- Tony Kirwan was working as an electrician in north Queensland when he quit his lucrative job to establish Destiny Rescue in 2001
- His goal is to remove up to 800 kids from sex slavery and human trafficking in 2014
- Mr Kirwan’s focus is on Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and India
- He says there are currently 27 million men, women and children held as slaves around the world
- More than one million children are trafficked each year, or one child every 26 seconds
- His team now works undercover with anti-trafficking police, rescuing children, making arrests and closing brothels
- Human trafficking is reputed to be the third biggest industry in the world, believed to be worth upwards of $99 billion to those involved
He’s the Australian aid worker who gave up a lucrative business as an electrician in Queensland to save children from the sex trade across Asia.
In just over 10 years, Tony Kirwan, 43, has overseen the rescue of more than 2000 people from sex slavery and human trafficking, most of whom are placed in care programs by his charity, Destiny Rescue.
Even though they have successfully removed up to 100 children from brothels and dozens more from slavery – he’s far from satisfied.
‘We’re a lot better than we were and we are always finding quicker ways to get the kids out of horrific situations,’ said Mr Kirwan, who now is based in Thailand.
‘It’s not an easy process, it’s not as simple as walking in there taking a child by the hand and walking out, unfortunately.’
He says the involvement of families and planning what to do for the young boys and girls going forward, is all part of an often tricky process.
Destiny Rescue team members are now directly involved in raids by anti-trafficking police across several parts of Asia, leading to the arrest of brothel owners and the closure of their businesses.
‘Our vision is to end child slavery in our lifetime. If we want to change that, we need more people to come on board.’
Currently they focus primarily on Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and India but the plan (see graph) is to extend the program, with clear goals set. Children they’ve removed from predators have been as young as five.
His colleagues tell how Tony’s grand plan is a triumph of the human spirit but he says it had its beginnings from a very spiritual moment.
‘One day I had lunch with a mate of mine and, for whatever reason, we got all deep and meaningful,’ he said.
‘For me, it was a real God moment and the first time I thought I had to be hands on.’
A trip to Cambodia with his father ‘opened my eyes’ to the overwhelming level of poverty. He and his young family packed up and made the move to Thailand where he and his wife volunteered at a mission.
While there, they were told a story by a man who’d been visiting Bangkok and was openly offered very young children for sex for $400. That was the moment, according to Tony Kirwan.
‘It really hit me and I knew I had to do something,’ he said and so began Destiny Rescue.
Tony Kirwan plans to have Destiny Rescue operations in place in several more locations within the next two years
One of Destiny Rescue’s recent success stories has been Srey Toun, who was 15 when removed from her Cambodian village.
Srey, an only child, was raped at knife-point in her family home. Her parents approached the village chief, only to find out her attacker had bribed the town leader and no action would be taken. Worse, to try and make the problem go away, villagers insisted that she should marry her attacker.
‘Out of shame to her family, Srey tried to commit suicide,’ Mr Kirwan added.
‘Her family were destitute but her aunty had heard about Destiny Rescue and asked us to help.
‘She didn’t want to leave but had little option.
‘It’s not an easy process, it’s not as simple as walking in there taking a child by the hand and walking out, unfortunately’ Tony Kirwan says a detailed plan is needed before and after a person is rescued
‘We help rescue the sexually exploited and enslaved, restore the abused, protect the vulnerable, empower the poor and are a voice for children that can’t speak up for themselves,’ says Destiny Rescue President, Tony Kirwan
Many of those saved by Destiny Rescue have gone on to start their own businesses
‘Three years on, she has finished her Khmer language studies, completed a course at sewing school and is married.’
Srey now has a small sewing business in Phnom Penh and employs four other ‘Destiny’ girls.
‘When I was in my village I was a nasty, angry girl, and Destiny has taught me about a lot of things,’ Srey said.
‘It has taught me how to talk, how to be strong and respect.
‘Other girls should know that can face their problems, to stand up, be strong.’
The UN reports that ‘every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims’
Mr Kirwan says the reasons for children being sold into slavery or taken into prostitution are varied, ranging from poverty to gambling problems, as well as a lack of education or abuse at home.
Identifying and then removing the child is just the first phase of the Destiny Rescue operation, ‘the challenge after that is trying to give them some semblance of a normal life’.
Destiny Rescue is setting a goal of 100,000 rescued children by 2020