“An estimated 800,000 children below the age of 16 work as prostitutes in Thailand, of which 200,000 are under the age of 12,” reports Dr. Siroj Sorajjakool, associate professor of Religion at Loma Linda University (LLU). “How can such a situation not demand our attention as Christians who are committed to human rights and the protection of children?”
Sorajjakool is coordinating efforts to address one of the primary concerns-that 90 percent of children who quit school end up in prostitution. He works together with activists and aid agencies to try to keep children in school, so that they can learn skills and gain education for employment away from the sex trade.
“My contribution is to highlight and increase awareness, to raise funds to provide for better education opportunities, and to work with others who are addressing this terrible curse,” says Sorajjakool, who is originally from Thailand. He assists Mrs. Ladawan Wongsriwong, a Thai politician and former Member of Parliament who has helped implement a scheme to try and ensure that all Thai children remain in school.
“Ten years ago I met a little girl who came crying to me, saying her mother wanted to sell her,” he continues. “Since then this problem has been of great concern to me, something that I want to do something about.”
Often poor rural families can see no other option but to sell their children into this modern form of sexual slavery. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Thailand is also involved in developing an education fund to help prevent children leaving school and going into prostitution. Sorajjakool is himself a former ADRA worker.
“These are little girls as young as 11 or 12 who are being betrayed by someone they trust and love, sent away, locked up, raped by pimps and men who seek young girls to satisfy their perverted sexual gratification, beaten, and threatened,” says Sorajjakool. “These are little girls who should be playing with their friends in school, eating candies, studying, and getting tucked into bed. The pain is not just that which has been withheld from them as a child or forced on them from the outside but the internal emotional trauma they are not equipped to face.”
In his role at the Seventh-day Adventist owned and operated Loma Linda University, Sorajjakool says he wants to make a practical contribution to combating such a pernicious evil and promote the healing of the gospel through pastoral care.
His campaign is fully supported by his department chair, Dr. Gerald Winslow, head of the religion faculty at LLU. “I can’t think of any evil in the world that is more in need of being halted,” says Winslow.
“Such horrible abuses against women and girls should be of great concern to us as a Church,” adds Ardis Stenbakken, director of Women’s Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “Some people don’t want the Church to become involved in such issues, but I am sure Jesus would want us to help. He identified with people’s problems, healed them, and then asked them to follow Him. We need to do the same and help people understand the value of all God’s children-women are not valued in the way they should be. No one for whom Jesus died should be bought or sold or treated as a slave, especially for perverted sexual thrills. These children and women need our help. Unfortunately, this problem is not just limited to Thailand either.”
Sorajjakool plans to visit Thailand in January to follow up on a case he is directly involved with and to continue to develop methods of help and pastoral care for those who have suffered violence and sexual trauma. [Jonathan Gallagher]