Magdalen-asylumThere’s major news this week from Europe involving government compensation for slavery survivors. Ireland has formally apologized for decades of slave labor inside laundries run by Catholic nuns.

The notorious facilities, known as the “Magdalene Laundries,” have been described by ABC News as “virtual slave labor camps.”

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued an apology Tuesday night to 10,000 women and girls who were sent to work without pay in the laundries, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Some women were sent by state authorities and institutions through contracts, simply because they were unmarried, came from broken homes or were abused, according to the BBC. Others were sent for petty crimes such as forgetting to pay a train ticket. There were 10 laundries with government contracts between the years of 1922 to as late as 1996.

The women toiled behind locked doors, unable to leave, and while the laundries were paid, the women and girls received no wages, according to the BBC.

Kenny apologized during a speech in parliament, two weeks after an official 1,000-page report expressed the suffering the women and girls endured in the laundries. In his apology, he said they deserved “the compassion and recognition for which they have fought for so long, deservedly so deeply.”

He said their experiences had cast a “long shadow” over Irish life and that it had been “humbling and inspiring” to meet them.

“For 90 years Ireland subjected these women, and their experience, to a profound indifference,” he said. “By any standards it was a cruel and pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in mercy,” according to the BBC.

Along with his apology, Kenny offered a government-funded memorial to remember the victims, and a compensation package to 800 survivors who are still alive. This package includes counseling services, healthcare and individual cash payments.

“He didn’t hold back on anything, he really did us proud,” Maureen O’Sullivan, a Magdalene Laundries survivor, told the Irish Times. “Now we can get on with our lives, now that we have an apology and they’ve taken responsibility.”

The Magdeline Laundries have been the subject of numerous exposes, a documentary and even a movie.

Students at Tutuka school proudly display their certificate of participation | FTS photo

Students at Tutuka school proudly display their certificate of participation | FTS photo

Could you answer this question: Which country was the first to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty establishing civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children?

Many middle school kids in Ghana know the answer. That’s because it’s one of the questions in a school quiz competition on slavery.

Also, it’s because the answer is Ghana!

I was lucky enough to watch seven schools compete in the quiz semifinals late last year. The competition was organized by one of our frontline partners in Ghana, the Social Support Foundation (SSF).

SSF spent months visiting schools around Obuasi, an area where child labor and sexual exploitation are rampant in the informal gold mining sector. Children learned about Ghanaian and international laws on slavery, different forms of slavery, root causes and how to address them.

The information empowers children and parents to know their rights and make smart decisions about their health and education.

Many children are required to work in Ghana's informal gold mining industry

Many children are required to work in Ghana’s informal gold mining industry | Photo: Robin Romano for Free the Slaves

Children in the region are in precarious situations. Many are forced to work in dangerous mines, carrying heavy loads and handling mercury to extract gold from ore. Many more are at high risk of entering the mines.

Young girls who sell food and water in the mines by day often find themselves sexually exploited at night.

“When we go into the schools and talk to them about slavery and the rights they have as children, we find so many that are in terrible situations and want to leave,” SSF Program Coordinator Joel Boakye Mensah explained to me.

“We counsel them individually, and encourage them to form support groups,” Joel said.

The school quiz competitions allow children to show what they have learned in an exciting and friendly atmosphere. I was very impressed with their level of knowledge.

They knew the definition of illegal child labor. They knew why slavery exists. They would shout the answers during the quiz: “Poverty!” “Vulnerability!” They could name the Ghanaian government agencies responsible for responding to and preventing slavery.

Quizmaster prepares for championship broadcast on radio. | SSF photo

Quizmaster prepares for championship broadcast on radio | SSF photo

I was honored to present students with prizes at the end of the semifinals.

But the competition didn’t end there. Six schools went on to compete in a championship round, broadcast by radio station Shaft FM.

Joel emphasized the radio program’s success, noting the show reached Ghanaian residents in 11 districts.

Many listeners called to say they appreciated how informative the program was.

You can learn more about FTS projects in Ghana on our website.

You can also find factsheets, teacher’s guides and historical timelines to create your own quizzes for students.

And a big shout out to the winner of the Child Labor and Slavery Awareness Quiz Championship: Adumanu Junior High School. Congratulations!

SSF staff with students from the winning school | SSF photo

SSF staff with students from the winning school | SSF photo


Slavery in this Week’s News

We see slavery and trafficking stories throughout the world each week. It’s great news that journalists and bloggers are exposing the problem of slavery, and examining solutions to it. Awareness creates momentum for change. Here are 10 top stories that caught our eye:

1. The Indian Tribune. “Over 60 million child laborers in India!”

2. Enough Project. “Apple Makes New Pledges on Conflict Minerals, Should Begin Clean Congo Sourcing Program.”

3. The Examiner. “Likely girl trafficking victims are instead becoming young leaders in Nepal.”

4. Thomson Reuters. “The Word on Women – Transporting bras to aid sex-trafficking survivors.”

5. The Examiner. “World renowned sculptress Cybele Rowe to partner with Free The Slaves (Photos).”

6. The New York Times. “Seeking Redress for a Mother’s Life in a Workhouse.”

7. The Times of India. “Hewlett-Packard directs its suppliers to limit child labor in China.”

8. All Africa. “Congo-Kinshasa: Girl Child Soldiers Face New Battles in Civilian Life.”

9. Ghana Business News. “NGO rescues 111 Ghanaian children from slavery in 2012.”

10. News OK. “Nonprofit head: Oklahoma delegation should work to end human trafficking.”

capitol rotunda inside architect of capitolThe U.S. Senate has reauthorized the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s efforts to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It happened on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, no less.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proposed that the TVPA be attached as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act yesterday morning. Senators approved Leahy’s amendment by a vote of 93 to 5. A short while later, the Senate approved the combined bill with another strong bipartisan vote.

“We’re delighted that the TVPA and Violence Against Women Act could pass the Senate together, because gender-based violence and modern-day slavery are often closely related,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg.

“Reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) sends important signals worldwide. It says that the United States is still committed to ending human trafficking at home and abroad. It tells those in slavery that they have a partner in the American government and the American people. It tells traffickers that we haven’t lost our resolve,” Middleberg says.

Senate approval came after a rapid and comprehensive mobilization of anti-trafficking supporters throughout the country. Many organizations, including Free the Slaves, sent action alerts to get supporters to phone, e-mail, tweet and petition their senators.

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy

It worked. Thousands of people signed a petition or contacted their senators to let them know that fighting slavery is important to voters. Senator Leahy helped marshal Democratic support.

“Today is February 12, the day on which Abraham Lincoln was born,” Leahy said in a public statement. “It was 150 years ago that he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and it would be fitting that the Senate pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act on his birthday.  Although the 13th amendment to our Constitution was ratified long ago making slavery illegal, we continue to fight human trafficking,” he wrote.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) helped rally Republican votes.

“We applaud Senators Leahy and Rubio for their bipartisan leadership and commitment to ending modern-day slavery,” says David Abramowitz, Director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking ATEST and Vice President for Policy & Government Relations of Humanity United.

“We urge the House of Representatives to show similar bipartisan cooperation to move a bill quickly to a vote and onto President Obama’s desk,” Abramowitz says.


Senator Marco Rubio

The president has indicated he will sign the bill.

The TVPA was first passed in 2000 to authorize a wide range of federal action to combat slavery at home and abroad — from prosecuting traffickers, to providing shelter for slavery survivors, to preventing vulnerable people from enslavement in the first place.

It must be reauthorized every few years.

Now, it’s onto the House. Free the Slaves will need to demonstrate public support for the bill to House members, just as we did in the Senate.

Thanks to everyone who helped move TVPA through the Senate.

Stay tuned – we’ll let you know when it’s time to mobilize again for final passage in the House.

gI_90929_Lincoln ChairThese days, we’re used to the image of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a marble chair – at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. But another Lincoln chair is about to capture the public’s attention.

It’s the bentwood Hickory chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he learned that he was nominated to run for president. It’s being auctioned on eBay, along with a dozen documents handwritten and/or signed by Lincoln, and other documents signed by Frederick Douglass, William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant.

Bidding for “The Ultimate Lincoln Collection” begins at $1 million – and Free the Slaves has been chosen to receive 10 percent of the final sale price. See the official press release here from History You Can Own.

“We’re offering a unique opportunity for collectors with a passion for history,” says Seth Kaller, a leading expert in rare historic documents, “beginning with the chair in which Lincoln was sitting when he received the telegram that he had won the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.” This was his favorite seat at the Illinois State Journal, where Lincoln often went to watch the news come in via the newspaper’s telegraph wire, Kaller says.

A detailed description of the collection can be seen on Kaller’s website. It’s one of the most comprehensive collections of Lincolniana in recent memory. It includes a first edition of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and his 1858 letter opposing the Dred Scott decision, in which a slave sued for his freedom but lost in one of the most infamous cases in U.S. Supreme Court history.

“This collection has several items of great historic and personal importance,” says Dr. James Cornelius, curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.


The timing of the auction is tied to the 85th Academy Awards. The film Lincoln is nominated in several categories, including best movie, director and actor. Kaller is guaranteeing delivery of the Lincoln chair and documents to the winning bidder in time for an Oscars party. Dr. Cornelius hopes the items will eventually be donated by the winning bidder to the Lincoln library.

Recognizing that slavery still exists, Kaller wants a portion of the auction proceeds to go to an organization that is helping to finish what Lincoln started. Kaller was introduced to Free the Slaves by historian Ron Soodalter, co-author along with FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales, of the book The Slave Next Door.