Walking Merchandise: Examing the Dynamics of a Child Trafficking System
By Juliette de WolfeEvery year, Chinese human smugglers, known as "snakeheads," use transnational, illicit networks to transport adults and children from China into the United States. Migrants pay these snakeheads astronomical fees, and are subject to exploitation and brutality in the course of their journeys, as well as retribution upon themselves and their families should they be unable to pay. "Walking Merchandise" is a short documentary that explores a dark, unknown secret in America: children smuggled from China and left to work in restaurants to repay debts of $90,000. These children are sent to the United States by their own families, accompanied only by international smuggling criminals. Once they arrive, they are responsible for paying back an enormous debt, oftentimes in extremely exploitative and dangerous scenarios.
Ethan began researching the organizational structure of the snakeheads as part of his graduate thesis in the M.S. program in Conflict Resolution and Negotiation, and decided to create a documentary to help raise awareness about the issue while finishing his degree (funded in part by an interdisciplinary fellowship from the Earth Institute and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity). He is nearly finished with the principle photography, and is currently trying to raise $10,500 for production and post-production costs.
While the United States is already grappling with wide-sweeping immigration problems, this particular topic brings the issue to deeper levels of legal and moral ambiguity, as Chinese children are sent to the United States by their own families, accompanied only by international smuggling criminals. Once they arrive, they are responsible for paying back an enormous debt, oftentimes in extremely exploitative and dangerous scenarios.
His hope is that through examining the dynamics of this system, and presenting this information to as large an audience as possible, we may foster a greater awareness of the subject among policy makers and the population at large.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask by sending us an email, or find out more at www.snakeheadthefilm.com!
The Walking Merchandise Team
*Walking Merchandise is funded in part by Columbia University's Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity.
Project location: New York, NY