/AIDS," Simmons said. "Our founder, Anita Roddick, believed that business should be a force for good and create a positive change in the world. She was very passionate about defeating human trafficking. To honor her memory and help make her dream a reality, we began this awareness campaign."
Since its start, the campaign has raised more than $3 million for the cause and has obtained more than 7 million petition signatures.
"The Body Shop has run this campaign in countries across the globe," Simmons explained. "As a direct result of our efforts, 13 governments have stepped forward and committed to new legislation to help protect the victims of child sex trafficking. This is amazing concrete action. Several countries have also developed plans of action. In recent years, Romania, for example, developed a free helpline for victims of sex trafficking or those who suspected that sex trafficking was happening where they lived."
You can continue the movement for change today by purchasing The Body Shop's STOP bag, a limited edition cotton tote designed with the handprints of Nicole Kidman, chef Jamie Oliver, musician Mark Ronson, UN Goodwill Ambassador Mira Sorvino, and CNN's Piers Morgan. Each bag will sell for $10, with $2 from the selling price donated to ECPAT USA and the Somaly Mam Foundation, two prominent organizations in the fight against sex trafficking.
After you've picked up a tote, there are a number of other ways you can keep the momentum going.
"I believe that a majority of people are good," Simmons said. "But sometimes, issues like child sex trafficking can make us feel helpless. It's such a huge issue, but as a collective, we can have an impact. We can make significant changes. The first step is talking about the issue. Educate others and support organizations like ECPAT International and the Somaly Mam Foundation, which work to combat child sexual exploitation."
These young ones -some of whom have barely reached the age of 11 before they are sold and brutally molested -need us to stand up to these atrocious human rights abuses.
"It's no secret that a majority of the victims of sex trafficking are girls," Simmons said. "They need our protection and support. They need optimism and hope for the future."
A world free of child sex trafficking may one day be possible -but it depends on us. For more information about The Body Shop's charitable initiatives, visit the company's website .