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Why Providing Activities is Essential in Preventing Child Exploitation
March 20, 2024

We think of childhood as a time of innocence, growth, and learning. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that we live in a world where millions of children are denied this precious time. Far too many are exposed to various forms of exploitation, whether they are forced to work in dangerous and grueling industries to support their families, manipulated into sending sensitive imagery online, or trafficked into the sex trade. Protecting them from these heinous crimes is not always an easy task. It’s not as simple as raising awareness, though, of course, that helps. The children who are most vulnerable to these forms of exploitation are vulnerable for complex reasons: poverty, social isolation, lack of rights, and education, just to name a few.

In our work, we have witnessed how prevention entails not just scholarships. Alongside mentorship, we have found that providing at-risk children with enriching activities is not just beneficial — it’s essential. Offering them opportunities for growth, leadership skills, and communication skills helps heal relationships and emotional scars, protecting them from exploiters who try to use those scars against them.

Why Children Become Especially Vulnerable

Children are naturally curious and prone to trusting people who seem kind. While these qualities are important parts of their growth, they also make them easier for traffickers to exploit. Children don’t always have the perspective or life experience to warn them when someone might be secretly acting against their interests. Traffickers and predators use these factors, pretending to offer attention, affection, or luxury items like smartphones, clothes, or jewelry, to reduce any misgivings the kids might have and encourage them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

What Enriching Activities Do

Engaging children in activities that support their confidence and skills provides a protective shield against exploitation. Here’s how:

Building Resilience

Participation in extracurricular activities like the ones we provide at The Freedom Story fosters resilience in children. So many of the children we work with are shy, withdrawn, and afraid to speak up. Some of this is cultural, with girls especially encouraged to be quiet. Some of this is due to early childhood trauma. Some of it is due to the fact that their parents or other caregivers simply did not know how to encourage and support them. By having a safe space to develop friendships, with mentors actively encouraging their interests, they start growing in self-assurance, learn problem-solving skills, and have opportunities to learn how to lead. Developing a sense of self-worth and the capacity to speak up for themselves is an incredible form of empowerment against manipulation.

Developing Friendships and Mentor Relationships

In many of our activities, our scholarship students have the chance to discuss the real challenges in their lives with other children experiencing similar things. Having that kind of validation of their experiences, in concert with mentors who can provide helpful contextual information, cultivates strong social bonds among these children, who start to see that they have a supportive network to protect them when challenges arise. This helps protect against exploitation because these children feel they can confide in their trusted peers and adults when they encounter risky situations.

Developing Critical Thinking

Participating in educational and creative activities also helps children develop their critical thinking skills. When they are taught to question things that feel off to them and learn how to speak up for themselves, they are more equipped to recognize risky situations and resist the manipulative tactics traffickers try to use.

Empowerment Through Education

Educating children about their rights, personal boundaries, and safe behaviors is essential to their protection. Through age-appropriate and culturally appropriate programs, we can arm children with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves and the know-how to seek help if they need it.

Child trafficking prevention requires holistic solutions that account for the variety of factors that put them at risk. Enriching activities is just one part – alongside scholarships and mentorship – of protecting them so that they can grow up in a nurturing environment, safe from abuse or exploitation. 

In the coming weeks, we will share about a special opportunity we have planned, where we will provide this kind of enriching activity for 200 at-risk kids! Stay tuned for more details!

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