. . . Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ (Matthew 19.14)
Today, in Georgia thousands of children are trafficked to work in fields, to work as sex slaves, or to be transported from one city to another. Advocacy groups like Shared Hope estimate that more than 200,000-300,000 individuals are trafficked within the United States each year. Many of those trafficked are children and teenagers. Whether grabbed while walking home from school or sold by parents in exchange for drugs, children are being exploited all around us, and we often do not recognized it. Within Atlanta, The Juvenile Justice Fund estimates that, monthly, 200 to 300 children and teenagers are trafficked for sex. That estimation solely includes Atlanta! Moreover, as the current statutes read in the state of Georgia, law enforcement officers have little option but to arrest children that are trafficked for sex. Once arrested, these children are not liberated from their captors but charge as prostitutes and held captive to a system that forces them to the margins, often out of the reach of care.
Georgia anti-trafficking advocacy groups like A Future. Not a Past. and StreetGRACE note that once convicted of prostitution, these children are ineligible to receive state services for victims of sexual abuse. These groups are working to help state legislators provide alternative paths for children picked up for prostitution. Through SB 304, these alternative paths would allow children not to be charged as criminals but placed in a victim’s advocacy and rehabilitation services stream.
As the above gospel passage reminds us, Jesus rejected social convention and intentionally reach out to children. In this particular gospel story, the disciples did not want to waste Jesus’ valuable time because, in Jesus’ day, children were considered property of their parents. Not being considered fully persons, children, the disciples’ eyes, were not worth of Jesus’ time. Yet, Jesus saw the children as co-equal inheritors of the good news of the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom was for all, especially those previously left out. Jesus’ desire to upend social convention to help a marginalized and underappreciated—and, therefore, easily exploited—group placed him in a long line of agitators-for-a-greater-good, i.e., advocates for God’s kingdom.
In answering his own rhetorical question as to what proper faith requires, the prophet Micah said, “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Faith, it turns out, is as much as what we do with our hands and our heads for the transformation of the world as much as it is about what we believe in our hearts.
I challenge us to be just such a people of faith. May we, also, be a people committed intentionally to reaching out to children as Jesus did, especially these children held captive in human trafficking. May we, like the prophet Micah challenges us, seek to change systems that perpetuate exploitation by being advocates for justice while, also, caring for the immediate needs of those exploited through acts of merciful kindness.
May we act!
And to the Little Ones
By Lisa Sharon Harper
Swiped from her village
sold for a dime by poor parents
to a rich global market
Taka’s 10-year-old bones rattle with fear.
bound to earth – chained.
Beaten down to size in small back rooms
Spirit broken by westerners who promise the world
and leave her a lump of mud.
Can’t breathe in this tomb.
is battered and bartered
on the black market for a dime.
And pundits predict her body will be found
in a ditch in an alley
some – day.
Vacant eyes wander her neighborhood
She is “Sold!” for a dime bag
by her crack head momma
to suits and briefcases with Jersey plates
Takisha’s 10-year-old bones rattle with fear.
Her lifeless body puts food on the table
She eats the devil’s dinner
And her humanity
Can’t breathe in this toxic corner of the world.
And pundits predict Takisha’s vacant body will be found in an ally or a trash can
before her 18th birthday.
And thus says the Lord,
“Come from the four winds, o breath!
And breathe upon the slain!
That they may live!”
That they may live!
That they may run and play and lay in the streets and look up at the stars
That they may dream of romance and significance and peace for their families
and their people.
That they may breathe and stand and live…
And to Taka and Takisha
to their rattling bones
to the little ones
who bear God’s image
The Lord God says,