Monthly Archives: February 2012

Where are the Lost Girls?

This is Aduei Riak. In 1999, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the U.S. State Department, and other advocate organizations established a program that resettled over 4,000 Sudanese refugees. Of those Sudanese refugees, 89 of them were girls. Riak was one of the 89. There has been numerous press about the Lost Boys of Sudan, but where are the Lost Girls?

Aduei Riak was three years old when a civil war broke out in Sudan, and she was forced to flee from her village of Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. Riak, her mother, and several relatives escaped to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and her father  joined the rebel forces. In 1991, when war broke out in Ethiopia, Riak and her family were forced to flee the refugee camp, and they were separated on the trek back to Sudan. Riak recalls that, “except for a 7-year old cousin, ‘I was pretty much on my own.'” She goes on to remember, “There was bombing, shooting everywhere. No food, and a lot of walking day and night” (Jones).

According to Mapendo International, “As many as 2,000 children are believed to have drowned, were shot or eaten by crocodiles as they tried to cross the Gilo River back to Sudan” (Jones). Because Sudan was still war ravaged, the children, including Riak, were forced to flee once more. Around 10,000 children survived the journey to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Below is a map to help you visualize Riak’s journey. Although this map’s starting point is different than Juba, Juba is featured on the map, and the other points of reference are correct. I also like how the map has the actual time that it took to get from point a to point b. It really makes you think.

Once at Kakuma refugee camp, Riak resumed her schooling. Unfortunately, the camp provided limited schooling for the children. Riak lamented the fact that, “in Sudan, her education was in a classroom, but ‘All that was taken away,'” because of the war. “We went from sitting in a classroom … and coming home and having a nice meal, to being under a tree” (Jones). Riak won a scholarship upon completion of fourth grade, and it allowed her to attend a boarding school in Kenya. She only came back to Kakuma for the holidays. Years later, her cousin, who was still living in the camp, was identified as a “lost boy,” and their “shared food ration card brought her to the attention of resettlement officials. The two came to Massachusetts in 2000” (Jones).

Riak was resettled in a suburb of Boston when she was 16, and she lived with various families. She moved in with Helen Peters and Garrett Parker in 2002,  foster parents with whom she “remains close to” (Jones). She is now a graduate of Brandeis University, is a paralegal at the law firm of Ropes & Gray, and is applying to law school. She wants to go back to Sudan “for good” once she has her law degree and experience she feels is necessary to “help build her people up” (Jones).

“‘If I went back today, I’d be useless,’ she says, adding she wants to use her legal skills to help women and children. ‘When the time is appropriate, I will definitely go back and be part of the community. [… ] There’s nothing special about us. We just got lucky to get to the U.S. We owe it to those who are still there'” (Jones).

So now that you’ve heard Riak’s story, you are probably wondering why there were only 89 girls relocated to the United States. So, where are these Lost Girls?

Listen to Riak’s opinion in an interview with NPR on Lost Girls and her journey to America.

“The way that the camp was structured has a lot to do with why there were so few girls in the group. […] In Sudanese culture, women are not allowed to live on their own, so girls were sort of like merged into community, which was basically families with little kids. Boys were grouped into what was called “minor groups.” When the resettlement agencies were in the camp identifying people for resettlement, they saw these organized groups that were particularly men. They could go through a rooster and identify their names, age, and what year they arrived in the camp. Guys were more organized compared to women. Because once they [women] went to the communities, their records were lost. Since we marry young compared to young men, a lot of girls were mothers. The resettlement wasn’t designed to assist mothers.”

So as Riak articulated, there are several reasons why there are so few Lost Girls, and it all (mostly) has to do with one thing: gender. First, it is important to note that many more boys escaped than girls. Tara McKelvey, a journalist, points out,”The children who escaped were usually herding cattle in the fields when their villages were plundered—when the children saw the villages burning, they fled into the bush. As a result, most of the escapees were boys; the girls were usually in the villages, cooking and cleaning their homes, and they were killed or kidnapped by the enemy.” So, girls were already more likely to be kidnapped or killed than boys before they even had a chance to try and escape their villages.

Of the girls that did survive the village attacks and survived the journey to Kakuma, almost all of them that did not have arrive with family were placed with “foster families.” Many of these foster families exploited (and are still exploiting) these girls as domestic servants. Some of these girls were also sold by their foster families for a bridal fee. Like Riak explained, because Sudanese culture dictates that women are not supposed to live alone, these girls were forced to live with families. In contrast, boys were allowed to form groups that were only loosely supervised by adults. There are a couple of reasons why boys were more likely to be a part of the resettlement effort than girls.

First,  the UNHCR began a pyscho-social counseling program for boys, and their list of counseled boys was one of the lists used for the resettlement program. Because girls were placed in (or were  already a part of) “nurturing” families, it was believed that they did not need counseling. I just want to point out that this is totally incorrect. Michael Wessells argues, “Inside camps for refugees […], where men drink excessively, girls and women are in as much danger from rape, sexual harassment, and family violence as they are from armed conflict” (86). Further, “The emphasis on sexual violence can also obscure other forms of violence that damages these girls. Much of the violence, however, is silent because it is structural, that is, a product of institutionalized patterns of social inequality and gender discrimination” (Wessells 87). So, basically, girls needed counseling just as much as boys did.Second, many of these girl’s “files” were lost once they were placed into foster families, so they didn’t have the requisite paper trail that would have allowed them to be part of the resettlement process. Third, many of these girls were already mothers by the time that the resettlement program began, and like Riak stated, “the resettlement wasn’t designed to assist mothers.”

Even more heartbreaking–many of these girls, now women, are still stuck in UNHCR purgatory.

McKelvey argues that the UNHCR is to blame:

In December 2000, Julianne Duncan, an anthropologist specializing in refugee children filed a report explaining in heartbreaking detail how the girls were being shafted. But UNHCR officials were distracted. In April 2001, several employees in the UNHCR office in Nairobi, Kenya, were arrested and charged with extorting money from refugees. More than 20 workers were dismissed. “The girls were back-burnered again,” said a humanitarian worker who spent four years in Kakuma.”

Now What? 

RefugePoint was founded to “protect and care for at-risk refugees in Africa. RefugePoint’s rescue resettlement efforts, health clinic, and advocacy campaigns address the needs of the most vulnerable refugees in Africa, ensuring that forgotten victims of persecution, massacre and atrocities are brought from danger to safety.” 

“Spending time in Kakuma camp, RefugePoint’s founders saw that these girls faced the most severe forms of danger and persecution. They were seen as commodities and sold into marriage as early as twelve years old. They were prevented from school and used as servants in some households. They faced rape, violence, and discrimination. While nearly 4,000 Sudanese boys resettled to the US, only 89 girls came through the same resettlement process. RefugePoint was founded to address the needs of these and other girls who fall through the cracks of humanitarian programs and are in danger” (Refugepoint).

RefugePoint is focused on serving individuals, families, and communities that have “fallen through the cracks” and are in extreme danger. They have rescue operations in east and west Africa, and a medical clinic in Nairobi that serves people that are AIDS/HIV positive. Read a NY Times article that documents their urban food program, here.

What do you think about Riak’s story? Do you think the UNHCR should have done anything different in regards to placing the girls in “foster families”? Do you think that their resettlement plan was sexist?  Or do you think they did everything they could to help? 

Works Cited:

Wessells, Michael. Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection. Harvard University Press: 2006.

McKelvey, Tara, Where are the “Lost Girls”?, 3 October, 2003, available at: [accessed 29 February


Jones, Charisse, ‘Lost’ in Sudan’s Violence, She’s Found Hope in USA, 23 July 2007, available at: [accessed 29 February 2012].

 RefugePoint. Available at: [accessed 29 February 2012].

Sex Trafficking, etc.

For this week, I am going to focus on sex trafficking. Specifically I am going to discuss sex tourism, Cambodia, and girlhood. (Photographs are by Colin Summers, “Cambodia Taxi Girls.”)

Some definitions to get you started:

Human trafficking: A form of modern day slavery, in which women, men, & children are targeted for sexual or other forms of economic exploitation.

Sex trafficking: A business venture in which traffickers trade the sexualized bodies of others for money. These sexualized bodies are commodified and sold from one party to another (Farr 2).

Kathryn Farr, in her book Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children, points out that, “Sex trafficking is one of a number of structured forms of violence against women and girls that is systematic and universal” (xvii).  She goes on to argue that, “because the sources of sex trafficking are economic and patriarchal, and are rooted in traditions that legitimate the exploitation and sexual use of women, the demise of the industry will require social change at many levels” (xviii). Thus, the practice of sex trafficking is imbued with questions of power. Furthermore, Farr demonstrates that globalization and capitalism have allowed sex trafficking to “expand and take on new dimensions” (139).

Sex trafficking (and child sex trafficking) is thus linked to: oppressive and unequal power structures, which produce poverty for certain (mostly Global South or CEE/NIS) populations; an overarching patriarchal system where women and girls are denied agency and justifiably objectified; a racist and ethnocentric worldview and society, where (especially) children and women of the Global South are portrayed as “sexual beings” and less than human; and globalization/capitalism, where the ease of travel and commodification of services/people is normalized and encouraged.  (Note: These are not all of the things that are linked to sex trafficking, but I just thought these were some of the key things that I think of when I think about sex trafficking. If you have any more ideas, let me know!).

Here is a video where a Cambodian young woman, Chantha, discusses the horrible abuses that she suffered as a prostitute and sex trafficking victim. While I do believe that the ending of this short video uses some problematic rhetoric, and it was produced by a Christian organization, the beginning is really powerful:

So now that I’ve talked a little bit about sex trafficking, I want to focus in on a specific practice and place: Sex Tourism & Cambodia.

Some more definitions:

Sex Tourism: Tourism where the main purpose or motivation of at least part of the trip is to consummate sexual relations.

Femmigration: The increasing migration of women/girls through trafficking and prostitution.

The definition of sex tourism implies a premeditated plan to travel and have sex, but it is misleading. Unplanned and opportunistic sex also falls into “sex tourism.” The biggest problem is the definition suggests a consensual encounter between adults, and this is usually not the case. Serious exploitation can occur as a result of sex tourism, and many encounters are between adult men from the Global North, and young girls from the Global South.

(Click this picture to view a larger version. Same goes for the remaining pictures in my post.)

Sex tourism is nothing new, but it has emerged as an important type of economic activity. The globalization of sex tourism as an important type of economic activity is due to the ease and scale of foreign travel, migration, and patterns of consumption where there is demand for ‘new’ commodities such as sexual services. Many websites cater to the sex tourist, advising (mostly) men on how much to pay and how to engage in sexual activities without using a condom.

Specifically in Cambodia, sex trafficking, and the market for sexual services in general, grew with the arrival of UN peacekeepers after the fall of Pol Pot. Currently, Cambodia, and the capital Phnom Penh, is portrayed in the media as a destination for sex tourists, especially pedophiles.

In Feburary of 2008, “the Cambodian government began enforcing the new ‘Law on the Suppression of Human-Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” after years of U.S. pressure to crack down on sex trafficking” (Radio Free Asia). However, this law has penalized the women and girls that it purports to help. Now prostitutes that are caught in police raids are fined up to $200 (US) for their release. According to an interview with one of the girls that has been arrested in a raid: “They take us to district police headquarters and take our money. If we don’t have the money, we will be kept in custody for two or three days. So we have to run for our lives when we see police approaching us. Police arrest us in the hope that the brothel owners will pay, but if we don’t have anyone to pay for our release we will be sent to one of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It’s o.k. to live at the NGOs, but then our families have nothing to eat,” she said. If [the NGOs] want to help me, they should also help my family. Otherwise I can’t quit” (Radio Free Asia). Thus this law is essentially ineffective and detrimental to the prostitutes that are being “helped.”

In 2009, Operation Twisted Traveler was introduced by the US. This is an effort by US immigration and customs enforcement to identify and prosecute American sex tourists in Cambodia. One of the more publicized “sting” operations in 2009 resulted in three arrests: “The suspects — Jack Sporich, 74, Erik Peeters, 41, and Ronald “John” Boyajian, 59 — are all convicted child sex offenders who have served time in U.S. prisons” (Lajeunesse). These three men face charges under the “Protect Act,” which is a 2003 law that “provides life terms for child sex offenders with prior convictions, a much longer sentence than offenders would get abroad” (Lajeunesse). Although this is an actual attempt made by the US to prosecute some of its citizens that take part in this system—is it enough? This effort was only publicized in 2009, and I haven’t been able to find any information about how effective it was/is.

Sex tourism has a multitude of implications, and I am going to go over several:

The commodification and subsequent exploitation of female bodies. In Colleen E. Vasconcellos’ piece, “From Chattel to “Breeding Wenches”: Abolition, Girlhood, and Jamaican Slavery,”  she explores the interplay of the institutions of slavery and girlhood. During the time of abolition of the slave trade on the island of Jamaica, the practice of purchasing young African slaves for the purpose of “breeding wenches” was increasingly common. Because the plantation owners would not be able to purchase any “new” slaves in the near future, they began to only purchase African girls for the purpose of “breeding.” Thus they were commodified and purchased by virtue of their girlhood. Although this example isn’t totally the same as these Cambodian girl prostitutes, in both cases these girls’ bodies are being consumed and purchased by the virtue of their girlhood.

Instrumentalizing Girls/Children. Although there is a need for awareness in regards to sex tourism, sex trafficking, and child prostitution, there is a line that is often crossed by the media dividing “awareness” and “sensationalism.” For example, there are often “specials” on the news that briefly address the problem of sex trafficking, or there is a 60 minutes occasionally that addresses the problem. The way that child sex trafficking/prostitution/tourism is portrayed in the media almost verges on “poverty porn,” which verges on voyeuristic and exploitative. This “poverty porn” portrays girls as victims without agency. Furthermore, many NGO’s such as UNICEF and Save the Children, and Not-for-profits such as “Ethical Traveler” use rhetoric that instrumentalists these girls. Language such as “they are a threat to a developing nation” and “welcome responsible tourists,” frame the whole problem as just a threat to a growing economy. There is no mention of the idea that these girls should be “helped” (I don’t like using that word, but I am making an exception), and that there are larger structural issues that can’t be fixed with a monetary band-aid.

Capitalism/Neocolonialism (post UN peacekeeping). This implication follows nicely from the second one that I was just discussing. Because of the burgeoning capitalist system in Cambodia, it is much easier to have a “front” and many more people can open a business (without having governmental permission). So we see a lot more “indirect” prostitution in the form of massage parlors, karaoke bars, etc. So it becomes even harder to figure out how many girls are being exploited. On another note, because many girls and their families don’t have the economic means to “make it,” they search for other methods to become economically sustainable. Families do not have enough money–>girls go to “work”–>there are not enough jobs, so girls either get tricked into prostitution, or chose to prostitute themselves–>girls are then making a menial wage–>girls must prostitute for a long time–>families still don’t have enough money because the system hasn’t changed at all. 

How can we change this system? Did the US finally get something right with their attempt, “Operation Twisted Traveler”? Or could we have done/do something more effective? What do you think about the pictures that I posted, do you think they deny the girls agency?

Farr, Kathyrn. Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children. Worth Publishing: 2004.

Lajeunesse, William, Pedophiles Nabbed in Cambodia Sex Tourist Sting, 1 September 2009, available at: [accessed 14 February 2012]

Radio Free Asia, Cambodian girls driven to prostitution, 27 January 2009, available at: %5Baccessed 14 February 2012]

Vasconcellos, Colleen E. “From Chattel to “Breeding Wenches”: Abolition, Girlhood, and Slavery.”  Girlhood: A Global History. Rutgers University Press: 2009.

The Girl Effect: A Product of the “Paradox of Care”

“The Girl Effect, n. The unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world” (

The Girl Effect is an umbrella organization that seeks to give girls in development contexts the “opportunity” to live a “successful” life unencumbered by “early” pregnancy and disease by providing them the opportunity to receive an education. The Girl Effect’s main vehicle of communication is the Internet, where the website invites its audience to watch a short, succinct video documenting the plight of the Third World girl:

Although The Girl Effect has positive intentions, it presents a narrative that is representative of the “paradox of care.” The Girl Effect effectively strips Third World girls of their agency, and it instrumentalizes them in order to further neocolonial capitalist interests.

The Girl Effect is an example of Western Feminism’s “paradox of care” dilemma. Although this organization has feminist aspirations, which intend to be anti-oppressive, it relies on a masculinist, paternalistic approach as a way to “save” these Third World girls. The Girl Effect website presents a call to action for its audience: “You can be part of that change. In fact without you it won’t happen. Join the conversation and let the world know what the Girl Effect is capable of” ( The organization’s call to action relies on traditional “Western Feminist as savior” discourse. Chandra Mohanty in her classic essay, “Under Western Eyes,” writes about feminists who are “committed to improving the lives of women [and girls]  in ‘developing’ countries,” and how development “becomes the all-time equalizer.” Thus, girls are seen as being “affected positively or negatively by economic development policies, and this is the basis for cross-cultural comparison” (Mohanty 30). Although the feminists that Mohanty writes about have positive intentions, comparable to The Girl Effect, the inherent hegemonic connection between the First and Third World is ignored. The “paradox of care” is analogous to the “‘missionary position’ [which] constructs Third World women as the ‘objects of rescue’ of mainstream Western men or women” (Narayan 133). The “missionary position”/“paradox of care” is surrounded by misleading rhetoric—“help,” “responsibility,” “resources,” “rescue,” “need.” This effectively augments the paternalism inherent in these First/Third World interactions. This “western as savior” discourse effectively places third world girls as objects of their victim status rather than subjects with agency.

The Girl Effect relies on a totalizing discourse that presents Third World girls as a monolithic group that experiences identical oppressions and deniesthem of their agency. The Girl Effect website presents the notion that Third World girls “are at a crossroads,” and it effectively dichotomizes girlhood ( These girls are also presented as having no other option but to fail in light of these oppressions unless they are able to receive assistance (in the form of “opportunity”). The Girl Effect “colonize[s] the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the Third World, thereby producing/representing a composite, singular ‘Third World [Girl]’—an image that appears arbitrarily constructed but nevertheless carries with it the authorizing signature of Western humanist discourse” (Mohanty 19). The creation of this “composite, singular ‘Third World [Girl]’” effectively silences the individual voices of Third World girls and retells their story through the voice of the colonizer. This act effectively re-colonizes the Third World girls and denies them of any agency.

The Girl Effect instrumentalizes Third World girls, and it presents them as a tool to further neocolonial capitalist interests. The website presents two polar outcomes for a Third World girl, one being the “opportunity to raise the standard of living for herself and her family,” the other being stuck in the cycle of poverty with her family ( The Girl Effect not only positions the Third World girl as a vital tool to raise her family out of poverty, but it also presents the Third World girl as a tool for development of the Third World. The website informs the audience that, “ If [they] want to end poverty and help the developing world, the best thing [they] can do is invest time, energy, and funding into adolescent girls. It’s called the Girl Effect, because girls are uniquely capable of investing in their communities and making the world better” ( Not only does this call to action reinforce the “paradox of care,” it also presents these girls as the answer to development. Girls are then seen as part of an economic and social agenda—which rests on Western, neo-liberal, linear considerations of progress. This progress, or “modernity,” resides in globalized notions of consumption. These notions of consumption function in two ways: the first way considers the ability to consume as a beacon of development; the second way underscores consumption as a hallmark of the “paradox of care.” The “privileged” have the opportunity to aid these Third World girls through consumption (i.e. “text girleffect to a certain phone number and donate ten dollars, etc…”). Thus, the instrumentalization of these Third World girls furthers the neo-liberal notion of equating development with consumption.

The Girl Effect presents education as panacea. Education is seen as what prevents pregnancy, keeps girls safe from early marriage and contraction of HIV. Although education is important, the reasons that The Girl Effect presents create a noble façade—the real push for education is found within the neo-liberal view of progress and development. The Girl Effect data found on the website informs the viewer that, “An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent” ( The Girl Effect presents education as a way to prime Third World girls to become a part of the global consumerist economy. Mohanty writes,  “the increasing division of the world into consumers and producers has a profound effect on Third World women workers who are drawn into the international division of labor as workers” (176). Thus, most likely, these Third World girls will help build and grow the new globalizing economy through their own exploitation as low-wage workers. These girls will aid in the restructuring—the new world order—which can be characterized by “the hegemony of neo-liberalism, alongside the naturalization of capitalist values” (Mohanty 229). Not only does The Girl Effect present education as the opportunity for the girls themselves to participate in the new global economy, but it also presents Third World girls as a tool to a stronger economy for Third World countries. Thus, Third World countries have the opportunity to become part of the global capitalist economy but through the effective re-colonization of their economies.


The Girl Effect presents Third World girls as a monolithic group, devoid of agency, and it presents a narrative that is representative of the “paradox of care.” The organization also effectively instrumentalizes Third World girls in order to further neocolonial capitalist interests, consequently re-colonizing Third World girls. The re-colonization can be decoded as a push for low-wage workers and the inculcation of capitalist values. Although The Girl Effect has positive intentions, the effects are nonetheless harmful and can be read as a flawed product of Western Feminism.


Although my critique of the Girl Effect may be super harsh, I do believe it is important to note that this organization is recognizing girls as their own demographic that have the capacity to change things…So I give them that.

Here is another girl effect video:

Although I believe the Girl Effect and its rhetoric are problematic, do you think the message they are trying to communicate is important? Do we, as Americans, have a responsibility to “help” these third world girls? If you think so, is there a better way to get this message across? Is there a way to “help” without denying these girls their agency?


Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. United States of America: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.

Narayan, Uma. Dislocating Cultures. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print. The Girl Effect. n.p. n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.