How our media helps sell children (by asking the wrong questions)


A month ago, 23 girls were brought to Nepal from an orphanage in South India in a mission led by the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EBMF), Nepal. The reason why the mission started was because the families of four girls from Humla requested the Foundation to get them their missing children.

Following the rescue of girls, a section of Nepalese media participated in a co-ordinated attack against the rescuers. Through their acts, our media is in fact helping the traffickers. To my information, Republica daily (Om Astha Rai) and Avenues TV (Khabar Bhitra ko Khabar) participated in this campaign. I am not sure if these media houses or reporters received benefits from the traffickers to write in their favor but my observation says that the arguments made by them was successful in influencing many other people.

I will try to explain how the questions they asked helped divert the issue and encourage the selling of children.

Background
The Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore from where the girls were rescued claimed on its website that it housed many orphaned girls from Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and some parts of India. It displayed pictures of the girls and asked for donations from Christians around the world. In return, the Center made the children pray for the donors and posted videos online. The girls taken from Nepal were also given Christian names and advertised as children of parents who were killed for being Christian by Hindu extremists in Nepal. In reality, all the girls had their parents and belonged to Hindu families. The EBMF went to Coimbatore to bring only four children. But as the operation busted their illegal operations, the Center disowned all 23 Nepalese girls it was housing and the rescuers had to bring them all back. Hindu groups in India launched protests against the Center against its proselytizing activities.

Argument 1: The parents knew

It turned out that many of the girls in the Center were taken there by Nepalese traffickers. One Dal Bahadur Phadera, a powerful local political figure in a district in West Nepal figures prominently in many reports about Child trafficking from Nepal. It is learned that Phadera’s own girl(s) were also in the Center and so were some of his relatives’. After the girls were brought back, some of these parents were quoted by the media as being angry at their girls’ education being disrupted. But like the four families who reported to EBMF, many girls were taken there without the knowledge of their parents.

They said they took their children to the Center themselves and used to visit them frequently. On the other hand, the Michael Job Center has stated that the children were brought to Coimbatore through a child center in Nepal called Himalayan Orphanage and that they were not aware that the children were not orphans.

This week, the story of a parent who was happy after meeting her child was also published. During the five years when she was looking for child, she was “humiliated at the Center and they refused to give” her the child.

This argument fails because of so many contradictions.

Om Astha Rai in Republica (Sep 25, 2011)

Om Astha Rai in Republica (Sep 25, 2011)

Argument 2: The rescuers should have rescued girls from brothels instead

This is a total non-argument. The arguers say that if the rescuing agency is not only seeking advertisement of it’s work, it should prove itself by carrying out more difficult and worthy duties for us.

If you are so worried about girls in brothels, there are many ways: do it yourself, donate to a charity who does it, help people who are doing it and so on. Every organization has it’s own goals and it is not necessary for everybody to do something just because you believe in it. You could as well ask the labor unions in Nepal’s factories to bring back girls from brothels.

Argument 3: They were receiving good education

According to Indian laws, it is illegal to keep children in orphanages without enough evidence. It is also illegal to house foreign children in such centers. The Center has not been able to produce any such papers. It could have been busted at any time (because other parents could have complained or Indian authorities could have acted on their own) leaving the Nepalese girls in the middle of nowhere. It is also not clear what the Center would do to the girls once they grew up- we often hear news of sexual harassment and slavery of children in such centers.

Argument 4: The children were better off in the Center

Following argument 3, this is again a no-brainer. There is a well known trafficker involved, many uninformed parents had their children sold and falsely advertised as children of Christian martyrs: the focus should have been on addressing this heinous crime. The girls and their parents had to spend all these years in great discomfort and pain, the children would grow up in a confused identity and probably leading to psychological and social problems. Despite these multiple issues, the media chose to argue in favor of the traffickers saying that since the children were leading better lives, they should have been where they were.

Michael Job Center

Michael Job Center

This shoddy argument has its root in the mental poverty of of the arguer that nothing can be better than living in big buildings and getting to speak English.

Argument 5: The rescuers should take responsibility of the girls

It is as if the rescuers are the criminals and they should face all the consequences now. They blame the rescuing agency for leaving the girls in this hopeless situation and ask it to bear the responsibility of the children since it is their fault only.

This makes me wonder what kind of a society and nation we are? Instead of being ashamed of the situation of our girls, we want a foreign agency which exposed a possibly big trafficking racket, to take care of the children. It is true that most girls’ families are poor and from remote parts of Nepal. They might not be able to afford the education and life comparable to that in the Coimbatore center and this might make it hard for the girls to adjust. But should we not be asking the traffickers to be jailed and fined for the expenses of rehabilitating the children? Should we not be making our system better so our girls can get good education without having to be sold? Should we as citizens not ensure that children of our society’s poors get decent life and education? Are we a society of human beings or herd of animals ready to do anything for the sake of greed and immediate gains?

This argument implies that children of poor parents are better off being sold to fake orphanages. Have you heard anything more outrageous than this? Let us say instead, “trafficking of children should be allowed and also encouraged in the condition that they sell children to good orphanages.”

The Center's website advertising the girls

The Center's website advertising the girls

Argument 6: Most orphanages in Nepal are fake anyway

The Republica piece quotes a police officer DSP Puja Singh: “Even in Nepali orphanages, almost half the children have parents. In this particular case, though, most of the girls have mothers alone. And, they are very poor.” DSP Singh is saying that as it is ok to have fake orphanages in Nepal, it should be OK in India too and the rescuers did an unnecessary job. Unfortunately, this argument fails for two reasons: 1) Singh is a Nepali policewoman and can’t speak for Indian orphanages, 2) Singh, as a police office is aware of the fake orphanages and is even ok with them- she is failing in her job and should be punished. She should also be asked to apologize for this statement.

Finally,

It becomes clear that the police is aware of all this trafficking ring and fake orphanages. The media and the reporter quoting such statements also appear to be hand in glove with the culprits of this big crime network. Apart from the traffickers, the parents who complied with them and caused sufferings to other uninformed parents should also be taken to the court and punished. Additionally, police officials and media entities and personnel who aid the traffickers despite being fully aware of their activities should also be treated as dangerous criminals and be given harsher statements.

Nepal’s child trafficking crime network is really big and deep. Despite this, our media chose to ask all the right questions that the traffickers wanted to hear. The culprits must be giving big thanks to them for helping them sell more children.

Avenues TV’s show Khabar Bhitra ko Khabar on 24th Sep 2011 is below:

7 thoughts on “How our media helps sell children (by asking the wrong questions)

  1. Pingback: Nepal: Media Bias On Child Trafficking · Global Voices
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  3. For a terrific, first-hand account of DB Phadera, go to Lonely Planet (read the full thread):

    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2032255&start=0&limit=1000

    And for more on the Humla trade, see — Paper Orphans documentary posted on the web:

    http://pearadoptinfo-nepal.blogspot.com/2011/10/paper-orphans-documentary-posted-on-web.html

    Paper Orphans is a film on the Humla (NCO/Bal Mandir) kidnappings.

    By the Swiss INGO — Terre des Hommes.

    Henry

  4. Thanks for the heads up!

    Looking only at the avenues clip I was onto thinking EBMF really did a fake rescuing for fame and money (inspired by our CNN Hero). But the reality was different.

    Hope the cloud clears soon and this and other cases become transparent. I am sure this is not the only one. The questions you have brought forward about sanity, mentality and morality of the parents/citizens and organizations should really be discussed as a grand, nationwide program.
    I deem this even more important than the much hyped constitution-writing process. Hope that day comes.

  5. Pingback: Adhocism and the culture of press-release journalism – I « Ushaft's Blog

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