Meet The Woman Who Has Saved Over 700 Children From Sex Slavery
Right now, there are 4.5 million people enslaved in the sex industry, 945,000 of whom are children.
7 years ago, I was attending a 10-day course, 5 days before Christmas, then completed the course 4 weeks later. Upon returning, we were asked what we did over summer. I will never forget the moment when a Nicky stood up and stated she travelled to Cambodia to set up a charity to educate children, rather than sending them to sex slavery.
Nicky Mih is the founder and MD of a charity called Free To Shine. She believes that children should be in schools, not brothels. The Asia-Pacific region, our doorstep, accounts for 56% of the global total of trafficked people, 3 x higher than Africa. Nicky runs a child protection organization that prevents children being trafficked into the sex industry in Cambodia. So far, they help 700 girls, across 44 rural villages, to achieve their rights to be free from slavery, and access education, safe drinking water, enough food and adequate shelter.
What is also extremely important, Free To Shine also educates the parents that they will be better off with their children being educated, than them being in sex slavery.
Sina was 13 when she was trafficked. She was kept in a large cupboard in a nice hotel, and brought out when men paid to have sex with her. One day a customer complained that she didn’t smile. So, she was stripped naked and locked in a coffin for 2 days with biting ants, “the only thing that stopped the ants going in my eyes, were my tears,” she said. From then on, Sina smiled each time a customer raped her.
Edmund Burke’s quote has always stuck with Nicky, ‘all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.’
When Nicky thought of it like this, that these girls are being tortured with acid, electrocuted and raped more than 10 times a day because no one was doing anything to stop it, she knew it was time for us to step up. 7 years ago, she spent a month with Sina and 200 survivors of sex trafficking. She met a 6-year-old who was sold when she was 4. It changed her. It taught Nicky what real strength is. And it taught her to spend her time doing something that really matters.
Here is what Nicky did, in her own words.
I asked this group of survivors how I could help and I learned that the day they got rescued the traffickers didn’t go without girls, they just went out into the rural villages and took a new young girl.
“Nicky, go out to the rural villages, find the girls who aren’t in school and get them into school,” they said. I looked around the room, and they were shaking their heads, not one of them had been in school when they were trafficked, and they believed if they had been in school, they would have been safe.
The UN ILO agrees. They state that “getting girls into school and keeping them there is vital in reducing their risk of being trafficked.”
There were organisations collaborating with the police on rescue operations, there were aftercare center’s and there were legal teams working in the justice system to bring about prosecutions. But I couldn’t find an organisation out in these rural villages specifically identifying these girls before the traffickers did. So that’s what we do.
We work with police, community leaders, councils and schools. We have learnt which villages traffickers will target, and how they identify the most vulnerable when they get there.
We use a 100-point risk assessment tool to ensure we’re enrolling the girls at highest risk, and we have a detailed application process. Application forms are processed by qualified social workers in Australia who work for us as volunteers. This ensures we enroll the correct girls onto our program, while keeping our costs low.
We operate a co-investment model, which means our role, the girl’s role and her family’s role is clearly outlined and agreed upon. For example, we outline what we will and won’t provide, while each girl agrees to go to school every day, listen carefully to her teacher, participate in class and do her homework, and her family agrees to allow her to attend school and not ask her to miss school to look after cows or younger siblings.
We uphold relevant international conventions and best practice. We follow a UN human rights based framework, guided by the Declaration of Human Rights. We’re addressing 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We follow a family based model, not an orphanage model. And we have high standards of child protection. We have effective systems and processes.
Personally, we don’t care for fancy offices, and we get about on little motorbikes instead of in 4WDs. Because we refuse to have inefficiencies, with $1 million we’ve secured the safety of 718 girls, conducted 24,000 family visits, 80 community trainings, provided 5,000 library books, hundreds of bikes, thousands of school uniforms, 432 water filters, a veggie garden for each family and, built 14 houses!
I started this after reading a number of different books, about the plight of different children and women around the world. I always wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. Each time, I’d place the book carefully back onto my bookcase, and go about my life as usual. Until one day I made a promise: the next book I read, no matter what the country, what the issue, I’m going to do something. That next book was sex trafficking, in Cambodia.
Now I do this because it needs doing, because what we do works, because I want to live in a world where children are empowered and equipped with leadership skills.
There are 7 parts to securing a child’s safety from sex traffickers:
1. Family Visits
We visit our girls every month and help their families’ problem solve. Our family visits are the most important part of our program. We address complex, ever-changing and often interlinked factors, such as poverty, hunger, illness, family violence and breakdown, addiction, unemployment, migration, and debt. We provide education and guidance to help the family find their way through it, all the time keeping their daughter’s safety and right to education at the forefront.
2. School Materials
We provide the resources necessary for her to attend school, for example uniforms, books and pens, and a bicycle.
3. Extra Tuition Classes
Schools in Cambodia are only for half a day, so students must attend daily extra classes, at an extra cost, to ensure coverage of all subjects. This disadvantages student from poor families. And prior to being enrolled on our program, many of our girls have missed years of schooling and so for these girls in particular, access to extra classes is instrumental in setting up the groundwork for a successful education.
4. Community Training Sessions
We also provide community training sessions to teach communities and our girls’ families about their rights and how to protect themselves and their families from exploitation and abuse.
5. Safe Drinking Water
We address the human right of access to safe drinking water. Our girls and their families living in rural villages don’t have access to running water. They get their water from wells, ponds, streams and rivers. Then they become sick. Then they find themselves unable to work or go to school for extended periods of time, and often take out loans to cover everyday bills or even larger loans to pay for medical treatment. This often leads to parents who were previously committed to their girls getting an education allowing them to leave school and seek employment to assist with loan payments. We provide a locally made water filter with a comprehensive education session.
6. Enough Food
One of the very biggest barriers our girls face to attending school is their immediate need for food. When our girls and their families are hungry, the search for food becomes their biggest priority and children spend their afternoons in the forest collecting whatever they can find to eat or sell, from leafy greens to ants.
Some organisations provide rice but we decided against that because it’s fairly low in nutrition, is massively expensive for us to provide, and creates an ongoing reliance on an external source for their food.
Instead, providing our girls and their families with seeds, enables them to grow their own food which is far more empowering. The fruits and veggies they grow are also high in the vitamins and minerals they need. Some even grow enough to sell a little at the market, supplementing the family’s income!
7. Adequate Shelter
Most Cambodian families live in houses made of wood and woven palm leaves. Several of our families live in houses that are missing walls and have holes in the roof, meaning that each time it rains they get wet.
We have helped 14 families build a small, safe and secure house. Families who receive house builds are assessed on multiple criteria and once chosen, the build is a collaborative process with the family involved in the design, planning and construction. We source local materials and the family choose a local builder they trust.
We hope you were inspired by Nicky as I was 7 years ago.
Nicky would love to hear from you, please leave comments and questions below.
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If you would like to know more, go to:
SHINE AND DINE - June and July throughout Melbourne and the Peninsula.
Free To Shine collaborates with restaurants and cafes, and invite their diners to make a gold coin donation in support of the UN’s World Day Against Human Trafficking. The do this by way of donation boxes at the register and donation bags which are placed on the tables. They leave it up to diners to decide how much they would like to contribute. Click on the link to find out more.