Missionaries as Human Traffickers?

by Laura Parker on December 8, 2012

If you’ve read here for any amount of time and clicked on a few links, you’ll know that I am passionate about the injustices of modern day slavery. You’ll have read that my husband has been an undercover investigator into brothels and that we now work full-time promoting rescue efforts in SE Asia.

Which is partially why when I read a recent article equating missionaries with human traffickers my skin bristled and my temperature started to rise. 

In the article, a human rights activist, Matthew McDaniel, is interviewed about the long term effects the missionary community has had on a particular cultural group in Thailand called the Akha. McDaniel, who has since relocated to the US with his Akha wife, advocates on behalf of this particular hilltribe group. He talks about the “business” in Thailand of missions organizations taking children from impoverished villages for the purpose of education or religious indoctrination, while raising funds on the premise that children are orphaned or trafficked, which in many cases is not factual. He talks about the financial gain which organizations often make from their stateside donors because of this type of marketing and communication and the irresponsibility of removing children from their local culture to raise them in a largely Western one. He writes,

“Might I add that the mission enterprise of removing Akha children is a three legged stool. The parents don’t know that their children are advertised as orphans or abused by the missions to the US and other churches nor that the missions collect a lot of money for this, which is far beyond what it would take to feed the entire family in the village together. The church people don’t know the real situation for the Akha in the villages or how they came to be at the mission and how the finances work. Only the missions know both stories and keep them carefully segregated. Under UN regulations to move a person from one point to another for exploitation and or financial profit by MEANS of DECEPTION is human trafficking. Thus missions qualify as human traffickers.” 


“Well, after I left the rate at which they took children from the Akha villages accelerated greatly. Now it is in the thousands of children. It is very big business, as it brings a huge cash flow to the missions, the children are the bait for that money, but little of the money ever goes to the villages or defends their culture and language.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t believe in taking kids away from their parents and destroying their culture and language.”   – Matthew McDaniel

And while you can find the entire article here, just the above quote is enough to spur a conversation here about the way we do missions. And while I am not claiming to agree hook-line-and-sinker with McDaniel’s perspective or statements in the interview, I think he raises excellent points that we here at A Life Overseas don’t want to shy away from

because hard questions and honest conversations lead to more effective ministries.

And, so, the floor is open. Read the article (or don’t, it’s long, fairly one-sided and there’s lots there, again, that we are not claiming to agree with), browse the below questions, and tell us about how you’ve seen some of these concerns played out in your area of the world. Remember, it’s okay to disagree with each other or with the material. The entire point of controversial posts like this are to “stir the pot” and get us engaging on ways we might be doing (unintentionally and maybe with excellent motivations) more harm than good.

  • Should a Christian organization ever remove a child from his/her native culture? Even for the purpose of spiritual teaching?
  • Are missions organizations abusing the terms “orphaned” and “trafficked” in an effort to raise more money?
  • Are most missions organizations concerned about the anthropological effects of their efforts?
  • Is it ever okay to hold the promise of education (or rice or benefit or job-training) in front of the impoverished like a carrot, in order to achieve our own goals of sharing our faith, or, worse, raising more money?
  • When a group removes a child from a village, under the premise of education, but with the underlying motivation to teach them about Christianity (or to raise more funds for their organization), is that, indeed, a form of human trafficking?
 – Laura Parker, Co-founder & Editor, Former aid worker in SE Asia
blog: LauraParkerBlog   |   twitter: @LauraParkerBog     |   work: TheExodusRoad
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog, http://www.LauraParkerWrites.com.

Previous post:

Next post: