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PLAN INTERNATIONAL USA: New friends lending a hand in the fight against trafficking

By Allison McCrave January 6, 2023 We know that knowledge is power. And when it comes to child trafficking, it’s the strongest weapon girls and communities possess to protect themselves from traffickers. But how do you educate girls about such a serious and frightening subject? It’s not a simple question to answer, or easy terrain to navigate. That’s why child-friendly protection programming is such an essential component of our work — and why we rely on the expertise of child protection specialists like Michelle Van Akin, Plan International USA’s disaster risk manager. “We must always respect children’s agency and voices — we need to remember that they are the ones facing these risks, such as trafficking,” Michelle explains. “Our approach to communicating with children is always to be transparent with them but to do so using vocabulary, messaging and learning methodologies appropriate and accessible to children, to ensure their understanding of these more complex topics.” That’s where programs like Road to Home (Camino a Casa) in Bolivia come into play. Trafficking is a serious problem in Bolivia, and poverty is often the root cause. Desperate to help their families make ends meet, girls and young women are lured away from home by false promises of a better life. They leave willingly, because they believe a good job is waiting, or a chance to continue with their education. More often than not, traffickers aren’t strangers, but people you think you can trust, hiding in plain sight — boyfriends, aunts, family friends. You don’t know you’re a victim until it’s too late. The best way to protect girls is to educate them about these risks, equipping them with the tools they need to protect themselves. Sometimes, we need to get creative with how we teach girls about the dangers of trafficking and how they can stay safe. Road to Home does this through role play exercises with hand puppets. “They engage girls in learning without it seeming like either a school lesson or something beyond their grasp,” Michelle says. “We also always make sure that, while these can be scary topics for the girls we are working with, they feel engaged and empowered to protect and advocate for themselves.”

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