Regular longtime readers of this blog know about E. Benjamin Skinner, a former Team Mead research associate who has gone on to great things. He wrote a book on slavery in the contemporary world, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, which received the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for nonfiction. In the course of researching this book, Ben traveled all over the world, meeting modern day slaves and slave traders in Asia, Africa and Europe as well as both North and South America. These days, he’s become very grand. He is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy of Harvard Kennedy School, and a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. But his passion for fighting slavery and protecting the poorest and the most vulnerable among us continues, and this is the spirit that inspires the guest post below.
Ben’s first encounter with the realities of contemporary slavery came when he went to Haiti some years ago and negotiated the purchase of a young child from one of the traffickers who exploit the desperation of poor parents to ‘place’ children in homes where they are forced to work as domestic servants, beaten and abused in many other ways. Over the years he came to understand how widespread this practice is, and how deeply rooted it is in the poverty and inequality of Haitian life. The recent earthquake in Haiti not only created orphans; it has brought many more families into the destitution and hopelessness that can make placing ones child in the hands of strangers and hoping for the best seem like the only option. Ben’s reflection on the misadventures of the Americans detained in Haiti for child trafficking share one of my frequent concerns on this blog: the degree to which good intentions so often go horribly wrong when fools rush in.