Lives for Sale

The first thing you see when you walk into the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is an enormous semi-circular window of sweets and chocolate. Positioned high above the rest of the museum the chocolate presides temptingly over the chatter and giggles of dozens of playing children. And as you get closer you find out what the display’s really about…

As I approached the Lives for Sale display, the first thing that caught my eye was the large black and white photograph of a beautiful African boy above the question ‘Does chocolate make everyone happy?’ Now, I know that the answer to that question is no. But it is elegantly and simply explained through useful reference to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and through the personal story of a young fifteen year old boy, Suah, who was trafficked from his home in Burkina Faso to a cocoa farm on the Ivory Coast.

Suah’s testimony reads ‘I am a child who wants to make it on my own. My sister is a widow and I know how hard it is for her because I spent most of my life as an orphan. I sympathise with her and I don’t want to lean on her.’

I couldn’t believe what I’d just read. I read it again, three, four times. This was not the simple, didactic message I was expecting to find in a museum whose displays and collections target a nursery and primary school age group. This was possibly the most subtle, thought-provoking and complex perspective on child trafficking I have ever read. I admired the display’s bold approach.

Suah’s words allowed me to think about the dire circumstances that surround trafficked children and their families, their need to work, the morality of child labour far removed in the face of crushing poverty. This quotation enabled me to more easily understand the environment in which a trafficking racket becomes possible, and this made the horror of the reality that little bit more real.

The display is ideal for school groups and families to visit, and offers a brief but engaging nugget of awareness about human trafficking within the beauty of the surrounding museum. Visit as soon as you can!

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