Children cared for by The Salvation Army in Sri Lanka
A mother with her baby, whom she is giving up for adoption
An officer with a trafficked girl now in the care of The Salvation Army
Another trafficked girl
This newborn baby, pictured here with children in the care of The Salvation Army, will be placed with a loving family
Major Seth Le Leu is The Salvation Army’s International Projects and Development Secretary
Sri Lanka: Picking up the Pieces
by Major Seth Le Leu
The eyes are downcast, the body is rigid, the kindly touch of a caring hand elicits no response. This eight-year-old child from China has seen more in her lifetime than children of her age should ever see. Puisi [not her real name] is severely traumatised and will need a huge amount of care and counselling to be rehabilitated.
I met up with Puisi in Sri Lanka. Unlike many of the millions of women and children trafficked globally each year, Puisi is – just – one of the fortunate ones. She is safe and is being cared for in a Salvation Army centre in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing she was awaiting the arrival of police from China who were going to accompany her back to her home from where she had been kidnapped.
Before her rescue, Puisi and a group of eight other Chinese children were being used as prostituted children in the Sri Lankan sex trade. It was only because of the alertness and actions of an employee in the establishment where these children were being kept that The Salvation Army was able to take them into care. Because of the interest of both the Sri Lankan and Chinese police it is hoped that the perpetrators of this vile crime will be brought to justice. It is just one rescue, but for Puisi and her friends it was life-changing. To stop this modern slave trade will require more than the actions of The Salvation Army.
Another room in the same institution tells another story. Again the eyes are downcast but this time the reason is that a mother is looking at her newborn baby. But again, this is not a happy story. The normal thoughts that this mother should have towards her baby are not possible, for this is a place where babies are passed on for adoption. The mothers are mainly women who have left Sri Lanka and looked for work overseas. They have responded to the possibility of earning money for their families and have gone abroad to find what they hope will be better-paid and more freely-available employment. But not all their experiences have been positive. Their legal rights are often not protected and they can be abused by their employers. As a result some women arrive back in Sri Lanka pregnant.
To return to their homes and their families with an illegitimate child is unthinkable in the local culture. They will face expulsion from the home and disgrace. The Salvation Army cannot change the culture but it can provide these women with a safe place where the baby can be born. Every mother wants the best for her child and hopes that the people who adopt these children will give them a good home. They trust The Salvation Army to do whatever is best for the baby. The child will be lost to them, but never forgotten.
Both stories illustrate the underside of the global labour force. Puisi and her friends have only suffered this trauma because there is a market for such children. The demand is high, the profits are better than that of illegal drugs – and the costs are borne by the young and the powerless. The trauma Puisi may endure for many years will not matter to the traders in this free market. Even for the customers, tourists from developed countries, there is no shame or regard for the lives they damage. There is a need to shame such practices.
According to the laws of supply and demand, the plight of the Sri Lankan migrant worker does not feature in the budgets of any economy. The fact that many of them are exploited, underpaid and – in the case of many of these migrant workers – raped by their employers is a cost again borne by the powerless and the insignificant.
As a Christian organisation The Salvation Army will and must care and it will speak out against such practices. But it requires the unflinching support of all people of good intent in its battle against such injustices.