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Beauty firm to fight child sex trafficking

The Body Shop helps local Beyond Borders group

By: Lindor Reynolds

A Winnipeg-based organization that fights against the sex trafficking of children is about to receive a major financial boost from a multinational beauty company.Beyond Borders, a volunteer-run group founded by Winnipegger Rosalind Prober, is the Canadian beneficiary of an international campaign The Body Shop is launching today.

The company is giving Beyond Borders six dollars out of every $10 tube of Soft Hands Kind Hearts hand cream sold in Canada.

"This is amazing," says Prober, who is in Toronto today for the campaign launch. "We're still so grassroots. We're completely volunteer-based. We've got no office, no telephone bills. We're going to have a lot of money to do a lot of good."

The campaign came about because Prober and her volunteer board haven't got a lick of shyness among them.

In 2006, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick was honoured at the University of Manitoba's IDEA dinner. A Beyond Borders board member who was a volunteer for that fundraiser, approached Roddick and spoke to her passionately about the blight of child sex tourism internationally.

Roddick, whose company built its reputation in part on its global activism, embraced the cause.

"This is a two-fold approach," says The Body Shop director of values Shelley Simmons. "Yes, of course the fundraising is critical but raising awareness of the issue is just as critical."

The Body Shop campaign will be formally launched in 60 countries on Aug. 3.

In each country, local organizations linked to the international association ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) will benefit. Beyond Borders is an ECPAT affiliate. Prober sits on its board.

"You've got people fighting on a local level, changing legislation," says Simmons of Beyond Borders. "We can change awareness. This is a very uncomfortable issue for some people. I think this awareness is very important for our customers."

Beyond Borders was instrumental in seeing Canada's age of consent raised to 16 and to having Internet luring written into the Criminal Code.

Trafficking in persons was introduced to the Criminal Code in 2005. It includes recruiting, concealing or facilitating the exploitation of a person.

There have been three successful prosecutions in Canada. None were in Manitoba.

"It doesn't necessarily mean you have to move them," says Prober of the law. "It's taking control of them so you can make money from them."

There are an estimated 400 children and youth in Winnipeg being used in the sex trade.

"In Winnipeg we have this vulnerable group, we have a drug culture and a gang issue and we have a demand."

The Body Shop campaign will also benefit Cambodian Somaly Mam's non-profit organization. Mam, who was sold into sex slavery at 12, fled her home country but returned to fight the trafficking of women and children.

She has been brutalized for her activism, facing death threats and assaults. In 2006, her then-14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and raped by brothel owners.

A percentage of the sale of cotton bags and gift boxes in every The Body Shop outlet globally will go to Mam's foundation.

Prober says her Winnipeg-based organization is proceeding slowly with its plans for the money raised. While The Body Shop refuses to predict how much each ECPAT group will receive, it's likely in the hundreds of thousands over the course of the three-year campaign.

Beyond Borders has hired its first paid employee to effectively distribute the funds.

"The vast majority of the money we raise will be going back to sexually exploited children," says Prober. "It may be something like paying to have a tattoo of a pimp's name removed from a girl's hand. On a local level we want to help trafficked children transition into a life that would not be possible without a helping hand.

"Some trafficked kids, the ones who don't end up face-down in a ditch face all sorts of barriers to working toward a normal life."

She admits she's still stunned by the support of The Body Shop.

"It's beyond belief to me that a corporation would put this much effort in helping ECPAT fight the sexual exploitation of children."

One tube of hand cream at a time, Prober plans to spread the message and save children across the country.