New friends lending a hand in the fight against trafficking

January 6, 2023
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?

Three girls in Bolivia sit at small desks in front of a woman holding a booklet in her hand.
The Road to Home (Camino a Casa) project in Bolivia uses child-friendly protection programming to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking.

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.

A girl in Bolivia smiles at the hand puppet she is holding.
Alba is learning how to protect herself, with help from a new friend.

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.

A girl in Bolivia smiles as she holds up a hand puppet wearing a brown hat.
Nayeli is all smiles as she participates in a role-play exercise on the dangers of trafficking.

“Plan places the child at the center of all its programming, grounding our activities in approaches that will strengthen the protective environment around children — from their own capacities to that of their families, communities and government.” — Michelle Van Akin, Plan USA’s disaster risk manager

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.

A girl in Bolivia smiles at the camera while holding up a hand puppet.
The Road to Home project in Bolivia is giving girls like Montserrat the knowledge they need to stay safe.

“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.”