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August 22, 08

NEWS / U.S. Foreign Aid Agency Joins with MTV to Fight Human Trafficking

Anti-trafficking documentaries reaching worldwide audience of millions
By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington -- In a move at odds with bureaucracy’s reputation for stodginess, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with MTV (Music Television) on a campaign to warn young people about the dangers of human trafficking.

The MTV EXIT (“End Exploitation and Trafficking”) campaign has produced a pair of documentaries narrated by celebrities to raise awareness about this modern-day form of slavery. Internet users also can log on to an engrossing, informative Web site available in 27 languages.

USAID and the MTV Europe Foundation (MTVEF) also are working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to show the documentaries in rural areas where people might not otherwise see the films.

“The campaign is meant to save lives,” says Oliver Carduner, director of USAID’s Regional Development Mission for Asia. “Through MTV, it is reaching millions of young people, the group most at risk in Asia.”

According to U.S. estimates, nearly 800,000 people are trafficked each year across national borders -- and this number does not include the additional millions worldwide who are forced or tricked into labor and sex exploitation within their own countries.

In the South Asia and Asia Pacific region, where trafficking is especially prevalent, the MTV EXIT campaign is expected to reach more than 300 million households.


Two different documentaries have been produced, each tailored to address specific cultural sensitivities in Asia. Sold is made for the Indian subcontinent and surrounding countries. Traffic is distributed through the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

Both films are narrated by top Asian celebrities.

Lucy Liu, known for her roles in the movie Charlie’s Angels and the American television series Ally McBeal, hosts the English-language version. Stars who narrate the releases in other languages include actress and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta of India; and singers Rain of South Korea, Tata Young of Thailand and Christian Bautista of the Philippines.

The films are available in 13 languages, are distributed without restrictions and are being picked up by local MTV broadcasters and independent television stations for translation into more languages.

There is little preaching in these films -- just cold, hard looks at different aspects of human trafficking. Traffic and Sold tell the stories of real people who were trafficked.

Traffic introduces viewers to Anna, a Filipina who was trafficked into prostitution; Eka, an Indonesian whose dream job as a housekeeper in Singapore turned into a nightmare of forced domestic servitude; and Min Aung and his wife, who left Burma for what they thought would be well-paying jobs in Thailand, only to be imprisoned for two years as slave laborers in a factory.

The films also look beyond the immediate victims of trafficking, a cruel business, which, according to U.N. estimates, generates some $10 billion each year.

In Traffic, a Filipino trafficker boasts how easily his agents’ lies can lure gullible victims; a young man tells how he gives a little extra money to sex workers if he thinks they have been trafficked, never questioning his own role in the trafficking chain; and a police officer and the operator of a shelter for abused women talk about the challenges of their work.

Earlier in 2008, Radiohead, a popular music group, joined MTV EXIT and USAID with the release of its music video for the single “All I Need,” a stark look at child labor. A split screen juxtaposes a day in the life of an affluent Western boy with a young Asian forced to make shoes in a sweatshop. There is no commentary in this Parallel Lives video; just the camera following their daily activities.


This innovative public-private partnership was initiated by USAID’s Regional Development Mission for Asia (RMDA), which was established in Bangkok in 2003. It supports programs to use natural resources responsibly, provide access to clean water, encourage trade and economic development, fight infectious diseases and assist vulnerable people.

MTV, launched in the United States in 1981, now reaches millions of people around the world via it televised programs and its Web site, MTV.com. Beginning in the 1990s, MTV started launching campaigns to raise awareness on social issues. These include “Choose or Lose,” which encouraged some 20 million Americans to register to vote, and “Fight for Your Rights,” which deals with issues such as crime, drugs and violence. The MTV Europe Foundation is the co-sponsor for the EXIT campaign.

USAID contributed slightly more than $3 million to the EXIT campaign; MTV’s contribution in air time is valued at about $10 million.

USAID’s Women in Development initiative and the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) recently provided some fiscal 2008 funding to help the documentaries and anti-trafficking information reach rural areas. USAID/RDMA is seeking additional funding for this crucial component of the campaign.

“These documentaries give NGOs the ability to reach poor communities, from where victims are trafficked, with the same reality-based message that the well-off watch in their living rooms,” Carduner says. “By raising awareness on both ends of the labor-market chain, and by using celebrities to get the message across, we are creating a powerful dynamic for change.”

Tags: document,


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