Walking Merchandise

Ethan Downing

Walking Merchandise tells the story of five children who are sent by their families from China to the US, accompanied only by human smugglers known as snakeheads.

The snakeheads use various methods to get the kids to the West. They may employ the use of stolen or altered passports, improperly obtained visas and fake tour groups as a way to beat immigration. It’s big business for the snakeheads, which each child fetching as high as US$70,000.

Following their arrival to the United States, they work for years in poor conditions for less than minimum wage, in order to pay off smuggling debts as high as $100,000. They have no say in their families’ decisions to send them to work and live on their own, thousands of miles away from home.

Five children speak out about their experiences, from their homes in Fujian China to restaurants from Rhode Island to Alabama. As they recount their experiences, they are joined by social workers, attorneys and journalists with intimate knowledge of the children’s stories, and the global forces that have brought them to America.

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