Join hands against human trafficking

By: Susan V. Ople

A famous and multi-awarded anti-slavery advocate in Cambodia named Somaly Mam was exposed to be a fraud in a Newsweek article written by Simon Marks. The CNN Hero ran a shelter for child trafficking survivors and gained international prominence for her work.

Her personal story was gripping and served as a perfect backdrop for vigorous fundraising and global networking efforts. Based on her autobiography, Mam said that her “grandfather” turned her into a domestic slave as a child and later on sold her to a Chinese merchant but that thereafter, she got married to a violent soldier at 14. She also shared her experience with a global audience about life in a brothel.

Such compelling and vivid details about Mam’s life were questioned in the Newsweek article by Simon Marks who went around Cambodia and spoke to villagers in the place where the anti-slavery advocate grew up. They knew nothing about an abusive grandfather; Somaly was raised by her parents and was, in fact, a popular girl. One of the “victims” of sex trafficking also admitted to Newsweek that her testimonial in front of a camera was not true, and that Somaly told her what to say.

For true-blue advocates against modern slavery, the real story behind Somaly Mam is quite frightening and tragic. Frightening in the sense that no one really knows how many child trafficking survivors were used by Somaly Sam to prop up her image. If the intentions were less than honest, then it begs the question — how were these children cared for?

Tragic, well, because there are so many deserving civil society groups that are struggling to survive and that has done so much more for the cause than they are being recognized for. They don’t invent stories; they just do the work.

Somaly has since tendered her resignation from the Somaly Mam Foundation, and its executive director issued a statement declaring the Foundation’s desire to continue on with its work of rescuing victims of human trafficking in Cambodia. I can only imagine the huge demand for an audit by the Foundation’s international donors.

Meanwhile, the campaign to protect human rights continues and is being fought in every nook and corner of the world.

Cases like that of 22-year-old Filipino domestic worker Pahima Alagasi who was scalded by her employer will remain front and center in this campaign.

Let me share with you an e-mail I got in reaction to my previous column about Pahima Alagasi, sent by James Seaholtz: “The one thing you got wrong in your article about Candice (Pahima’s nickname) was to leave the impression that only Filipinos worldwide were praying for Pahima’s recovery and safe return home. That impression is unfair. You know this sad story has gone global and you know that people of good will of countless nationalities and religions are praying for this young woman. This isn’t merely a ‘Filipino’ story; this is a very human story. Pahima may be a Filipino by nationality, but in this instance she is everyone’s child, sister, and daughter regardless of where they live in the world. We are all diminished and deeply saddened by this girl’s story.”

James is right. Slavery diminishes all of us. We don’t need someone like Somaly Mam to fabricate horrific stories to tell us that. All we really need is to look around.





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