Education and slavery are interconnected. There are 57 million children worldwide who should be in school, but aren’t. About 5.5 million of them are slaves.
This is why Free the Slaves has been asked to join a global partnership of leading organizations that is championing A World at School, a 500-day campaign to accelerate progress towards making schooling universally accessible.
The initiative is being led by former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending the campaign launch in Washington, under the auspices of the United Nations.
Child slaves cannot go to school. Children who are not in school are especially vulnerable to becoming slaves. Schools can be a great vehicle for increasing awareness of slavery both among children and the wider community. We see these realities across all our programs.
A World at School has embraced “zero child labor” as one of its key goals, knowing that child slavery and child labor are fundamental barriers to universal child education. Over the coming months, we will work with A World at School to identify opportunities to more effectively protect children at risk.
The power of education was much in evidence yesterday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to us movingly about receiving textbooks from UNICEF as a boy in the midst of the Korean War. The books let him continue his education. Though his classes were held outside, he remembered that inside the books was an admonishment: “Work hard and give back.”
A World at School has named 500 youth ambassadors. Among those who spoke yesterday were Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, Pakistani girls who were shot on the same bus with Malala Yousafaza. They were equally powerful, amazing and eloquent young women. The Taliban fears educating girls more than they fear bullets, they said. Oppression and servitude cannot persist in the face of awareness and enlightenment.
That is the mission of Free the Slaves, too. To bring children and their parents the knowledge that will protect them from slavery. We will persist in that mission until slavery is studied only in the history books read by children at school.
It isn’t every day that a child slavery survivor from Africa is a featured speaker at a congressional briefing. But this week, Capitol Hill witnessed the award-winning advocate and child trafficking survivor, James Kofi Annan, speaking alongside long time anti-slavery champion Senator Tom Harkin, to address the global injustice of child labor.
The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) and the Child Labor Coalition hosted the panel to discuss how to reduce exploitative child labor, reflect on the progress that grassroots and governmental efforts have made, and promote the international benefits of ending child trafficking.
James Kofi Annan, founder of FTS frontline partner Challenging Heights, opened the discussion by acknowledging that although the U.S. has passed measures to combat exploitative child labor, there is still much work to be done. “We have made lots of progress, but we could do so much more,” James said. He remarked that vulnerable countries like Ghana need the U.S. to pressure their governments by shaming their lax enforcement of anti-slavery laws.
Sen. Harkin said was is honored to be in the same room as James. “I just wish I could duplicate James so we could have a leader like him in every country to end child labor,” said Harkin.
The senator focused his remarks on child trafficking issues found in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. He announced that by 2020, he has set a goal to decrease child slavery in these areas by 70 percent. He has led congressional efforts to pass legislation that would prohibit child labor and the production of goods that promote child trafficking. Although he is retiring, he stated, “I may be retiring from the Senate, but I am not retiring on this issue.”
Also featured on the panel were policy advocates from Solidarity Center, GoodWeave and the U.S. Department of Labor. They highlighted the economic and security gains that could occur when child slavery is abolished.
Solidarity Center Director Shawna Bader-Blau stated that “collective bargaining is a requirement for any long term plan to be successful in creating fair and sustainable labor solutions,” and that it is the “creation of jobs in our partnering countries that drives down poverty, which is the root of many exploitation cases.”
Claude Fontheim of GoodWeave noted that a “long term issue such as child exploitation needs a long term investment.” The Labor Department’s Carol Pier explained that for the government to have the greatest impact, it needs to be “intimately aware of the problems and shortcoming in countries’ labor laws.”
The briefing concluded with encouragement to pass federal legislation to build transparency in business supply chains, encourage corporate accountability, and promote good governance in democracies around the world.
The Jewish people have a special connection to the curse of slavery and to its eradication. At the heart of our history is the Exodus.
“ Avadim hayinu – We were slaves,” the Torah teaches.
At Pesach, we rightly relax and celebrate the freedom we enjoy. But the fight is not over. Slavery persists.
Worldwide, between 21 and 30 million people live in a state of actual slavery. More than half of slaves are in Asia, with another fifth in Africa; and, yes, slavery persists in the United States. More than half of slaves are women and girls. About 25 percent are children. A fifth are sex slaves and the rest are trapped in forced labor.
What does slavery look like? In India, slavery is often debt bondage, where people become enslaved to loan sharks that demand labor to repay a small debt that always grows larger. In Nepal, young, rural women are lured to the city with the promise of a legitimate job but are sent instead to a brothel. In Ghana, boys from poor villages are sold to work on fishing boats. In Brazil, men are promised jobs in the lumber industry in the forests, only to become trapped in slave labor camps. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, girls are forced into so-called “marriages” and boys are required to work in mines.
How can this ancient curse still be upon us today? In a word, the root cause of slavery is vulnerability. Those in slavery overwhelmingly come from the poor, the desperate, the uneducated, the marginalized and the unprotected.
By understanding the cause, we have also learned how to end slavery. Vulnerable communities can be empowered to resist traffickers and slaveholders. Free the Slaves has been working to end slavery for more than a decade in thousands of communities across multiple countries. Based on that experience, we have identified five keys to ending slavery: Educate, Organize, Serve, Liberate and Prosecute.
- Educate: Human trafficking can be stopped by educating community leaders, parents, teachers, clergy and children – what their rights are and how to protect themselves.
- Organize: Communities that organize against slavery are better protected. In thousands of communities, we have organized community groups that counsel their neighbors and stand on guard against traffickers.
- Serve: Increasing access to credit, schools and health care creates a bulwark against slavery; traffickers prey upon those whose lack of access to key services generates a family crisis.
- Liberate: Training and modest investments help local non-governmental organizations and police identify, track, liberate and rehabilitate those who have been enslaved.
- Prosecute: Stepped-up law enforcement is also required. Training, resources and advocacy can help achieve more stringent laws and more assertive application of existing law.
We know this formula works – the challenge is to expand its reach.
Pesach is more than a time for relaxed celebration of long-ago events. It is a time for rededicating ourselves to the cause of freedom. Everyone can contribute. Educate your families and friends. Choose fair trade products that are certified slavery free. Be sure the companies in which you invest have strong policies to prevent slave labor in their products. Advocate with local, state and federal authorities to support strong anti-slavery legislation. Donate to organizations working to abolish slavery.
This Pesach, as you gather with your loved ones to ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” answer, “I am a modern abolitionist.”
When you ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” respond, “We claim the mantle of Moses that is our heritage and we are helping to liberate those who are now slaves.”
When you ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” proclaim, “We are part of the joyous work of freedom.”
When you ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” say, “Because this Passover we commit to the covenant of freedom, not only for ourselves but for all who are in bondage.”
Then that night will be truly different.
April is an important month for many faith communities, with Passover and Easter coming soon. So I’d like to encourage you to join us at Free the Slaves in reflecting on the important connection between faith and freedom.
If you belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, you have probably been called to take a stand against the existence of slavery. For those of you who are looking to take action through the lens of your faith, I am excited to announce the launch of a new Free the Slaves engagement campaign: Faith in Action to End Slavery.
Our Faith in Action webpages provide resources and activities for faith leaders, congregants and individuals looking to serve as representatives for the mission of Free the Slaves. Download one of our two new toolkits, The Jewish Legacy for Freedom and Sundays Against Slavery, and be on the lookout for more coming soon. These resources provide tangible and simple ways to make an impact by becoming part of the global anti-slavery movement.
People of faith were instrumental in building the moral consensus that led to slavery being outlawed worldwide. The job now is to eradicate modern forms of this crime against humanity.
“If there is one abuse that offends our conscience in every way, it is the enslavement of a human being,” says Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. “No child should be born without hope; no person should live without freedom.”
We can end slavery if we all act together. At my home this Passover, when asked why is this night different than others, we will reply: “We claim the heritage of the exodus, and we commit to help liberate those who are now in slavery.”
I hope you will make a similar commitment. During the coming holidays, please show your support by making a gift to Free the Slaves in commemoration of Passover or Easter. We can’t end slavery without you. Every gift counts. We are deeply grateful.
Slavery is probably not something you associate with MTV. But think again. MTV has been running an awareness-raising project about slavery: MTV EXIT. The network is helping combat human trafficking through innovative campaigns to inform young people.
The newest initiative is in India, a country with the highest estimated population of people in slavery in the world today (14 million). MTV EXIT has released a docudrama series to expose injustices endured by these trafficking victims. It’s called TRAFFIC: STOP.THINK.ACT.
By using real-life case studies, MTV EXIT is targeting India’s educated urban youth “to inspire them to take a moment from their lives, open their eyes and look around and question the injustice.” The goal is to mobilize young people to stand up and say “no” to modern-day slavery.
The program features five episodes, each on a different form of trafficking. “These are stories from our neighborhood and our cities and happening in homes, beauty parlors and factories near us,” says series presenter Anurag Kashyap. “These are stories happening behind the closed doors and walls around us. We are a part of these stories because we are the consumers who demand cheap labor and cheap sex.”
Former Free the Slaves fellow and Indian trafficking expert Vithika Yadav worked with MTV on the series to ensure the stories reflect the reality of slavery in India today. You can visit the Free the Slaves India webpage to learn more about slavery in India, our projects to end it, and how you can help.