From: Nizar Visram
By Marc and Craig Kielburger
The Star phoenix May 27, 2014
If only Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were actually Rambo, Mad Max and Han Solo. Then those aging, action flick superstars could actually go out and rescue the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in April by a group of ruthless militants. And they’d do it in under two hours. All by themselves.
Instead, The Expendables 3 actors were left holding signs with the words “Bring Back Our Girls” – from the ubiquitous hashtag – for the cameras at the Cannes Film Festival, appealing like the rest of us for a resolution to this heart-wrenching story.
But we don’t need to be superheroes or send selfies – we can each save girls from exploitation and slavery by preventing it from happening in the first place. And we don’t need guns, tanks or Wookiee sidekicks to do it.
The phenomenal #Bring-BackOurGirls campaign made viral by Michelle Obama and other celebrities armed with smartphones has rallied image-conscious world leaders to commit military resources to finding the schoolgirls in Nigeria.
But even more importantly, it has rallied the attention of the rest of us to an issue that’s too often buried in the middle pages of the newspaper (or nowhere at all).
An International Labour Organization report released last week found that 21 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery, including 4.5 million forced into the global sex trade – an appalling industry worth $99 billion US. That’s more than the annual profits of Exxon and Apple combined.
So now that we’re all tuned in, we have a unique opportunity to turn our feelings of helplessness and moral outrage into a plan to bring back our girls – before they’re taken.
The vast majority of girls and women caught in the exploitative global sex trade are not victims of kidnapping, like the Nigerian 276 abducted by Boko Haram, but rather of poverty. Human traffickers prey on poor families who don’t have access to education and aren’t aware of their basic rights.
Mired in grinding poverty, parents desperately take out loans on conditions they don’t understand, pledging their children on their debts.
Similarly, it’s not militant groups that block 31 million girls from getting an education. The girls in Nigeria had a classroom, but many communities don’t have a functioning school. Many families can’t afford school supplies or uniforms.
Many girls have to stay home to care for sick relatives, look after their siblings, or perform essential household chores like walking miles every day for drinking water. Yet the opportunity for an education is critical to the economic future of that girl, that family and that community. Of course there will always be extreme cases of kidnapping and other evil deeds that require drastic measures like the ones being mobilized in Nigeria. But these extreme cases shouldn’t paralyze us from preventing more cases, from addressing the root causes that prevent millions more girls from setting foot in a classroom in the first place.
If we want to protect the world’s girls, we must empower them and their families to break the cycle of poverty.
We can accelerate the spread of microloans to women and families in rural areas and urban slums so they can start small businesses and avoid dependence on shady moneylenders. We can break down the barriers to girls’ education by supporting education initiatives, but also health-care programs and clean-water projects.
These solutions aren’t as exciting as Hollywood’s scripted versions in which heroes kick down doors, stop the bad guys and rescue victims. But they are the most effective and most sustainable ways to protect the world’s girls.
We’ve all felt a visceral reaction to the news from Nigeria over the past few weeks. If we truly want to step off the sidelines and do something to “bring back our girls,” there are many ways to do it. We don’t need to be Schwarzenegger – we just have to finish posting our hash tag selfies and think about what to do once we put the sign down.
(Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded the educational partner and international charity Free The Children and the youth empowerment movement We Day.)