Lisa Ling Addresses The Often Ignored Perils Facing Girls Today

Journalist Lisa Ling is a perfect example of what a modern woman can accomplish when afforded the chance to realize her full potential. Highly intelligent and talented at her profession (she reports for everything from National Geographic Explorer to The Oprah Winfrey Show), and brave and determined while getting the story (she recently went undercover in North Korea), Ling began making full use of her skills and opportunities when she was 18 and became one of the youngest reporters for Channel One News, and then rose to become the network’s senior war correspondent before the age of 25.

But while Ling and many other women of our new century are able to live the full lives they desire, there are still many girls and young women throughout the world who either don’t have these opportunities, are too afraid to recognize their talents and dreams, live in circumstances that prevent them from advancing, or all of the above.

It is such situations that the intrepid Ling is covering in her new series of documentary specials on Oxygen, titled Who Cares About Girls? The specials address various topics as they look at just how the world — including our own country — treats girls.

The first episode premieres March 25 and is called Mothers in Prison — And the Daughters Left Behind.

“The little girls we spent time with,” says Ling about this episode, “their mothers were in [prison] for a long time. Honestly, it’s so heartbreaking, because women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, and 70 percent of those women have kids. Really, we’re punishing the little girls, because when a woman’s arrested, her kids are taken away from her. That inability to communicate on a regular basis with their mother, and then to hold that burden of not being able to talk about it — it’s unimaginable to me.”

And without communication between mother and daughter, it seems likely that the child herself could become a criminal, as Ling points out.

“They say that a child of an incarcerated person is five times more likely to end up in prison themselves. [That’s why] I was so impressed when I hung out with the Girl Scouts for those few days.”

Ling refers to a segment of the special in which she investigates the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program in Bedford Hills, N.Y., which allows girls to spend time with their mothers at the prison. “I hope we can generate more publicity for what they are doing,” she continues. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Another upcoming episode is called Hidden Away: Slave Girls of India, a powerful frontline look at the battle against child labor and prostitution. Here, Ling tells the stories of young girls who have been forced into labor as both domestics and sex slaves, including a 19-year-old ex-prostitute who is now an activist working to end child servitude and embarks on dangerous raids to rescue girls held captive in this horrific world.

“I was really surprised,” Ling says, “about how pervasive child labor is in India. They estimate that there are 60 million kids who are working as indentured servants. That number is bigger than a lot of populations in Europe. One of the pleasant surprises was these little girls who were rescued and rehabilitated — how strong and determined they are to help other little girls.”

Ling also has ideas for future episode topics she would like to cover.

“One of the things that I’m hoping to do … right now, unfortunately, war is a part of our lives. And what we don’t realize is that war is having such a tremendous impact on little girls both here in this country, but also in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here in this country, girls lose their parents because their parents are deployed overseas — and so many mothers are deployed overseas. But also in Iraq, there’s no security anymore for little girls. So girls who used to walk safely to their school every day are now in danger of being raped and killed. So it’s taking an extreme toll on little girls there.”

All of these and the other episodes will feature advocacy component, of which Ling is proud.

“After all of these shows we’re going to have a full list of organizations and actual things that people can do to help or to get more information.”

And it’s this help and information that can stir the beginnings, here and abroad, of making the world a safer place in which future Lisa Lings can thrive.