THE BLOG

Am I a Bad Parent for Taking My Son to See the Harsh Reality of Child Trafficking?

16/10/2014 11:42 BST | Updated 15/12/2014 10:59 GMT

It was under a giant mango tree in a remote village monastery in South East Asia earlier this year that I felt closest to my son.

My 12-year-old, Milo, and I had travelled out to Laos to put on a baking workshop for young girls at risk of trafficking. Not your typical father-son bonding experience, granted.

I was totally shocked to find out that every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child my son's age or younger is trafficked into brothels, fields and factories. Parents living in desperate poverty believe their only option is to send their children away to what they hope will be a better life.

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Our baking workshop was a way of giving families another option - skills and source of income that will make them less vulnerable to the trafficking trap.

Some people could be, and have been, critical of my decision to take my pre-teen son out to somewhere like Laos - to look poverty directly in the face and learn the harsh lessons of life in countries other than our own.

Recently, a woman at a party overheard me talking about the trip and, assuming I had decided not to take Milo to one of the poorest parts of the world, congratulated me on my decision because wouldn't that be a hideous thing to do? She for one would never do that to her own child. I decided not to correct her.

But why should I have to wrap my son up in cotton wool? I don't want my son growing up with the idea of 'us and them', thinking that things that go on in another part of the world don't concern us, especially at his formative age.

While we were in Laos, we had the opportunity to meet a little girl my son's age called Kalei. Out of desperate poverty, her mother and sister had travelled across the border to Thailand to find work. The only way she knew they were still alive was when her 15-year-old sister returned to their village with a baby girl in tow, which she left with her family before returning to what they can only assume was the Thai sex trade.

Now just 14-years-old, with her father absent much of the time finding work across the country, Kalei is the head of her family. One afternoon in Laos, Milo helped Kalei on one of her daily hunts in the mud for tiny frogs to eat; an experience he will always remember.

I won't shield him from the reality of the lives of children like Kalei. I want him to see and engage with the things that are wrong in the world. And most importantly, learn about what he can do about them.

Of course, taking your children out to Laos to meet with the poorest of the poor is one, extreme, way of doing that , and not possible for everyone. So how else can we encourage our children to care?

Since we've been back, Milo has been full of curiosity. After learning about how some children his age are forced into working in fields and factories, even a shopping trip has him bursting with questions. Where does our food and clothing come from? Was a child my age forced to pick it or make it?

Shopping is just one small opportunity to talk to our children about the wider world and give them deeper appreciation of what we have around us.

We've found that getting involved with Tearfund's Big Bake is another fun way of getting your kids interested in tackling poverty.

By whipping up baked goods together and selling them in schools, workplaces and communities ahead of this Saturday's Anti-Slavery Day, we are not only raising money as a family to combat child trafficking, but we're also raising awareness and compassion in our children - without it being a bore.

One of my earliest memories of baking was with my own father. I was allowed to pipe the jam into the doughnuts, forever over-jamming them. I'm so chuffed to be able to carry that bonding experience with my own children, and for a good cause.