Violence and Poverty

With Ruth Cooke and Mary Good from International Justice Mission (UK & Ireland)

Injustice is the norm in a lot of places around the world.  The UN estimated that 4 billion people in the world are outside the protection of a justice system.  We take justice for granted.  It is only when something goes wrong that we think about the system of justice in our nations.

A study called “Voices of the Poor” asked people, “What is it that you are most concerned about?”  The majority answer was personal safety and security. 

People are not protected because of corruption.  In Cambodia, minors are being used for exploitation in brothels.  We would take the evidence to the local police and arrange for a rescue operation but when we turned up there would be nobody there because someone had tipped off the brothel owners. 

One of the biggest issues is the lack of resources - there is such a backlog of cases.

The over arching problem is violence.  We need to tackle violence to make communities safer.

If you provide a water well in a village in Africa but what if girls are getting raped on the way to the well?  We need to tackle that as well. If you set up a school somewhere but studies show that going to school is a dangerous thing for girls in the developing world either there or on the way there.

What does this look like for individuals?

Business owners in India running a rice mill: They had 20 people who worked for them but those people were exploited as slaves.  In India, it is estimated that there are 14 million slaves in bonded labour. 

People like these business owners, lend people money for urgent needs.  When the person cannot pay it back, they offer work as a way to repay the debt.  It seems a win/ win but it actual fact it is a trap because the people cannot pay back the debt.

That is an illegal practice but it is common that business owners create the threat of violence so their workers will not run away.  They operate with scare tactics to stop people speaking out.  So often, there is another layer of violence and fear that goes along with bonded labour.

Ruth, in Zambia, is 47 with seven children.  Her husband died eight years ago.  Rather than being allowed to grieve, his parents came along and made her leave the house that her husband left her claiming that it belonged to them. 

Most of the work in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines deals with child trafficking.  In Africa, it mainly deals with land grabbing and in India with bonded labour.

We looked at child trafficking in the Philippines. Child sexual exploitation is huge.  It used to be so easy to get a child to exploit sexually.  Because of the work of IJM, traffickers know that they will be caught.

We met a girl.  Her family was poor and so she went to the city to try and send money back to her family.  She was working long hours for little pay.  She heard of a good job in a massage parlour.  Naïve girl who did not realise what she was getting into.  Soon she was trapped in a brothel and she was held in the grip of fear.  The threat of violence was so strong. IJM rescued her, put her into after care… they work with partner agencies to provide after care for as long as it is needed.  It took a long time for her to get over what had happened but now she is a mentor for other girls who are rescued.  She now works in a hotel as a receptionist and she is safe.  She can always have access to her IJM social workers to give her support and care.

In Delhi, rescuers, investigators and advocates are seeking to implement the law against bonded labour.  The Indian government was denying the presence of slaves (14 million).  One of the main jobs is the advocate with the government to simplify the laws and to establish community advocates who are addressing local situations of slavery. 

Two of the investigators go in undercover to gather evidence, work with the police and then bring out people.  They are young men who put their lives in danger.  Violence not only affects the victims but also the investigators and rescuers. 

They were investigating a rice mill.  It had been raided several times but each time they bribed the police.  They were convinced that they would be caught.  You are more likely to be struck by lightning in India than to be convicted of owning slaves.  The investigators were beaten up but eventually the owner of the rice mill was convicted. In the last year alone, IJM have rescued hundreds of slaves.

Injustice is when power is abused to take from someone the good things God intends for them.

Common elements of exploitation:

  • Poverty
  • Vulnerability
  • Trigger events (such as abuse, death of a family member, etc.)
  • Abuse of power

Ruth chapter 2 - Ruth gathered enough food for five days.  God provided for them when there was no hope.  Ruth worked hard but the abundant provision was through Boaz’s generosity.  Boaz was acting according to God’s law, that ensured the poor were protecting and provided for.

God's law safeguards both the needs and dignity of the poor but the story shows that not everybody was like Boaz.  Naomi had to warn Ruth not to go to other fields where she might be mistreated.

In Good news to the Poor by Tim Chester says, “God’s ‘bias’ towards the poor is a phrase that is open to misunderstanding.  It is not because He is prejudiced but rather because he is a God of justice.  He opposes injustice and sides with the oppressed. “

IJM focuses on working in communities where justice systems are broken and in fact perpetuate the problem.  

The office in India is manned by Indians who are able to speak directly to the government.  One of the problems there is the culture, which says, “These people were born to be that way.  For a westerner to speak into that issue doesn’t make sense.  For an Indian to speak into that gives credibility.”

Every country has their “lowest of the low” - in Ireland, those would be travellers.  In India, it is the Dalit people.  We are all in positions of power.  

Where possible IJM works to implement existing laws within the various countries.  While corruption has been a big part of allowing these systems to break down, we come across a lot of people who want to do their jobs but struggle with a lack of resources.  It involves identifying and empowering people within the system to do their job well.

Recommending The Locust Effect (why the end of poverty requires and end of violence).