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China, UNICEF Join Hands to Protect Girls

A few hours after she was trapped by human traffickers, Chen Jing was able to see through their plot, sought help from police and escaped.

The 15-year-old girl from Renshou county in the outback of the southwestern Sichuan Province told Xinhua in an interview Tuesday that a booklet had taught her how to tell devils from the kind-hearted and how to help herself in case of emergency.

The booklet, which tells in simple words and vivid pictures how rural girls should protect themselves from human traffickers, is compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), All-China Women's Federation and the Ministry of Public Security and is provided for free to country girls like Chen Jing who want to find a job in cities.

"I sensed danger when I was escorted to a train with an unknown destination, and was told they would keep my documents and money for me -- the booklet says human traffickers always do that," said Chen.

The alert girl managed to borrow a cell phone from a stranger, reported to the police and was saved before the train started.

"I just followed the instructions in the booklet, and was lucky to survive," said Chen, who has just found a job as housemaid for an urban family in Chengdu.

Figures suggest more than 10,000 women and children in China fall in the hands of human traffickers each year, and country girls who dream of city life are often preys of the outlaws.

"I've often read about human trafficking from newspapers, but have never thought I'd become a victim," said one of the recent victims, a 16-year-old girl.

The Chinese government joined hands with UNICEF in 2002 to protect women and children from human traffickers in Renshou County. The self-help booklet, entitled "Xiao Fang, a country girl in town", was just one of a series of textbooks on how to escape from the outlaws.

"The booklet mainly targets girls aged from 15 to 18 and has been included in the textbooks for secondary students in Renshou County," said Hu Xiuqin, an official with the provincial women's federation.

Renshou, an agricultural county with about 1.6 million people, reported more than 2,000 human trafficking cases between 1995 and 2000. Most victims were rural women between 16 and 30 years old and a marked proportion of them are schoolgirls because an average130,000 minors join the job hunters each year after they finish junior high school.

"A job in the city is the top option for most of the youngsters, who are forced to quit school by poverty or failing grades," said Hu. "The naive girls easily fall into the hands of human traffickers and are later sold to remote areas as wives to complete strangers."

The self-help booklet has listed tricks frequently used by human traffickers, relevant laws and regulations and cases for the youngsters to draw lessons from, says Christian Voumard, a UNICEF official in China.

In another development, UNICEF has cosponsored a training program with the women's federation to train country girls from Renshou County as hotel waitresses and housekeepers.

The first 20 trainees, all aged from 16 to 20 and have only finished junior high school, started a six-month training Tuesday to learn etiquette, standard Mandarin and hotel services in order to qualify for jobs at star-level hotels in the provincial capital Chengdu.

The training will not just qualify the country girls to work in cities, but will help them build confidence, protect themselves and get involved in various social activities, says Wang Daming, a project official with UNICEF.

(Xinhua News Agency June 2, 2004)

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