It is estimated that there are approximately twenty-seven million literal slaves in our world today – more than the number of slaves kidnapped from Africa over four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Andrew Cockburn, “Twentieth Century Slaves,” (2003) National Geographic, http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0309/feature1/) Of that number, as many as 1.2 million children are forced into slavery each year.
Most of us are surprised to learn that slavery still exists in the world today. Also referred to as “human trafficking” or “trafficking of persons,” this form of modern-day slavery where people are bought and sold and forced into sex, labor and armies is the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, including the United States. With millions of people as victims and over $8 billion in profits (cited by International Labor Organization), trafficking is quickly becoming one of the most pressing human rights issues deserving our attention.
into forced labor in factories, restaurants, or agricultural work
into domestic servitude as a servant, housekeeper, or nanny
as a bride
Humantrafficking.com further explains the two-fold reasoning behind this highly lucrative industry: “1. high profits can be made quickly, with little or no start-up capital, and profits can be derived over a long period of time from the same victims (unlike drugs, which are quickly used up), and 2. despite its criminal nature, the risk of prosecution is usually negligible.”
Using various tactics of physical, psychological and economic manipulation, traffickers pray mostly on those from vulnerable populations who are the easiest to exploit and contain with minimal or no support systems in place. For example, undocumented migrants, at-risk youth and runaways are among those most targeted. Child traffickers will frequently deceive children into trafficking by feigning to be their friend and protector. Other children are sold into exploitation by parents who either naively think they are going to a better opportunity or else are desperate for the money. Trafficking of children can include prolonged labor – 10-15hr work days – in horrible work conditions, forced recruitment to commit violence against their own people as in Africa or, in places like South East Asia, sexual trafficking. According to the United Nations Trafficking Protocol and United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act, any act of sex for profit with a child younger than eighteen is considered sexual trafficking; the average age of children first being prostituted is in their early teens.
A UN-sponsored report stated in March of this year, “In general, trafficking is still perceived as an isolated social and criminal phenomenon that can be addressed separately from other problems. Although we know about the root causes of trafficking… and understand that socio-economic factors are strongly linked to vulnerability to trafficking, this knowledge has not yet been translated into policies and strategies.” (cited from www.genevaglobal.com) Indeed, rescuing children form trafficking will take a comprehensive approach addressing both the various needs of the child exploited (spiritual, psychological, physical, legal, economic/educational and social/familial reintegration) as well as the various social systems involved with the injustice (including political and economic factors).
Nicholas Kristof, observer and writer on this subject quotes “The Lancet,”the British medical journal, as estimating: “The number of prostituted children is thought to be increasing and could be as high as 10 million (worldwide). As to his studies in India, Kristof says: “India alone may have half a million children in its brothels, more than any other country in the world. Visit the brothel district in almost any city in India, and you can meet 14-year-old girls who have been kidnapped off the street, or drugged, or offered jobs as maids, and then sold into a world that they often escape only by dying of AIDS.” (N.Y. Times 22Jan06:WK16, “Slavery in our Times”)
While such grave injustices often seem worlds away from our day to day life, we cannot sit passively by, allowing what could amount to another slave trade like the US-led one in the 1800’s to go down in our history.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. What are your reactions to this article? Were you aware of the modern day slave trade occurring?
2. How do we stir our conscience to large injustices that often seem so distant to us?
3. What do you see as the role of the church in combating such an injustice?
4. If you were a youth worker in a city where there was child trafficking, how would you respond?
1. Child trafficking is a serious global injustice that we need to be aware of and address.
2. Christians are called, like Jesus was, to “preach good news to the poor….to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)