Table of Contents

Brian the Writer

Tsunami Politics

Brian McCorkle

Child trafficking hit the news briefly during the reporting of the 2004 Tsunami. The basis of these reports was rumor and prejudgment.

But, when a real case of trafficking occurred, there was an eerie silence in the American news media.

Soon after the tsunami of 2004, stories surfaced about a blond blue-eyed Swedish boy who was reported to have been taken by child traffickers. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings pontificated that child slavery is all too common in "that part of the world." He went on to say that the children were forced to work as slaves or even worse as sexual slaves.

The story spread and achieved a factual status. The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), proclaimed "Tsunami Spawns Wave of Child Kidnappings" and discussed the one case of the rumored kidnapping of this Swedish boy as proof. Little attention was given to the careful investigation by Thai authorities who started with the reasonable premise that very little factual evidence was available to jump to the conclusion that this Swedish boy had been taken by a gang or a pedophile.

Most of the reports about the boy stated that a man in western dress had taken the child. Some identified the nationality as German. The alleged victim's photo was displayed and sometime accompanied by emotion laden statements. When asked about child-trafficking in Southeast Asia, Birgithe Lund-Henriksen of UNICEF was quoted as "I'm sure it's happening," without giving any facts for her hypothesis.

Truth was discovered: there had been a western boy in a hospital; a Swedish couple had temporarily taken custody of the boy; the boy was not the person claimed by the news megalith; the child was reunited with his mother. UNICEF authorities weakly applauded the man who found the boy (and others) and took him to the hospital. UNICEF did not own its own part in spreading the abduction hysteria that could impede rescues because of a presupposition that males were kidnapping children.

The reality of the supposed abduction was not too important. Certainly, not enough for ABC News to reexamine the premises it had so loudly proclaimed a few days earlier. Television news anchors went on to forget about the issue once the report of the blond blue-eyed sex slave proved to be unfounded. So we continued to hear about some who survived against all odds (Americans love those stories).

The Jennings' reporting of the incident demonstrates the arrogance, ignorance and intellectual dishonesty that corrupts the world view held by many in this country. This view reflects the egotistical attitudes of too many Americans.

The newscasters said nothing about any marketplace for trafficked children. Do wealthy New Yorkers purchase indenture papers for children with a promise of release after seven years? Or do the children get taken to a large plantation to be worked to exhaustion away from the public eye? If we really feel that child trafficking is a problem that we need to do something about, it would behoove us to find where the children were being transported and for whose benefit.

What is the basis for the statement that this is common in that part of the world? What possessed Peter Jennings to ignore such issues as indenture servitude in the Dominican Republic or the impressment of children into rebel armies worldwide? Or even such issues as the economic need for children to work in Peruvian mines.

The statement of "worse of all sexual slavery" shows the ignorance of Americans in general, and American news media specifically. Where coercion is involved, what can be worse? Is a machete blow to the head worse than sexual slavery or vice versa? If a child spends their waking hours working and receives less than adequate food, shelter, or sleep, what is the point of making a contest about who has it worse?

The sexual slavery issue also turns to the marketplace issue. Certainly, Dutch sex workers will not allow their market to be flooded with little brown boys and girls. If Israeli brothels were the outlet, would the sex workers there just fade away? Licensed brothels in Nevada would not be a good place to open a surreptitious site for child prostitutes. And, streetwalkers would have a legitimate complaint if their work areas were suddenly filled with small newcomers. In this country, the greatest marketplaces for child sexual slaves are the various Law and Order television series spin-offs.

This is not to denigrate any issues with forced indenturing or slavery of children or adults. This is meant to stop playing the silly games that we see too often on the evening news. Apparently male slaves and indentured servants are unimportant; female slaves are held in higher concern; children slaves are a cause for hand-wringing. The issue that is often ignored is the requirement of child labor due to scarcity of resources or poverty. More importance is given to a hierarchy of victims as if these problems exist in some kind of vacuum. In the end, press and public disregards anything beyond superficial gossip and flits on to other issues.

 Other news media did pursue the stories of abduction gangs in more detail. Diligent reporters interviewed such luminaries as UNICEF representatives. Most of the reports added parenthetically, that trafficking gangs were common in Indonesia. None of the reporters examined any the spectral evidence to discover a basis for the claims. UNICEF's Lund-Henriksen mentioned someone in an unnamed agency had seen 100 infants being carried in a speeding boat in the middle of the night.

Finally, UNICEF discovered a documented trafficking case. An Indonesian couple took a four-year-old child claiming they were the parents. There was also the case of several mothers claiming the same child, but this did not translate to physical custody until the correct mother was identified. But, a local couple attempting to claim a child does not trafficking make, nor does six persons claiming the same child.

The UNICEF people mentioned that Malaysia was a destination for trafficked children, but this is the organization that gave credibility to a claim of one-hundred infants observed in a speedboat during the dark of night. This is the organization that made nebulous and inflammatory statements about child trafficking.

The network's news sped in darkness past any honest appraisal of the real situation in the tsunami area. For some reason, the news teams assumed that adults were swept away leaving only children. Or that families would be passive about allowing others to take their children away. While the major news outlets were gossiping about child abductions and trafficking and while the UNICEF area representatives were making irresponsible statements, a plan was underway to take 300 Moslem children to raise them as Christian missionaries.

WorldHelp, a Virginia based proselytizing group, was caught making plans to relocate Moslem children to a Christian children's home in Jakarta. Their web page stated the policy "World Help operates on the principle that orphaned children are best cared for within their own culture by caring national Christians…" Their hope was to used the indoctrinated children as a wedge into Moslem regions.

WorldHelp president Rev. Vernon Brewer initially claimed that the plan was in full agreement and knowledge of Indonesian authorities. WorldHelp first stated it had relocated the children, then said it dropped the plan, and finally announced they had not taken possession of children.

Now when a well documented plan to traffic in children was known, ABC news, UNICEF, and too many others were silent.

First Appeared in Ego Trips Number Four (Autumn 2005)
Experimental Literary Journal of the
Fox Valley Writers Club (Wisconsin)