It’s probably safe to say that most of us had similar childhood fears. I remember going through the “being afraid of the dark and there might be monsters under my bed” stages of fear. More than once I turned off the lights in my room and jumped into my bed in a single bound in order to avoid a hairy and clawed monster hand grabbing me by the ankle and dragging me under my bed. Disney’s award-winning animated film Monsters, Inc., one of my favorite movies, explored this particular fear in humorous fashion. I also remember being a little frightened by thunderstorms. However, Julie Andrews was never around to calm me by singing “My Favorite Things” like she did for those well-dressed Von Trapp kids. I had to muddle through on my own. And then there was the fear of ghosts fueled by more than a few stories told around summer campfires. These were and are typical childhood fears that tend to become less and less ominous the older we become.
This morning, we shared a special lesson with the kids at the Imparting Smiles orphanage — a lesson about how to guard against those who traffic in human beings. This is not a lesson we have ever taught at any of our Vacation Bible Schools in America. However, because Poipet is such a high-risk area for kids, Imparting Smiles founder Steve Hyde asked us to teach the kids here about this particular kind of stranger danger. As my friend Janet introduced this lesson, she asked the kids to tell her the kinds of things they feared. The initial responses were typical as kids talked about being afraid of snakes and ghosts and storms and the floods that are so common in this area. But then, kids began to share about another kind of fear — the fear that someone would take them away from their homes and do bad things to them. This particular fear is very real to these kids because they have heard stories of what has happened to other kids who disappeared and never returned home. They know that bad people in this area try to lure kids away from their homes.
The danger to kids in Poipet and the entire Bantey Meanchey border province is real. The government has placed several billboards throughout the town of Poipet and the province advertising a hotline number to call if child sexual abuse is suspected. There are also signs from the older “Please Protect Our National Treasures” campaign encouraging people to turn in suspected child sex tourists. I have also seen the same information in hotel rooms in other parts of Cambodia. These are indications that the problem of trafficking and abusing children is real. The kids in Poipet certainly know that the danger is real. Kids in every small group that we taught today shared the same fear of being kidnapped and taken far from home by bad people. It should be enough that kids here have to wrestle with the common and usual childhood fears of monsters under the bed and thunderstorms. It’s a shame that they have to fear unscrupulous individuals who traffic in humans.
Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for modern-day slaves — men, women and children sold into the sex trade. Some non-government organizations estimate that as many as 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are at risk in Cambodia, a popular destination for those seeking sex with children. Cambodia has a long way to go in the fight against human trafficking. I am thankful that the government is taking some responsible measures to protect children. I don’t underestimate the good that may result from someone seeing one of the billboards and reporting suspicious activity. When it comes to the fight against human trafficking, every small step in the right direction can lead to more victories for the cause of justice. I pray and long for the day when God will “do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (Ps. 10:18) and children who live in dangerous places like Poipet can sleep in peace with one less fear to worry about.