Free the Slaves’ U.K. partner Anti-Slavery International estimates there are over 1.8 million people living in slavery in Pakistan. Canadian NGO SOS Children’s Villages recently sited an Asian Human Rights Commission report highlighting the enslavement of Pakistani children: “a possible 20,000″ disabled children forced to work as beggars; children trafficked to the United Arab Emirates.
Last month, a breakthrough of sorts happened in Pakistan, when the country’s Minister for the Interior, Rehman Malik “admitted” to the National Assembly that the government remains “unable to fully control the menace of human trafficking” within its borders.
Since 2009, thousands of people have been arrested in Pakistan for human trafficking. But an estimated 40,000 people pass through the Torkham border, leading into Afghanistan, without “logging in and out.”
In neighboring India, it is estimated that millions of people live in slavery. Bonded labor is rampant in many parts of the sub-continent. Recently, CNN covered the groundbreaking anti-slavery work of Free the Slaves and our frontline partners in India. (FTS’ Free a Village Build a Movement campaign creates sustainable, generational change by eradicating the root causes of slavery—and helping survivors become economically self-sufficient, and vigilant against traffickers.)
In response to CNN’s coverage of FTS’ anti-slavery work, India’s Labor Minister Prabhat Chaturvedi gave an interview saying that there was no slavery in India. He refused to use the term “slavery” to describe the phenomena of millions of men, women and children laboring—sometimes for generations—to pay off debts.
Despite Chaturvedi’s denial, debt bondage is recognized as a form of slavery by the United Nations. As with all kinds of slavery, it comes with violence—the threat of it, and the actualization of it. The aforementioned Veero, a survivor of bonded labor, told Free the Slaves:
“We were treated like animals. Anyone who refused [to work] was beaten up. The slaveholders hired men armed with guns and axes, and they guarded us the entire day.”
Veero’s courage to walk away from her enslavement was sparked when the slaveholder wanted to use her daughter for sex. She escaped, and walked in the dead of night to the nearest town. The police would not help her at first. So she staged a three-day sit-in. Eventually, the police relented, and helped free her entire family.
State legislatures across the country are considering legislation to combat human trafficking last week. In the Empire State, Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Senator Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) sponsored a bill to extend New York’s Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking through 2013. The task force was established, in 2007, to implement “harsher penalties for human traffickers and provide assistance to victims of prostitution and involuntary labor.” The renewal of the task force’s mandate is crucial to the continued fight against trafficking in the U.S. because so many of the victims trafficked into the U.S. each year enter through New York. According to a recent report from the U.S. State Department “[o]nly Texas, California and Florida have higher occurrences of human trafficking than New York.” Read more in the Legislative Gazette.
Down South, Representative Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) after a request from Governor Bobby Jindal is proposing a bill in the Louisiana Legislature “that would increase the penalty for those who aid and abet in human trafficking and the child sex trade.”
‘It’s really focused on reaching out to those people who may provide assistance to human trafficking, and it’s similar to what we’ve done with racketeering laws, is you reach out and involve anyone involved in the criminal enterprise,’ said Rep. Leger. ‘It seems that laws around the country are seeking to crack down on this type of behavior.’
While this is a positive step forward in the fight against trafficking in Louisiana, community advocates are calling for more to be done to address this issue. Martin Gutierrez, Director of Neighborhood and Community Services for Catholic Charities, commented:
“I think it’s a matter of identifying the cases and prosecuting them . . . [y]ou can have a bunch of laws on the books, but if you don’t have the cases to apply the laws too, then what good is it?”
In the neighboring state of Texas on Wednesday, both lawmakers and advocates came together at the State Capitol to call for more stringent human trafficking laws in Texas. Greg Abbott, the state’s Attorney General, shared the stories of ‘a 12-year-old child who was found in a strip club totally nude [and a] 16 year-old-girl who hungered for food and desperately needed shelter and was taken in by a trafficker’ with those gathered.
This legislative session, Senator Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) and Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) put forward a bills in the Texas Senate and House to “put into a gear a 2011 Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force report.“ Also, check out Senator Van De Putte discussing her bill here.
FTS President Kevin Bales was featured on CNN’s Freedom Project last week, speaking a little bit about how he became an anti-slavery activist. “[Free the Slaves] ultimate goal is to end slavery on the planet,” Bales says. “I know it’s kind of like putting somebody on the moon, I understand it’s like wiping out AIDS or wiping out smallpox, but if we can’t dream dreams like that, what’s the point of us being people?”
Brazilian anti-slavery activist, and 2008 Freedom Award winner Leonardo Sakamoto runs a popular and influential blog on modern-day slavery, which has been nominated for a Deutche Welle International Blog Award, otherwise known as the BOBs. The award is given to “11 websites in 11 languages that champion the open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression.”
Blog do Sakamoto has been nominated under the category of ‘Special Topic Award Human Rights.’ Voting is open to the public until April 11. To cast your vote, go here, select ‘Blog do Sakomoto’ under ‘Special Topic Award Human Rights’ and register via Facebook and/or Twitter.
Sakamoto is the President of Reporter Brasil, a groundbreaking organization dedicated to rooting out slavery in supply chains, and making companies proven to use slave labor accountable. Reporter Brasil researches and maps out instances of slave labor, and brings this information to the general public, so businesses and consumers can use their purchase power to make slavery unprofitable. For his work, Leonardo was the co-winner of the inaugural Harriet Tubman Freedom Award, given annually by Free the Slaves.
A former journalist who has covered conflicts in East Timor, Angola and Pakistan, Sakamoto uses his media expertise to disseminate stories of slavery and human rights abuses to an international audience through videos, a radio program, and by reaching out to journalists in broadcast, web and print. Blog do Sakamoto, updated almost daily, is closely followed by journalists and activists. It is a rich source of information about labor rights and slavery—and how consumers are connected to these human rights abuses. (The blog is in portuguese—which proves challenging for those of us who can’t speak the language. We’re very grateful for Google Translate!)
Tomorrow, Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales will be on Voice America radio’s ‘Disability Matters’ show, hosted by Joyce Bender at 2pm ET. Bales was a guest on this one-hour show in February, 2010. Hear audio of that interview here. Around the 34 minute mark, Joyce talks about the lack of public knowledge on modern-day slavery—she asks, “Why doesn’t CNN talk about this all the time?”
Since the time of that interview, we are happy to report that CNN has begun to talk about modern-day slavery in a big way. They recently launched the Freedom Project, a one-year initiative in which every CNN show will cover slavery around the world, and show the work being done to eradicate it. Free the Slaves’ work in India was featured in a three-part series during the first week of this initiative.