Burning season in Thailand happens every February – April when farmers set fire to the stubble of their post-harvest fields. The purpose is to clear the way for planting. The side effect is air pollution on a massive scale. Every year, Thai government officials request/threaten/warn farmers and outright ban the ancient agricultural practice. And every year it continues. Why? Because it works. It’s not that alternatives don’t exist, it’s that the alternatives are expensive and time-consuming.
In the anti-human trafficking world, I see a parallel with the current trend of children and teens selling themselves (or photos or videos of themselves). This is what we are witnessing: as youth worldwide become increasingly tech-savvy (and influenced by sexualized media), they are increasingly active in trafficking themselves and other youth. The children are figuratively “setting fire” to their own futures. As a missionary, an NGO worker, and a mother, I want to scream, “STOP. Doing. That.”
Unfortunately, it works.
In the short term anyway. Sadly, it’s not terribly difficult for a 14-year old to justify trading nude selfies (or more) for cash or consumer goods. Lots of kids routinely exchange such material for free. How much easier is self-justification when the kid is homeless, stateless, penniless? As long as the alternatives (education, job-training, citizenship) are expensive, time-consuming, or just plain out-of-reach, no amount of pleading or threatening will be effective.
These are complicated issues with complicated solutions. But solutions must include making positive/healthy alternatives both more urgent and more attainable.
What is it like in Thailand during burning season? It affects everyone. Coughing, asthma, stinging eyes, raw throats, and long term lung disease… The truth is that we are all being affected by the culture of sexualized youth as well. We may not be able to see the haze in the atmosphere, but we are all breathing it.