Interview with Yvonne Rafferty, PhD
Yvonne Rafferty, PhD
David: I understand you were on sabbatical last term. What did you do?
Dr. Rafferty: I worked on two projects during my sabbatical. The first project involved research involving children in the Early Head Start Program. The second project brought me to Southeast Asia.
David: Why did you go in Southeast Asia?
Dr. Rafferty: I represent the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and Pace University at the United Nations< (UN). Since SPSSI has special consultative status to the UN, my aim is to link social science research with UN policies pertaining to children in high risk settings. I am involved with three committees: Children’s Rights, Social Development, and UNICEF. To enable me to get a better understanding of the issues confronting children in Southeast Asia I spent several months traveling around Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam. Through a series of interviews with representatives from the United Nation, UNICEF, and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) involved with children, I focused on child trafficking, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, children living on the streets, children in foster care, education/schools, children with disabilities, and programs for youth at risk of HIV/AIDS.
David: What did you learn?
Dr. Rafferty: My first interview was in Thailand with representatives from End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT). This Bangkok-based organization, with representatives in 70 countries, focuses on advocacy, policy, and direct service involving the sexual exploitation of children. I was eager to discuss how the crime of child trafficking has emerged as a multibillion dollar business whereby children are routinely bought, sold, and transported away from their homes into a range of exploitative situations including sexual abuse, domestic labor, and factory work. In the most severe cases, children are placed into lifethreatening situations, including extreme violence and exposure to communicable diseases. Some children simply disappear. The information that I obtained during my meetings at ECPAT was invaluable to me as I continued on to meet with United Nations, UNICEF, and other agencies in Southeast Asia. Through these interviews, I learned that while trafficking risks tend to be greatest for children from rural areas and those who are poorly educated, a disproportionate number of victims are from ethnic minority backgrounds. I also learned that some children are trafficked into China for the purposes of buying and selling brides. Sadly, some of these children are subsequently pimped by their “husbands” for sexual exploitation.
David: Is the United Nations doing anything about this?
Dr. Rafferty: Yes, the United Nations Inter- Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP) had offices in each of the countries that I visited and each office has a Resident Coordinator who is responsible for coordinating activities in their country. During meetings with several resident coordinators, as well as their colleagues in government ministries and non-governmental organizations, I learned how UNIAP provides a platform for action by facilitating effective working relationships among others.
David: How do they do this?
Dr. Rafferty: UNIAP Cambodia, for example, coordinates quarterly meetings which bring together all actors working against trafficking in Cambodia. The Stakeholder Group on Human Trafficking was set up to exchange information on the scope and nature of human trafficking, and the initiatives, projects, activities, and policies undertaken by national and international stakeholders to stop this crime. I attended one of these meetings, which included more than 50 representatives from government ministries, UN agencies, UNICEF, and international and local NGOs working to combat human trafficking in Cambodia. Through their work with partners, UNIAP also identifies gaps and key priorities and develops appropriate interventions, as well as acting as a clearinghouse for information about human trafficking and migration. At this meeting, I learned about a number of innovative projects and interventions.
David: Are the governments of the various countries doing anything to address this crime?
Dr. Rafferty: There have been some noteworthy accomplishments, but much remains to be done. To date, there have been two meetings of high level representatives of the six Mekong governments. During these meetings, these government representatives have committed to a Plan of Action to build the knowledge base on trafficking, supporting action on high priority issues, targeted interventions that respond to identified gaps, and strengthening advocacy.
David: What else did you learn about issues other than child trafficking?
Dr. Rafferty: In addition to human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Southeast Asia, I also learned a great deal about other issues confronting children --- issues that also place children at risk for commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. They include children living on the streets, children in foster care, education and schools, children with disabilities, and children at risk of HIV/AIDS.
David: What did you learn about children who are living on the streets?
Dr. Rafferty: I learned that one major risk factor associated with child trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children is homelessness. I visited several programs for children living on the streets and was particularly impressed by the work of Friends International Street Children Network. This French-based NGO has set up innovative programs for street children, their families, and their communities in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. It also works with organizations in Myanmar and Pakistan. Their projects include outreach, residency facilities, training programs, and health services. I visited a number of these programs and discussed their efforts to meet the immediate needs of children who live on the streets, to protect and implement their rights, and to fight against factors facilitating the spread of child sexual abuse in the tourist industry. We also discussed the strategies that they use to reintegrate children into their families and schools and to help older children find gainful employment.
David: Are there programs for children and youth with HIV/AIDS?
Dr. Rafferty: In Thailand, I discussed this with representatives from the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) -- one of Thailand’s most well established and diverse NGOs and was one of the first organizations to sound the alarm about the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in Thailand. Through vocational training and educational projects, PDA has helped to give villagers economic alternatives to the commercial sex industry, especially for young girls who are often targeted by recruiters. Their restaurant “Condoms and Cabbages” provides funding for their activities. The restaurant was conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development. All of the proceeds from the restaurant and adjoining handicraft shop are used to fund development and social welfare activities of PDA.
Buddhist monks are generally involved in all aspects of community work in Southeast Asia. I visited a number of UNICEF-funded projects that provide HIV/AIDS prevention education and support activities to local, poor communities.
David: Did you visit any orphanages or other facilities for children without parents?
Dr. Rafferty: I visited several facilities for children without parents and learned that the quality of the care they receive in foster care is seriously compromised by insufficient funding. The manager of one International NGO servicing children without parents in Cambodia, for example, discussed the realities for the children in her program: “Cambodia is not a welfare state and abandoned or orphaned children quickly become street children, open to a life of dire poverty, disease, slave labor, abuse, and prostitution.” During my visit to the Hoi An Orphanage in Vietnam, I learned that the situation for children with disabilities was particularly bleak. According to the director, “Our center is in charge of taking care of and bringing up orphans or children with brain paralysis and mental deficiency who are abandoned in hospitals, in the streets, and from other localities. Some children are parentless and others are either fatherless or motherless.” During my visit, I noticed that many of the children had severe disabilities – most of whom did not attend school or receive any services at all.
In contrast with the bleakness of some of the orphanages that I visited, I did observe some model programs. SOS Children’s Villages, for example, is an international NGO that offers family-based care for children in need The SOS Children’s Village work is based on three principles: (1) The Mother: Every child is given a mother and thus someone to turn to at all times; (2) The House: Every SOS Children’s Village family has a house of its own; (3) The Village: The house is an integral part of the village community. This gives the children cultural roots and a feeling and a sense of belonging. In Cambodia, I visited the SOS Children’s Village and met with Sour Chankosom, the Village Director for the Siem Riep facility and Mr. Rashi Rubling, the Project Director for SOS Children’s Villages of Cambodia. In addition to meeting children in each of the 14 family houses, I also visited the kindergarten and school, which are both open to children from the community, and a program for older boys which provides a variety of vocational training programs.
David: What about education and schooling – did you visit schools?
Dr. Rafferty: Yes, I visited about 50 schools and met with children, teachers, principals, and representatives from a number of government ministries. I learned that many children do not attend school, and that only part-time instruction is received by many of those who do attend. The quality of education that children receive is also compromised by the inadequacy of the curriculum, the teacher training programs, insufficient funding, and the quality of the school facilities. There are, however, some innovative programs designed to improve schooling and education. In Cambodia, for example, I met with the Ministry for Education and learned about programs to enhance school effectiveness and reform outdated curriculum. In Laos, I traveled with a mobile school – an innovating program funded by UNICEF and Friends International – which brings education to children from the hill tribes who are living in rural areas. For many children with disabilities, however, their educational needs are simply not being met. The exception seems to be for children who are blind or visually impaired. I visited several schools for these youngsters and also learned that their transition programs often include training in massage therapy. One of the schools that I visited actually offered massage on site.
David: What will you do with this information now that you are back at Pace?
Dr. Rafferty: As I mentioned earlier, SPSSI has special consultative status to the United Nations and has the ability to influence UN policies in a number of ways. I have discussed my observations with colleagues at the UN and will continue to do so. The 2007 Commission on the Status of Women, for example, will focus on “Ending Discrimination and Violence Against the Girl Child.” As a SPSSI representative to the UN, I am working with colleagues from the Committee on UNICEF: Working Group on Girls to prepare for these meetings. I am also working with colleagues from the Committee on Social Development to prepare for the 2007 Commission on Social Development. This meeting will focus on “Promoting Full Employment and Decent Work for All.” Certainly, the topic of child labor and commercial exploitation of children is an important topic for discussion at these meetings. Finally, I am also in the process of completing an article entitled “Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Emerging Problems and Promising Practices.” I hope to submit it for publication in the very near future.
David: You also mentioned that you are involved in research on Early Head Start? Did you also work on this during your sabbatical?
Dr. Rafferty: Yes, last year I developed a theoretical framework to explore the impact of risk and protective factors on developmental outcomes at 36 months. I am working with data on 3001 families who were involved in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. I presented some of my findings in June and the Head Start Research Conference and am currently in the process of writing several articles for publication.
David: So, is it a difficult adjustment being back from sabbatical?
Dr. Rafferty: Not at all – I had a great sabbatical, but I am delighted to be back. One of the courses that I am teaching is a learning community course which focuses on global issues affecting children around the world. The topics that we discuss include child labor, child marriage, children without parental care, child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, children affected by HIV/AIDS, children associated with armed conflict, female genital mutilation/cutting, and violence against children. The students also volunteer for three hours a week in a local agency that focuses on children. The combination of classroom activities that focus on international issues confronting children as well as their field experience will hopefully provide students with a global perspective by which they can understand factors associated with child development and psychological well-being.
Associate Editor, Psych Eye