UN doctor talks child prostitution at writer’s festival
Thursday, September 24, 2009, 7:55 pm
United Nations healthcare expert Dr James A Levine used this year’s Brisbane Writer’s Festival (BWF) to promote awareness of child prostitution worldwide.
The ‘Looking for India’ session was set to focus on the Western world’s ‘devoted fascination with Indian literature’.
However, Dr Levine took the opportunity at BWF on Saturday September 12 to speak about child prostitution.
“The notion of a father selling his daughter into prostitution is an extraordinary fact of the world all of us live in today,” Dr Levine said.
He also urged anyone in the audience affected by sexual exploitation to seek medical help.
Dr Levine works with the UN on healthcare for women and children in low-income countries but says the issue of sexual exploitation affects every country in the world.
When he was asked to do a reading of his novel, The Blue Notebook, Dr Levine said he generally tries not to.
“The book is written in the voice of a 15-year-old Indian lady and I cannot possibly do it justice,” he said.
“I’m simply honoured to have tried as best as I can to give her a voice.
“I think the mere fact I’m here speaks to the power of a fictional voice on a necessary human condition.”
Literature meets reality
The ‘Looking For India’ panel also included session chair Shay O’Hara- Smith, Canadian author Padma Viswanathan and American author Tania James.
Ms O’Hara-Smith described the book as “fleshing out the inner life of a girl sold in to sex slavery”.
“This book has a purpose – it comes from Dr Levine’s research in this area and his field work in particular,” she said.
Dr Levine’s idea for the novel came from his medical research in India where he was interviewing homeless children on ‘the Street of Cages’ in Mumbai, which is known for child prostitution.
Dr Levine says a young woman writing in a notebook outside her cage caught his attention, inspiring him to write.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimate two million children are exploited in prostitution or pornography every year.
The Youth Advocate Program International, which promotes and protects the rights and well-being of the world’s youth, describes commercial sexual exploitation as consisting of prostitution, pornography, and trafficking for sexual purposes.
“I believe everyone is essentially good … It’s inherent upon all of us to seek out how to tap into it,” Dr Levine said.
“[If we did] the world would be a far more beautiful place.”
Ms O’Hara-Smith also said all of the US proceeds from Dr Levine’s novel will be donated to the International and National Centre’s for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).
ICMEC works to identify and coordinate a global network of organisations fighting child sexual exploitation and abduction.