On Tuesday March 21st, ECPAT-USA hosted our 3rd Annual Youth Panel as a side event to the United Nations’ 61st Commission on the Status of Women. Close to one hundred people came out to support our young people as they shared the stories of their involvement in the movement to end child sex trafficking.
In fulfillment of the panel’s title, Youth Action to End Sexual Violence, students from two schools showcased their projects. The audience was nothing less than impressed. Our youngest panelist Awa Haidara, a middle schooler from the Academy of Future Leaders, created a Public Service Announcement with her peers. The PSA was directed, filmed, and edited by youth and demonstrated that victims of child sex trafficking are often silenced. The first part of the 2-minute piece showed students with tape over their mouths, asking for help, while the second part showed young people raising awareness about the issue demonstrating that while children can be the most vulnerable to child sex trafficking, they can also be the leaders in the movement to end it. Awa hopes to to start a girls’ group at her school which will provide a safe space for young women to come and talk about their experiences with these issues.
Our high school students, Julia Zeng and Rumana Khan from Brooklyn Technical High School, shared their experiences as co-Secretaries of the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) Club. They emphasized the importance of providing diverse platforms for youth to use to raise awareness about the issue. Their Y-ACT club created a website that provides facts about child sex trafficking, resources for victims, and updates on what members are doing to help end this human rights abuse. In addition, they participated in an international art exhibit through a non-profit organization in India named Guria who garnered beautiful artwork from the Brooklyn Tech students. These artists were both members and non-members who used their talent to create powerful works of art with the message: people are not for sale.
Iryna Makuruk, courageously shared her story of being lured into domestic sex trafficking by her former boyfriend and the pain and /challenges she endured during that time. She challenged the audience to rethink what “victims” look like and to provide a judgement-free space for people to share their experiences because one never knows what’s going on with others. She passionately told the audience–especially the young women–that they are beautiful and do not need to depend on anyone to let them know it. Iryna’s message is that our youth can and will make a difference if they truly want to.