LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG BUSINESS
A Conversation with David A. Glen
The Trafficking and Exploitation of Forsaken Children,
and How Just One Person Can Make a Difference.
“…it’s really about taking action. People need to get a backbone and start fighting for kids. We cannot continue to ignore this horrific pandemic. Children rely on us. They trust that we are there for them, that someone cares. We are often their last resort.”
t is difficult to grasp how anyone could brutalize young children and exploit them commercially to satisfy the lascivious desires of an insidious and ever-growing consumer market. Yet this depraved element of humanity now feeds one of the most lucrative industries in the world—the trafficking, enslavement, and sexual exploitation of children. Child advocacy and other human rights groups estimate the human trafficking industry grosses many billion of dollars each year, and is the third largest source of income for organized crime next only to illicit weapons and drugs. Unlike weapons and drugs, however, a human being is—to organized crime—a commodity that keeps earning income, day-after-day. Human trafficking, especially the exploitation of children, is now a global epidemic of truly alarming proportions.
In this feature, PHENOMENON focuses on The Endangered Child Initiative—a dual-faceted, independently- funded organization based in Europe that functions to facilitate the rescue of and rehabilitation of homeless, exploited and endangered children, finding them medical help and long-term safety and care. The Endangered Child Initiative works hand-in-hand with its affiliate, the International Agency for Crimes Against Children (IACAC), an independent, non-governmental agency that gathers intelligence for the interdiction of the organized crime entities that globally exploit children through enslavement, prostitution, and pornography.
In this conversation, The Endangered Child Initiative’s Founder and Director of Strategic Operations, David A. Glen, explains how he originally became involved in the fight against the trafficking and exploitation of children, describes the extent of this horrifying pandemic, how his organization functions, and how effective it is in making a difference.
PHENOMENON: Most ordinary people have no idea of the horrifying extent of child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Just how serious is it?
GLEN: It is conservatively estimated that many millions of children are enslaved or involved in forced prostitution, child pornography, and child trafficking for various purposes (some estimate the number to be as high as 22 million), and that the numbers are increasing each year by at least 1.5 million worldwide. But it’s almost impossible to calculate accurate figures because we don’t have adequate access to reliable statistics in African countries, for example, or in countries like Brazil. But the tragic practice of child trafficking and sex tourism is now widespread because of the enormous profits involved for major organized crime, and an increasing demand from the “consumer” market.
PHENOMENON: These figures seem truly staggering! But where does the demand come from? Where is the market? Who is paying for this?
GLEN: Sadly, more than half of the demand for child pornography and sex with children comes from the USA, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The demand is not just for girls but for boys too. Some of these unfortunate children are as young as six years old, and are in sordid demand for their virginity. In some cultures, it is believed that having sex with a virgin will rid one of AIDS and other diseases, and virgin children therefore fetch premium prices for traffickers. Many of these children are cast out when their usefulness is over, left to fend for themselves, often in totally unfamiliar cultures or surroundings.
PHENOMENON: What happens to these children—especially those who are so young and unable to take care of themselves?
GLEN: Some will join street cultures in inner cities—small gangs of other kids. And of course they are then vulnerable to predators and organized criminals, and the requirements of their gangs. But many will die alone in the alleys of some foreign town from physical abuse, disease, dehydration, or starvation. And there is a very high rate of suicide, especially among teenagers.
PHENOMENON: Has the development of the Internet played a major role in the expansion of this sordid industry?
GLEN: Absolutely. Ease of communication via the Internet has not only made us more aware of the problem of child sexual exploitation but has also provided a perfect medium for the expansion of the industry as a whole. However, the Internet is also proving to be an invaluable tool in the fight against the exploitation of kids. But it’s not just the Internet; organized crime entities are using all kinds of technology to obfuscate their operations, from the use of SIM cards in mobile phones and other devices to sophisticated encryption methods, anonymous payment systems, and so forth. It used to be that we could “follow the money”; that is becoming increasingly more difficult to do because money laundering is now an integral part of syndicated crime activities.
PHENOMENON: How is child pornography distributed, and who are the consumers?
GLEN: Child pornography is made and collected by child abusers who garner vast collections of images and videos, often sharing portions of their collections with other abusers online. Some of these collections include tens of thousands of images many of which have been in circulation for a long time. This has created the need for new imagery (“fresh meat” in the parlance of child pornographers), and it is this demand that has spawned a new source of revenue for major organized crime groups as well as individual pornographers.
The ever-increasing sophistication of distribution via the Internet is creating more lucrative commercial opportunities, and an escalating amount of child pornography is now being produced and sold for profit online. As a result of this easy access, and with more tools now available to protect online identities, more child abusers are viewing, trading, downloading, and storing online child pornography. And in response to this growing demand, organized crime groups have realized that protecting the anonymity of “clients” is not only a crucial requirement but can also be a tool for earning additional revenue. They now offer anonymous payment gateways for their clients, often as part of their own money-laundering activities worldwide.
Another medium through which child pornography is being distributed is through underground social network sites (similar to the many adult pornography sites openly available by subscription on the Internet). In a lot of cases, kids actually post pictures and video of themselves on these networks in return for financial compensation via online (and anonymous) payment methods. This type of child pornography is growing at an alarming rate because in poorer countries kids can earn extraordinary sums of money without exposing themselves to the hazards of, say, hustling on street corners, or the health and safety risks associated with working within organized crime rings or through pimps.
Many child pornographic videos and photo libraries are available through “torrents”. A torrent is essentially available data about a target file; it doesn’t actually contain content. This online tool blurs the boundaries of legality, and uniform record locators can be re-assigned at will making them very difficult to track.
PHENOMENON: You use the term “child abuser” to describe these “clients”. There are those who would say that technically a pedophile is not a child abuser, and typically would never harm a child.
GLEN: It’s true that technically the term “pedophile” is a recognized clinical term for adults who are primarily sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children, and are typically diagnosed on the basis of persistent fantasies or sexual urges towards children. Most may have fantasies about sex with children but will not act on them. They often cite their appreciation for the beauty of the human form in childhood as their real motivation. They also champion changes in the law to reduce, or in some cases do away with, the Age of Consent, stating that children have the right to make their own decisions with regard to their sexual relationships. They blithely ignore the reality that children’s minds are in development as well as their bodies, and they cannot make objective decisions about such matters.
Let me explain how this idea—this typical defense by pedophiles—can play out in real life. Our organization was involved in the interdiction of a group of pedophiles who were freely sharing and exchanging pornographic photos of some young boys. In their view, they were not abusing those children but merely using the photos for their own gratification. One of these children—a twelve year old boy—had been rescued from a criminal underground ring that had sold and circulated pornographic photos and video of him and other kids. He had been taken in by a small orphanage in Eastern Europe. His care-givers enrolled him in a local school, and all seemed to be going smoothly until some kids at the school found pornographic pictures of him on the Internet. As we know, kids can sometimes be cruel, and they started picking on the boy, calling him a “fag”, and beating him up. Not long afterwards, this boy tried to hang himself. He was luckily found in time, but other kids have not been so lucky. We’ve recently seen this play out in many schools where kids who were targeted and bullied for their sexuality have killed themselves.
Call it what you may but the viewing and distribution of child pornography is real child abuse, and those who sit behind computer screens and claim otherwise are very disillusioned people. Remember, they view child pornography not because they “love” children but for their own gratification. They have complete disregard for how those photos of children were obtained, at what cost to the child’s well-being and sense of normalcy, or for their individual right to privacy. And they are oblivious or choose to ignore how their actions propagate the insidious rise of child exploitation by organized crime. So yes, I group these people into the generic term of child abusers.
PHENOMENON: Most psychologists claim that this is a condition— pedophilia I mean—that is very difficult or almost impossible to treat.
GLEN: I think that is true. It’s a very controversial subject. But in my view, the people we need to focus on more are those who facilitate these peoples’ actions—the criminals (“animals” if you will) who exploit them and the kids for profit. We may never truly understand the depths of pedophilia but we can alleviate the problem by going after the business of exploiting children.
PHENOMENON: Another term that has come into the public eye in recent years is “Sex Tourism”. Can you tell us what this is, and how it pertains to the exploitation of children?
GLEN: Yes. Sex tourism describes, in our purview, any organized trip abroad for the purposes of having sex with minors. This has become big business. In some Western countries, agents set up package tours that include the client’s airfare, hotel reservation, car rental, and complete arrangements for sexual encounters with a child, often in their hotel room. These organizations, despite the severe penalties in many countries, have become very sophisticated. Some offer the opportunity, prior to departure, to choose the child’s gender, age, ethnicity, and even hair and eye color from galleries supplied online through protected websites, passing access to these sites using cutting-edge encryption that is very difficult to track or trace. Posting child pornography is also used to establish trust among child abusers, and is now a requirement in many cases to qualify for acceptance into some of the private online “clubs” that the sex-tourism industry serves.
PHENOMENON: So you have a situation where adults are traveling from various countries to have sex with children. But many countries have a much lower Age of Consent than, say, in the USA, where it is 18. How does this play out?
GLEN: The Age of Consent issue is an interesting one, and should not be confused with the Age of Majority which determines at what age a person is considered an adult. How, for example does one deal with those who travel from Western countries (where the age of consent is 16 or 18) to have sex with children who are above the Age of Consent in that particular country—in some it is as low as 12 or 14 years of age. But the main issue to keep in mind is that enslavement and forced prostitution—whether with adults or minors—is illegal in most countries, and so in many cases sex tourists find themselves breaking laws from just this perspective alone.
Some countries enforce worldwide jurisdiction over any involvement by their nationals in child sexual exploitation. The USA, for example, passed the Protect Act of 2003 which forbids its citizens and legal residents from traveling overseas for the purposes of having sex with anyone under 18 years of age. These people can be arrested on their return (and in some cases by their own embassy officials) and indicted, and the penalties are very severe. The letter of that law stipulates that there has to be a commercial element involved—money has to change hands. These cases are very hard to prove but this type of law serves as a good deterrent, and other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia have enacted their own versions of the Protect Act. The problem is there have been very few actual prosecutions by comparison with the number of people out there sexually abusing kids.
PHENOMENON: These are mostly men, isn’t that right?
GLEN: Yes, that is mostly correct. In the past, the percentage of people who abused children sexually was about 95% men. However, that percentage has come down in recent years, and we are seeing a steady increase in the level of women who are involved in sexually abusing kids. However, the percentage of women involved in the actual business of trafficking and exploiting children is much higher than one would expect.
PHENOMENON: Doesn’t all of this result in untold damage not only to a child’s physical well-being but also to their mental state?
GLEN: Of course. The collateral damage to children from this vile practise manifests itself in the form of horrific diseases, including HIV infection, AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and venereal diseases contracted as a result of their abuse. And the enormous psychological damage caused to children who are used for child pornography and prostitution is immeasurable. I personally consider that extreme cases of child sexual exploitation are tantamount to murder; kids will never recover from the effects of really extreme sexual abuse or from the sheer brutality that has been perpetrated on them by criminals on both the supply and demand side.
PHENOMENON: From time to time, the subject of organ trafficking comes up in the media. But according to many people, the trade in human organs is an urban myth.
GLEN: I can tell you that those people are deluded! There is an enormous and growing trade in human organs, especially those of teenagers. There are many cases where children are sold purely for their organs.
PHENOMENON: But the consensus among many medical professionals is that organs removed from victims cannot be kept viable long enough to be useful.
GLEN: The point they are missing is that some adults and teens are enslaved and kept alive specifically to provide organs as and when the demand arises. Organs fetch enormous premiums on the black market. Major organized crime entities involved in organ trafficking use highly-sophisticated facilties and physicians who understand the requirements for keeping transplant organs viable. Most people just don’t understand the sophistication of organized crime today; they have vast financial resources and technical know-how.
PHENOMENON: This is truly awful! So they basically murder people—kids—on demand for their organs.
GLEN: Yes. This is no urban myth, and those who believe it is perpetrate by their denial untold damage to the potential victims. It’s becoming more pervasive all the time, again because of the enormous profits involved.
PHENOMENON: How did you first become exposed to this issue, and how did you get started in your work in trying to help kids, and in the fight against child trafficking and exploitation?
GLEN: My work as a documentary photographer had taken me over the years into a variety of interesting locations and cultures around the world. I was doing an inordinate amount of traveling at the time. From 1998 to 2006, for example, I made over ninety-four flights in and out of Southeast Asian countries, using Bangkok in Thailand as a hub from which to branch out into India, Nepal, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma. Initially, my interests were purely of a geographical nature, and I focused primarily on fascinating peoples and the environments in which they lived. Because of a long-standing love of high mountains, I spent a good amount of time in the Himalayas, and became especially fond of the tough little Sherpas, many of whom have become good friends. It was in late 1998, while on one of my trips to Katmandu, Nepal, that I became aware of an extraordinary woman called Anurhada Koirala who runs a shelter for children—mostly girls—rescued from the bonds of prostitution in India. I thought this would make an interesting documentary film, and arranged to visit her shelter along with another cameraman, and a television producer.
Although I had been aware of the issue of child exploitation during my travels in Asia, the abhorrent reality of what we saw jarred me into an emotional turmoil. Photojournalists see some horrifying things in the course of their work. But what we encountered in that Katmandu shelter can only be described as appalling, for here were dozens of young girls—many of them mere children—who had been brutalized, raped, and sexually exploited and, despite having been rescued from such depravity, were now facing severe psychological scarring, malnutrition, and in many cases death itself from terminal diseases such as AIDS, advanced tuberculosis, and hepatitis. And while some of these children can be rehabilitated (and in some cases returned to their parents), most are shunned as pariahs by their own families in cultures dominated by religious or tribal mores.
That first exposure to the realities of child sexual exploitation was to dramatically change my life. In subsequent years, I was to return on several occasions to interview Anurhada Koirala, and visit the children at her shelter. Each time I went back, more children had died. This remarkable woman and those who work alongside her are living examples of the many courageous and dedicated people worldwide who are devoted to fighting child trafficking, and to the care of the innocent victims of child sexual exploitation. It is an awesome job for these truly heroic people, with suffering and death their daily companions. They not only have the welfare of their children at stake, but are determined to bring predators and pimps to justice in cultures that are typically insensitive to the rights of women, young or old, and where corruption is rife. Yet they come to work every day, and fight for their young charges against huge odds with an energy and commitment that leaves one speechless.
PHENOMENON: All this must have had an enormous personal impact on you.
GLEN: Yes, it did. After that first real exposure to the sexual exploitation of children, the world as seen through the lens of my camera was markedly different. It is a strange condition of the human mind but we often see things we expect or want to see rather than what is actually there. Photojournalists often adapt to this by discarding conventional thought; they deliberately look for “the wood” and not “the trees”. I started to notice children on the streets of the world’s teeming cities from an entirely different perspective. I began to watch what they were doing with a more interpretive eye; to notice whom they were with; to pay attention to their comings and goings; and to try and differentiate their behavioral patterns from those of normal, innocent, playful kids, and those who reveal an aberration of some kind, born mostly out of fear or mistrust. You see it in their eyes and in their body language.
What gradually emerged from this more focused observation and awareness was not just unnerving—it was sickening, outrageous, and truly frightening. Everywhere I went, I recognized the ubiquitousness of what I was witnessing—the clandestine, sordid, widespread, ever- expanding, and highly-profitable business of the trafficking and exploitation of children.
As time went by, my research showed that this unspeakable industry was in fact a worldwide pandemic that grosses annual revenues in the billions of dollars, attracting because of its high income potential major organized and highly sophisticated crime entities. It causes irreparable harm to the children involved, and to the very fabric of our civilization.
PHENOMENON: Did you go ahead and make the documentary?
GLEN: No, but we gathered some remarkable footage. I realized I had to do more than just document the issue, and decided to dedicate myself full-time to combatting this truly abhorrent practice, and to start helping these unfortunate kids albeit one child at a time. But I wanted to find a way to be as effective as possible.
PHENOMENON: How did you even contemplate where to begin? The problem seems so enormous and so widespread. It must have been mind-boggling!
GLEN: Yes, it was. Somehow I realized that we needed to devise something unique to help tackle this tragic problem. After all, there were and are today thousands of organizations around the world helping children, from small non-governmental organizations to large, well-funded charities. But after researching the overall problem and its related issues in depth, I realized that there were five distinct needs that had to be addressed:
First, there was a dire need for the convergence of information and demographics. While there were many hundreds of non-governmental organizations worldwide tackling the problem on a local and even an international level, there was no cohesive entity gathering detailed, empirical information that could be converged in a centralized system accessible by those dedicated to combatting child exploitation, and saving children.
Second, there was a serious need for effective medical collaboration between cultures. New drugs and treatments are continually emerging in the West but knowledge of these does not reach Third World countries fast enough, and doctors attending sick children in those countries need to have access to these new drugs and treatments as quickly as possible to maximize the survivability of the children in their care. A comprehensive, highly-secure, “live” record-keeping system for sick children was needed through which Western doctors could securely consult with attending doctors, and actually arrange for them to receive new drugs and treatment for their patients.
Third, there was a need for an effective, centralized system that could assist in the long-term placement of forsaken children. The same “live” record-keeping system that facilitated medical help could also facilitate the defining of future placement of rescued children in long-term foster care or adoption, or at the very least secure their long-term safety and welfare. This system could also be used to evaluate and appraise agencies and organizations involved in foster care and adoption to ensure that reliable standards are being maintained.
Fourth, such a centralized system could also feed a parallel system that gathered evidence and information for the interdiction of those who exploit and abuse children. This highly-secure, parallel system could garner the anecdotal testimony from rescued children, their caregivers, and other reliable witnesses or informants that would be vitally important in the interdiction of child abusers and especially the organized crime entities responsible for the commercial exploitation of children.
Fifth, there was also a need to raise public awareness of this issue worldwide, and to solicit the public’s assistance in recognizing and reporting crimes against children. One of our most important tasks is, I believe, to educate people about this issue in viable Western cultures—cultures that have the ability to actually DO SOMETHING about this most heinous of crimes. Most ordinary people don’t have an clear concept of how pervasive the problem of child sexual exploitation has become, and most feel helpless to do anything about it. But given the right tools, the public can become a crucial factor in bringing perpetrators of child exploitation to justice. This has been demonstrated in recent cases where Interpol broadcast images of child sex offenders who were subsequently apprehended thanks to tips from members of the public.
PHENOMENON: So it was the identification of these five specific needs that led you to form and develop THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and PROGENY?
GLEN: Essentially, yes. We actually formed our organization which is called THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE. PROGENY is the name we gave to our highly-secure and sophisticated data system for kids accessible online from anywhere in the world.
PHENOMENON: How have things turned out? How effective is THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and PROGENY today?
GLEN: THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE is now well-established and, as each month goes by, the PROGENY system grows in its efficacy. With the help of some truly talented IT security experts (many of whom contribute their skills and knowledge pro bono), our organization and this unique system now functions at the epicenter of the growing problem of child exploitation, with a “boots-on-the-ground” approach to actually DOING SOMETHING about these insidious crimes against humanity.
We systematically are addressing those five distinct needs by continually improving the PROGENY system, enhancing its function in bringing together all those who want to make a difference with those who are actually out there fighting for kids. The PROGENY system is now in its third version, and contains many thousands of children’s records.
PHENOMENON: Can you explain more about PROGENY, how it works, and how you formulate strategies to save kids?
GLEN: Our basic strategy for the rescue, safety, and rehabilitation of exploited and endangered children is both unique and extremely effective. It revolves around a process that begins with the detailed documentation of each child for whom we advocate, accomplished through PROGENY. The PROGENY system can be accessed securely from any Internet connection anywhere by pre-screened, authorized, users—doctors, child welfare advocates, care-givers, and agents working in interdiction—all under the constant vigilance and monitoring of dedicated and highly-qualified personnel in our Central Operations Division.
Many of the children inducted into the PROGENY Data System are true orphans but an alarming number are referred to as “throw-away” kids. In some cases, children, especially young boys, voluntarily resort to prostitution in order to support large families. Many, however, become victims of commercial exploitation by organized criminals, and are treated as a mere commodity. Unlike weapons and drugs, human beings are the commodity that keeps earning income, day-after-day.
As you can imagine, an alarming percentage of these kids contract serious illnesses including HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. They are kids without much hope, and many have lost their sense of self-worth, and have become inured to the violence and sexual abuse they experience, often multiple times a day. Many gravitate towards urban gangs in search of a “family” of some kind, living on the streets (and even in sewers) succumbing to prostitution and petty crime with all their inherent dangers. Many resort to sniffing glue, drinking, and taking other drugs to try and find some respite from the reality of their situation. Most of these children will experience violence and abuse at the hands of pimps, organized criminals, and the feral street cultures in which they often find themselves.Many will not survive without direct intervention.
In a large number of cases, children that have been exposed to this kind of life are very difficult to rehabilitate. Our work is like battlefield triage—we are forced to ascertain which children are the most saveable, and focus on them….save those who are saveable first. Those choices—which kids we can save and which we cannot—are some of the hardest we have to make. Yet for those kids with the right potential, induction into the PROGENY System offers them a real chance for recovery, a normal life, and the opportunities they deserve. We then actively advocate for each and every child within our system according to their specific, individual circumstances and needs.
PHENOMENON: What exactly do you mean by “throw-away” kids?
GLEN: “Throw-away” kids are children who are discarded by their parents for one reason or another, mostly because they are unable to sustain large families. Some of these families have as many as seven children…some even more. And in so many cases, these large families have little or no income. When you add other factors to the equation, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, there inevitably comes the day when one or two kids have to be sacrificed in order for the rest of the family to survive. Imagine the heart-wrenching dilemma this decision causes a mother…which child or children do you choose to throw away? In some cases, children are forced by their own parents to go out and earn money in any way they can, and end up with groups of other disavowed kids living in street cultures and gangs. These street kids have their own hierarchy, and everyone, no matter what their age, must contribute to the “family” whether through prostitution or other forms of petty crime in order to earn protection, shelter, and food. It’s truly Dickensian. And of course these kids become a magnet for pimps and organized criminals who view them as mere commodities.
PHENOMENON: But how does your organization connect with these kids? And when you do connect, how do they react? Haven’t most of them become hardened by street life, and the dangers they face every day? How do you gain their trust?
GLEN: First of all, we appoint LLOs or Local Liaison Officers. These are generally local people, men and women, who have had experience dealing with homeless or exploited kids, who of course speak the local language and dialect, and most importantly who have their ear to the ground. These are our key frontline personnel, and they are (other than the kids themselves) the people at most risk because they not only liaise with the kids themselves but report back to us on organized crime activity in their area.
Our LLOs gain the trust of street cultures, particularly the leaders, many of whom can be just 14 years of age. Once that trust has been established, we work with these street kids to better their situation in whatever way we can. Keep in mind that many of the older kids—those in their teens—don’t want to be “saved” or “rescued”. They are often too embroiled in the mire of their existence. But most of the young kids—those under 10 years of age—are more than eager to accept an offer of help and a return to some form of normalcy and stability.
Once we have a tacit understanding between an LLO and a specific child or group of children, we then begin the process of inducting them into the PROGENY system, creating a personal record for each and every one of them. We then analyze each child’s situation, and start trying to define a destiny—a positive outcome—for that child.
PHENOMENON: Is it true that you work personally with some of these street children…that there are some that you have taken under your wing, so to speak. How do you connect with these kids? How do you gain their trust? Aren’t they suspicious of outsiders, especially those offering to help them?
GLEN: Yes, I mentor a number of kids, mostly teenagers who have suicidal tendencies and some who have even attempted suicide. Most of these kids are boys who are struggling with the mental trauma of the things they have gone through, the abuse, and more than anything the rejection either by their families or by society as a whole. Many of them struggle with their sexuality which is, of course, common among teenagers. But it’s especially raw for these kids when you consider the unspeakable atrocities they have had to endure. The kind of trust to which you refer to is really hard to come by. At first, most of these kids leer at your offers of help, or any assertions that you care. What they’re saying in essence is “go back to your ivory tower” and leave us alone.
Their cynicism is well founded. There are many people—”do-gooders”— who appear once, make promises, and never return either because they couldn’t handle the reality of what they had witnessed or because they were disingenuous in the first place. But credibility with these kids comes with constancy. You keep coming back, always keep your word, and little by little you start to win them over. You develop real friendships and gain their trust. The little ones are the easiest; many of the older ones have become too cynical. With them you just have to work harder at winning them over but many are simply not redeemable.
The key issue I address with these kids is their sense of self-worth. This is a tough thing to restore in kids who have been so harshly rejected and abused by the very people they thought they could trust—adults. I work slowly with one kid at a time to rebuild a sense of pride in themselves; to understand that they are not to blame for who they are or for the atrocious things done to them. I convince them that they actually have two choices: to continue as they are, and surely die young; or to stand up and become a self-contained person who can take control of their destiny.
However, the most important message that you must convey to these kids is that you really do CARE about them. You can’t fake that with kids. They know! You have to genuinely care or they’ll see right through you, and then you’re done; they’ll never trust you. You never make promises you can’t keep, and always be unfailingly candid and honest with them. They are like any normal kids; they need role models, someone to respect, and someone who will respect them. They don’t want to be treated as criminals, and they certainly don’t want to be called victims. They want someone to reaffirm their potential to survive and become normal human beings. They just need a little help…a start, and someone to show them the way.
PHENOMENON: PROGENY must have to address some serious security issues. After all, you are not just dealing with children’s medical records. In fact, a child’s entire life-story is virtually contained within their record, is that not so? And doesn’t this include their exploitation, if any, by major organized crime?
GLEN: Yes, because of the nature of our work, we have to address some serious security issues. This was a major consideration for us when we built the PROGENY system. PROGENY is first and foremost structured to protect the safety and well-being of the children in the system. It is also structured to protect the identity of those who care for them, and for our Liaison Officers, Regional Directors, and Case Officers. I should mention that the security built into our database and access to it is spearheaded by engineers who handle network security for national security agencies.
Those who are authorized to use the PROGENY system are very carefully screened and vetted, and are constantly monitored for breaches of security. We have a zero-tolerance protocol for infringement of our rules. The database also uses biometric technology to help identify children using fingerprinting and other biometric methods, as well as DNA. This also can be helpful to identify those unfortunate children found deceased from abuse, disease, or in many cases malnutrition. Many simply freeze to death in harsh winter conditions.
Access to a child’s record will only be made available after it has been ascertained that the applicant is a pre-authorized physician or field agent who has been given a Secure Key Code. Various levels of secure access are designated to health care professionals and field agents on a need-to-know basis. Secure Key Codes can only be granted by the Director of Central Operations. The safety of our children is of paramount importance to us.
As an additional safeguard, Secure Key Codes frequently expire. If a Secure Key Code has expired, the physician or operative must contact the Director of Operations, and is then required to re-qualify, and to provide proper identification which includes answering some rigorous questions to verify their identity. They will then be granted a new Secure Key Code only if they are still deemed eligible.
Also, each child’s location is equally protected from all but authorized Secure Key Code holders by the use of location codes. This helps protect children from predators or those who might seek reprisals against them, including organized crime entities or alienated or hostile family members.
PHENOMENON: How then do doctors use the PROGENY system to help sick children? How does that process work?
GLEN: The PROGENY system is monitored by some of the preeminent medical specialists and physicians in the world, all of whom act as consultants at absolutely no charge. Access to the medical records of sick children in the PROGENY Data System enables pediatric specialists to share up-to-date knowledge and information with attending doctors or other health care professionals about new drugs and treatments being developed or in use that will benefit the sick children in their care, and thereby facilitate all possible means for their successful survival, treatment and rehabilitation. Once the medical needs of a child or group of children have been ascertained, PROGENY personnel and consulting doctors will do everything in their power to ensure those needs are fulfilled with the actual procurement of vital medicines and their expedited delivery, or the provision of expert medical aid, for those children who are in dire need.
PHENOMENON: Is it difficult to find doctors who are willing to work with you on a pro-bono or free-of-charge consultancy basis?
GLEN: It isn’t easy, but those who volunteer their expertise and time are truly remarkable because they have very busy lives with their own practices yet find the time to work with us on a consultancy basis. Some have even offered to travel overseas and set up temporary clinics to help treat sick or malnourished children.
PHENOMENON: Can child welfare organizations around the world use the PROGENY system? How does that work?
GLEN: Yes, such organizations—children’s homes, hospices, and so forth—are the mainstay of our work. Child welfare agencies or institutions charged with fulfilling the treatment and rehabilitation needs of endangered children are able to establish highly-secure and confidential records for each of child within PROGENY. This enables consulting and attending doctors to remain current with a child’s condition, and enables us to assist in determining a positive future for each child. The system is only additive—prior data cannot be erased. This results in a comprehensive medical history being available.
PHENOMENON: What exactly is contained within a child’s record within the PROGENY system?
GLEN: Individual children’s records are of course highly confidential and privileged, but in general records within the PROGENY system include the child’s complete biographical information; biometrics (such as fingerprints and iris scans); legal documentation that encompasses the child’s nationality, current and future disposition, and jurisdiction; current medical records (including digital images and video such as X-Rays and MRIs); physiological and psychological evaluations by pediatricians; a complete history of each child that also includes any abuse or exploitation; and a carefully evaluated strategy for the long-term rehabilitation and welfare of the child.
PHENOMENON: PROGENY sounds like a very sophisticated system. But what checks and balances do you have in place as far as security is concerned?
GLEN: We address security by maintaining actual human involvement on each and every transaction. PROGENY isn’t just an automated system; it is constantly monitored by actual people behind the scenes who have been very diligently pre-screened, and are held accountable for keeping the confidences we require. The PROGENY Data System is monitored 24 hours a day, and far exceeds the legal online database security requirements exacted by most countries (such as those required by HIPPA in the USA).
PHENOMENON: The sheer volume of data you collect must be of great value because it’s real and not based on conjecture. Do you segregate that data for use in developing statistics and demographics useful to other organizations or governments?
GLEN: Absolutely. The data we collect is of great value because it’s real and not based on conjecture. We segregate that data for use in developing statistics and demographics useful to other organizations or governments. Furthermore, the hard data compiled from children’s records and input by our field agents and caregivers enable us to pursue realistic goals in helping diminish or obviate the problems faced by so many of these unfortunate children. In fact, I believe PROGENY is the only system in the world today that is continually compiling real, empirical data on the issue of child trafficking and exploitation on a worldwide basis. I say empirical because while there are organizations accumulating data, much of it is based on the representations of governments anxious to appear compliant with treaties on children’s rights. Ours is gathered independently and directly from our own research efforts on the ground.
PHENOMENON: Do you make that data available for other similar international organizations and government agencies?
GLEN: Yes, we have a new scheme for this. Governments may subscribe to THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE on a pro-rata system based on their country’s GDP and their tier standing with regards to human trafficking treaties such as the CRC, the internationally-recognized Convention on the Rights of the Child. Other organizations may subscribe on algorithms we have devised. These subscription funds go directly to our work in rescuing and rehabilitating endangered children. But non-governmental organizations such as orphanages, hospices, etc. who have become Engaged Partners with us have free access to their own children’s records.
PHENOMENON: We’ve been talking about the pediatric and welfare side of your work with endangered kids. But there’s another facet to your organization, isn’t there?
GLEN: Yes. Probably some of the most useful data that we have gathered over the years pertains to the interdiction of those responsible for child trafficking and exploitation, and those who are the consumers. This is handled by our affiliate IACAC—the International Agency for Crimes Against Children. IACAC is an independent intelligence agency that gathers, assimilates and analyses this data for sharing and dissemination to national and international law-enforcement and security agencies worldwide. IACAC is highly effective in its mandate to bring justice to those children for whom we advocate.
PHENOMENON: Doesn’t the involvement of major organized crime make this an extremely dangerous undertaking?
GLEN: IACAC’s intelligence-gathering and interdiction activities directly affect the bottom line of major organized crime entities. So yes, the fight against child trafficking and exploitation is fraught with difficulties and dangers because human trafficking in general is a major source of revenue for mafia groups.
PHENOMENON: What do you mean by mafia groups? How is the mafia involved in all of this?
GLEN: One has to understand that the word “mafia” today describes a totally new phenomenon. Unlike the Italian Mafia, which typically has followed a family-based infrastructure, modern-day mafia groups like those in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Far East, Mexico, or Central and South America, are more akin to large corporations whose sole purpose is to profit from whatever income streams they can leverage. On a lesser level, in countries with struggling economies and where poverty is rampant, the allure of profits can be too much even for local police authorities and, in many cases, the people to whom victims turn for safety or justice are themselves in the pay of unscrupulous criminals. One has to put this in perspective: in Laos or Cambodia for example, or in some Eastern European countries, average incomes amount to mere hundreds of dollars a year. And so a policemen or local politician who is offered kickbacks worth many thousands of dollars is very likely to succumb, and ignore or even facilitate what goes on within their local jurisdiction. And if bribery doesn’t work, there’s always intimidation and the threat of dire consequences for uncooperative officials and their families.
PHENOMENON: How do you cope with that sort of threat continually hanging over you and the people working inside the organization?
GLEN: What’s the alternative? We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and allow these people to continue to brutalize children? Someone has to stand up for these kids and fight this insidious horror. That comes with risks. We try to keep a very low key and have security protocols designed to safeguard those who work with us.
PHENOMENON: Most people would find this type of work emotionally devastating. How do the people in your organization cope with the constant stress of dealing with these poor children and the horrors they endure? How do YOU deal with it?
GLEN: This is not easy work, and there are many times when one feels total despair even to the point of tears. I often feel that way when I see the ineptitude and apathy of governments in addressing this issue. But at times like that I think of those people who I believe are some of the world’s real heroes—those dedicated men and women who have homes for kids, some of them for just five or ten, some for fifty, some for more. They devote every waking hour of their lives to the kids in their care with all their problems, their foibles, and their traumas. There’s no rest. It’s hard for normal people to raise two or three kids; so imagine what it’s like to have twenty, or fifty, who rely on you day in and day out for food, shelter, warmth, love and hope. That’s a major commitment. Religious people would call them saints. They are some of the world’s true, unsung heroes. Our work pales by comparison with what those people endure, and the risks involved to us are minor by contrast with the results.
PHENOMENON: There are those who would suggest that your work in interdiction smacks of vigilantism—that you are a loose canon, and your organization has no oversight. How would you respond to that?
GLEN: We are bound to have critics. In my experience the loudest of them are mostly people who would never actually stick their necks out and actually DO something worthwhile in life other than be judgmental and criticize others. We cannot afford to be a vigilante organization. The stakes are too high, the stakes being real people—little people—kids. And while we are a very low-key organization, it’s important that we maintain a high degree of credibility with other agencies and organizations working in this arena because the sharing and dissemination of information is vital to combatting the serious, highly-organized criminal elements with which we are dealing.
As for the oversight issue, tell me a government or international body of national representatives anywhere, with all their supposed “oversight” (not to mention resources), that is being in any way truly effective in solving these issues? There isn’t one! And many of those that profess to be concerned participants pay mere lip service to governments and the international community. They really could be a lot more effective but their agenda isn’t really the welfare of kids…it’s something else.
This is not an arena for egocentric or elitist attitudes, or self-serving detractors. Those types would soon change their tune if their own kids were abducted and sold into prostitution. The trafficking and exploitation of humans is the third largest source of income for organized crime next only to weapons and drugs. Children are a major part of that equation. And these groups’ illicit activities include crossover crimes—they are only concerned with their bottom line, and care nothing for the sanctity of life.
PHENOMENON: What do you mean by crossover crimes?
GLEN: Many of the criminal groups involved in human trafficking are also involved in money laundering and identity theft, and of course many have multi-dimensional sources of illicit income that include other revenue streams such as weapons and drugs. Some of these syndicates will take profits from drug dealing and apply them to human trafficking. As I’ve said, humans are the revenue source that keeps giving, day in and day out.
PHENOMENON: How has globalization affected your work in this arena?
GLEN: That’s a good question. In some ways it has helped us but overall I’d say it has been and is a hindrance. The European Union is a good example. Most of us enjoy the convenience of a universal currency in Europe (although that in itself is now having problems as you know), and the freedom of movement between member countries of the EU is advantageous to the average traveler. But the EU’s open-border policy has wreaked havoc on the plight of exploited kids. It has to a large degree facilitated human traffickers in moving their human “goods” across large areas of the continent unchecked. It has definitely made our ability to track them far more problematic.
PHENOMENON: THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and the PROGENY system are quite amazing in what they seek to accomplish. But this must require substantial funding. How do you address this?
GLEN: We of course need substantial and ongoing funding to operate the PROGENY system and for our work with children. And the problem is that getting funds from governments always comes with strings attached, and we would be hampered by their sheer bureaucracy. The public sector is therefore of paramount importance to us. While the enormity of the issue of child exploitation seems overwhelming to most people, it’s important to understand that our approach is focused, and designed to alter the destiny of these unfortunate kids just one child at a time. And so one person’s individual contribution or that of a corporation unequivocally changes at least one child’s life for the better.
We work closely with our benefactors, no matter how small or large their contribution, to ensure that their funds go directly and entirely to the needs of a specific child or group of children. We do this by offering complete transparency in how contributions are used. We donate 100% of independent funding to our operational costs and to children’s welfare. Our direct administrative costs are borne by private endowments, and not by public donations. Not one person on our board receives a salary. We are about helping kids, period.
PHENOMENON: Can people sponsor an individual child within the PROGENY system?
GLEN: Yes. But not in the typical “sponsor-a-child” formula used by so many organizations. The problem with those is that it’s often difficult to know if they aren’t some sort of international scam—and many of them are. We will however (through due process) connect donors with the child or group of children they are supporting. They can have access to them (within the confines of our rules for their safety and well-being) at any time, follow their progress, and even communicate with them within Progeny’s highly-secured system.
PHENOMENON: Can corporations get involved in sponsoring THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and PROGENY? And what about other non-profits? Can they participate too?
GLEN: We welcome the involvement of small businesses and larger corporations with monetary funding and with actual products. And we welcome the participation of other foundations. In fact, we greatly encourage NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to get in touch with us to share information and resources as what we call Engaged Partners. We need to join forces if we are to have a lasting effect on the exploitation of children.
PHENOMENON: What do you mean by “actual products”?
GLEN: We welcome, for example, pharmaceutical companies in donating specific drugs for pediatric use, especially those for kids with HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. We also welcome donations of nutritional supplements for kids. So many of the children we work with our very severely malnourished. But there’s another aspect I’d like to mention: we are trying to get internationally renowned athletes involved with PROGENY. For example, soccer or basketball stars, tennis stars, cycling stars, or some of the rising stars in the Mixed Martial Arts world. These athletes are recognized throughout most of the world—even by homeless kids—and some are now coming forward to offer whatever help they can. Most of these celebrities don’t fully understand the power they can have to change just one child’s life by standing up and fighting for them.
PHENOMENON: That’s an interesting concept. How would that work? Exactly how can a sports celebrity make a difference to these kids?
GLEN: Well, one of the ideas we have been formulating is to set up, say, a week-long soccer camp, and invite one or two major football celebrities to contribute their time to coaching a group of kids we would recruit from street cultures. It’s almost impossible to get some of the older kids—those in their teens—to leave the streets where they are making far more money in prostitution or petty crime than they ever would in their local community. But the chance to spend a week with an international football celebrity, for example, might convince them. All we need is a little time to work with these kids outside their feral street life in order to change their way of thinking about themselves. It’s all about improving their sense of self-worth. We may not have 100% success with all the kids that attended one of these camps, but if we were to turn just one or two of them round, we would have been successful. And it can work with all kinds of sports, not just soccer. Mixed Martial Arts is a very viable one because of its high profile today.
PHENOMENON: Many charities today have some figurehead—a celebrity spokesperson— to help gain attention to their cause. Does PROGENY have anyone in this capacity?
GLEN: If you mean a Hollywood-style celebrity, no. And to be candid, I’m not sure this is the right thing for us. Recently we were informed by a Hollywood agent that their “celebrity”—a famous actress–would be a spokesperson for us but only after we paid a fee of $100,000 for the privilege. They seem to have the whole concept upside-down, don’t they! If we had a spare $100,000, I wouldn’t be giving it to some Hollywood celebrity. That kind of money in our theater of operations would make an enormous difference to the very survival of hundreds of forsaken kids. The main problem is finding a celebrity who has the courage to bypass the conventions of their profession, someone who really cares about putting kids first, and doesn’t have some hidden agenda. I don’t mean to sound disingenuous but many of the celebrities who have shown an interest in the past seemed to have ulterior motives other than helping our kids. For many of them, it just seemed to be another media maneuver. I can’t allow our kids to be subjected to that. But, as I say, if the right person were to step up, we would welcome their involvement.
PHENOMENON: You sound a little jaded on the celebrity issue.
GLEN: Maybe. I just put the welfare of kids first, above anything else. And as I’ve said, no celebrity has stepped forward with a GENUINE interest in helping us. It isn’t about us approaching them; it’s about someone having the courage to step forward and help us without fanfare or notoriety. I’m not holding my breath. Call that jaded if you wish.
PHENOMENON: Where is THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and the PROGENY system itself based?
GLEN: For reasons of security, THE ENDANGERED CHILD INITIATIVE and PROGENY operate in a virtual environment with core functions based in The Netherlands. But we work in many countries around the world. However, the majority of our fundraising is done under the auspices of The Endangered Child Foundation in The Netherlands.
PHENOMENON: In what parts of the world are you operating?
GLEN: The bulk of our work so far has been focused in the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus countries, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia. However, we now hope to starting to establishing our presence in South Africa, and also in Central and South America. It’s all reliant on funding of course.
PHENOMENON: In terms of the future, what do you most wish for?
GLEN: First of all, I really believe that we will never know or be able to handle the enormity of this problem—this epidemic—until we create a tangible record of each and every endangered child out there. I know that sounds like an impossible task. But even if we came close, or recorded half the kids in need, we’d be ahead of the current system that addresses the problem with statistics. These are KIDS not statistics. They’re little people with hearts and souls, and they don’t know why the world has forsaken them. If we create records for each of them, like we do with PROGENY, we can begin to de- fine positive destinies for them, one child at a time.
I also hope that we can bring more and more awareness of the enormity of this vile industry to the attention of the general public, and get more people involved in the fight against the exploitation of children worldwide. We need to step up and try to reduce the enormous populations of homeless children in so many of the world’s inner cities. But to do this, we also need the help of other non- governmental organizations to merge information and resources in a centralized system. There’s no need, however, to reinvent the wheel. We’ve already established the architecture by building PROGENY itself. It’s a fully-scalable, highly-efficient system that can be adapted, expanded, and upgraded. Of course it would be amazing if we could get governments to actually step up to the plate, bypass their bureaucratic and political machinations, and actually DO something concrete to help us rid the world of this scourge.
PHENOMENON: Do you think that will ever happen?
GLEN: I’d like to remain optimistic! We welcome associations with governmental agencies so long as there are no strings attached. But private philanthropists and corporations can provide the best support, and can really make a difference to the plight of endangered children. I’d rather stay small and effective than hand over control to the inept machinations of government agencies in order to get larger funding most of which would be allocated to the wrong things.
PHENOMENON: To most people, this issue seems so pervasive and on such a large scale that it seems insurmountable. It all seems so mind-boggling! And yet you are obviously of the belief that one person can make a difference.
GLEN: Yes, one person can make a huge difference! People need to believe that they really can make a difference, and come forward, and help us actually do something about this insidious evil in the world. It’s one thing to go on television, or hold press conferences, and talk about the issue like so many celebrities do. But it’s really about taking action. People need to get a backbone and start fighting for kids. We cannot continue to ignore this horrific pandemic. Children rely on us. They trust that we are there for them, that someone cares. We are often their last resort.