The worldwide refugee crisis, largely spurred by the historic mass migration of people from war-torn Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, are seeking refuge around the world. Many of these individuals are unaccompanied minors and are at even greater risk of exploitation with no social support from their family and sometimes no support from the host country where they are seeking refuge. Some of these individuals have been targeted by human traffickers who are taking this opportunity to exploit their vulnerability.
Many unaccompanied refugee youth have entered the sex industry in Greece as a result having no other means to support themselves. Many are teenage boys, a group often overlooked as potential sex trafficking victims, are trading sex to meet their basic needs. Many of these youth have nowhere to stay and no way to support themselves. This is a commonality with many runaways in the United States that are lured into the sex industry with the promise of a having some place to stay. CNN also reported there are around 1200 unaccompanied minors living on the streets of Greece with no place to stay—but it is believed to be much higher.
Other reports suggest approximately 10,000 unaccompanied refugee minors are unaccounted for and may have been trafficked by underground criminal networks. The United Kingdom is proposing to halt unaccompanied refugee minors entry into the country after only accepting 350 of them. Advocates fear this move will lead to an increase in human trafficking while leaving them with no formal support system and no ability to stay in their war-torn home countries.
Meanwhile, in the United States unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America and other countries are also at risk. In 2014, several unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America were accidentally released by a shelter to human traffickers and forced to work on an egg farm in Ohio where traffickers threatened to kill them if they left. When historic numbers of unaccompanied minors entered the US in 2014, there was an increase in trafficking visas issued to children as traffickers once again exploited this vulnerable population.
In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been targeting the religious minority Yazidi, forcing them to flee as refugees. Many of the women and girls have been captured by ISIS militants and forced to ‘marry’ or are used as sex slaves for the men. Again, like other victims of human trafficking, the women and girls are systematically raped and traded among ISIS fighters. The New York Times estimates that 3,144 Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive. One courageous Yazidi woman escaped her captivity and has been telling her story to bring awareness of the
others that are still being held captive.
Human trafficking is an exploitation of vulnerability and refugees can be among the most vulnerable populations. As a result, it is necessary that providers be aware of the potential risk factors leading to trafficking, be able to identify and assess for trafficking, and be able to provide trauma-informed care to those that may have been trafficked. This is a clear issue of social justice and re-emphasizes the humanitarian necessity of assisting vulnerable refugee populations—particularly children. Likewise, policy can be crucial in providing the resources to
support refugee populations that may be at risk.
With the scale of the problem being so vast, complex, and multi-faceted, it can feel like any effort at combatting this issue cannot possibly make an impact. Yet, social workers are at the intersection of mental health, the medical field, the justice system and the school system as well as various social service agencies. Social workers may likely be the first to identify a trafficking victim which places us in a unique position to make a real difference for this population.
What can you do to help?
- • Educate yourself on the issue of human trafficking and let others know what you’ve learned. Attend a workshop or training on this issue.
- • Learn how to assess whether an individual may be trafficked. As a social worker, you may be the first person to identify a potential trafficking victim.
- • If you think someone may be trafficked report a tip to the Polaris Project hotline: at 1888-373-7888.
- • Host a film screening on the human trafficking to raise awareness, such as A Path Appears.
- • Make a donation to an agency working with survivors. Tangible needs for survivors of human trafficking may include: clothing, toiletries, money for rental assistance/getting a first apartment, bus passes. This can include international agencies working with survivors.
- • Survivors of human trafficking also have long-term needs in order for them to become self-sufficient. This may include GED classes or ESL classes, medical services, counseling services, job placement services and immigration services. Consider whether your agency may be willing to help provide some of these services for survivors.
- • Become a mentor for a survivor. Continue to advocate for vulnerable refugee populations around the world, particularly unaccompanied minors who may be at the greatest risk. Educate others on the worldwide refugee crisis and our responsibility as social workers to take a role in addressing this issue as one of social justice.
While it is an audacious goal, we must aspire to end human trafficking in our time and renew our commitment to serving vulnerable refugee populations. As abolitionist William Wilberforce is quoted as saying, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Trigger Warning: A Chinese Father Saved More Than 300 People at Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge
“I understand these people. I know they are tired of living here. They have had difficulties. They have no one to help them.” – Chen Si
Since the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was first built in 1968, an estimated 2,000 people have died from suicide involving the bridge. According to data from 1995-99, in China’s first national survey in 2002, death from suicide accounted for 3.6 percent of the country’s total deaths. During that period of time, 287,000 Chinese people died from suicide every year, putting the average suicide rate at 23 per 100,000 people.
Chen Si, also known as The Angel of Nanjing, has been patrolling this bridge every Saturday for more than 20 years and has managed to save more than 300 people from death by suicide. He is a 52-year-old father from Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province of the People’s Republic of China. Following the loss of a close relative to suicide, Chen Si has taken up this cause because someone needs to.
A Long History
The relationship between mental illness and suicide is controversial in China. Those who follow traditional Chinese philosophy are not encouraged to express their feelings, nor are they encouraged to expect their environment to change to suit their needs. Therefore, intense misery and feelings of despair may go unrecognized, and suicidal symptoms are not easily detected by Chinese medical professionals. In fact, many doctors working in rural areas do not understand the symptoms of depression and often receive low salaries, which discourages more doctors from entering the mental-health field.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, China’s suicide rate in the 1990s was 20 per 100,000 people. In the 1990s, female suicides were higher than male suicides by a factor of three. While China remains one of the few countries with a higher suicide rate among women than men, recent data shows that these disparities have evened out. In 2016, suicide rates among Chinese men and women came up almost even at 9.1 per 100,000 men and 10.3 per 100,000 women. Overall, China’s suicide rate in 2016 was 9.7 per 100,000 people, which was among the lowest globally.
A 2002 survey also revealed that 88 percent of females who died from suicide used agricultural pesticides or rat poison. Although China initially eliminated highly toxic pesticides to improve the safety of its farm produce, the elimination also had a substantial impact on the reduction of deaths from suicide among women. Research shows that men tend to attempt suicide through violent means such as hanging, whereas women tend to attempt suicide with medication. Overall, most studies indicate a decline in suicide rates among all gender and regional categories in China. The studies also recommended targeted suicide prevention programs, particularly for people in rural areas.
Women’s freedom, urbanization, and decreased access to toxic pesticides are key reasons behind the decline in suicide rates. According to Jing Jun, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “female independence has saved a lot of women.” The founding of New China in 1949 in combination with the opening-up policy in the late 1970s and the continuous growth of China’s economy has led to more equitable opportunities for women. Additionally, urbanization removed certain social constraints leading to more freedom for women. For instance, escaping an abusive partner or household may be easier in a city than in a small village.
Despite a decline in death by suicide rates in China, this is an area that we should pay more attention to. Chen Si acts as an angel, but he cannot do this work alone. He hopes that officials consider building a net across the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to prevent deaths by suicide.
The Crisis Intervention Centre, the first of its kind in China, was established by Nanjing Brain Hospital to provide psychological advice and support to Chinese people. The Centre also has a hotline, which can be reached at 862583712977.
The Lifeline Shanghai at (400) 821 1215 is a free, confidential, and anonymous support service that is open 365 days a year from 10am-10pm GMT+8.
Facebook and other social media platforms also offer many virtual support groups for individuals experiencing hardship. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is a 27/4, free and confidential resource to support people in distress, prevention, or in an active crisis. Users should utilize the translate function on these web pages to adjust for language barriers, if necessary.
A 10-Year-Old Girl in Kenya Learns Coding in Milwaukee–Virtually.
The pandemic and a year of virtual schooling had an unexpected benefit for a little girl in Kenya who connected with Girls Who Code at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I use the computer for school, and I wanted to understand more about how they work,” said Elsie Maingi, who is 10 years old and lives in Nairobi.
However, computer classes in Kenya were geared to high school students and business people and were usually quite expensive, said her mother, Lilian Wangechi.
So in the fall of 2020, they turned to Google and found the free Girls Who Code program at UWM. Because of the time difference, Elsie got up at 2 a.m. for every class during that semester and the spring 2021 semester.
Encouraging young women
The national Girls Who Code program encourages young women of middle and high school age to get involved with computer sciences, according to Christine Cheng, an associate professor of computer science who launched UWM’s program in 2016.
“When we knew we were going to be online in the fall of 2020, it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed many people who were not living near UWM to attend classes,” she said, “but Elsie was the only one from a different country.”
Sammie Omranian, a graduate student and teaching assistant who manages UWM’s program, said she was amazed at Elsie’s persistence. “It was so surprising for me. I knew that she was from Kenya, but never thought about the time difference until her teacher, Anahita, told me.”
Anahita Qashqai, a graduate student who is one of the program’s teachers, also encouraged Elsie to overcome her shyness about using her English. Qashqai told her that English was also her second language since she grew up speaking Farsi. Another student piped up that her first language was Spanish. By the next class, Elsie had turned on the camera, unmuted, and was chatting away with her new friends and classmates from across the world.
“After that she felt more involved and engaged,” Omranian said. After falling a little behind for the first session because of the language concerns, Elsie quickly caught up. “Elsie was the only student who completed everything 100%,” Omranian said.
‘Awe for the amazing opportunity’
When the second class finished in the spring of 2021, Omranian sent Elsie the certificate and tote bag that all the students received. It took a few months to get to Kenya, but Elsie and her mom were so excited to get it that they sent a photo and a thank-you note.
“Today Elsie received her certificate from GWC and I can tell that it’s one of her best days,” Wangechi wrote in an email to Omranian. “I look back at the year 2020 and am at awe for the amazing opportunity my daughter got at your program. She had always wanted to understand how computers work and her dream came true.”
The UWM program was the perfect answer to their needs, she added, with the only requirements being an internet connection and the ability to go to class early in the morning.
“The program has opened a new frontier for Elsie that is boundless and she knows that her wildest dreams can come true. This is an experience as a parent that I could never have replicated,” Wangechi wrote. “We say AHSANTE (THANK YOU) to everyone who made this possible – the tutors, program coordinators and the donors.”
What is Girls Who Code?
Girls Who Code is a national program designed to encourage young women to enter computer sciences and other STEM fields.
In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%, according to Christine Cheng, an associate professor of computer science who launched UWM’s Girls Who Code program in 2016. The percentage will continue to decline if we do nothing, she told NPR station WUWM in an interview. “We know that the biggest drop-off of girls in computer science is between the ages of 13 and 17.”
UWM’s program attracts between 50 to 60 girls each semester, and offers three levels, depending on the students’ previous experience. The program is open to young women in middle and high school, though the majority are middle school age.
Graduate students in computer science and engineering are the teachers, along with some volunteers. Several young women who have competed the program have returned as volunteers, Cheng said.
While the program hasn’t had the resources to do a formal assessment of its impact, organizers do hear success stories from former students and their families. Makenzie Johnson completed the program in 2019, taking classes from the middle of her sophomore year to high school graduation.
Her mother, Tanika Davis, saw the national founder of Girls Who Code on MSNBC several years ago, but there were no chapters in Wisconsin at the time. She kept checking and eventually found UWM and Marquette had started chapters.
“Makenzie has autism and ADHD, but she was always good with computers and I knew that coding would expose her to see if that was something she was interested in and would do well in. It worked out really well,” Davis said.
Makenzie is now studying IT and software development at Milwaukee Area Technical College, with an eventual goal of becoming a graphic designer. She is also part of a program called Islands of Brilliance that helps people with developmental disabilities.
“Her mentors at Girls Who Code were great and really helped her thrive,” Davis said. “She felt like she was one of the gang. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience with a diverse group of girls.”
Emma Maertz, a former student who is coming back as a volunteer in the program, said Girls Who Code is where she explored her love for coding and the program gave her the confidence to learn more elsewhere.
For this coming fall, Cheng and Omranian have decided to offer a combination of online and in-person classes.
Easy Strategies and Accommodations for Behavioral and Mental Health Needs in Learning Enviorments
The numerous accommodations and modifications that teachers make for students often amount to a lengthy list. These adjustments can involve altering not only instruction but also lesson materials, which tend to exhaust much of a teacher’s planning time. While circumstances, symptoms, and needs vary from student to student, there are some of the best “universal” practices that teachers can employ when a student is impacted by a medical condition, without causing a disproportional amount of stress to the teacher.
Symptom: Vision issues
Symptom: Working memory/memory processing difficulties
Symptom: Executive functioning difficulties
Symptom: Fine motor issues
Symptom: Behavioral issues
The classroom environment is filled with a countless array of personalities, abilities, and levels of motivation. Add to that the various medical considerations or chronic illnesses that students might experience and teachers no doubt feel stressed about making sure every learner receives what he or she needs in order to be academically successful. To ensure that students’ accommodations are met, every student must be provided with differentiated, personalized learning experiences to foster intrinsic motivation and appropriate levels of challenge.
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