James Kofi Annan | Photo: Romano for Free the Slaves

Readers of the FTS Blog may remember the heroism of Ghanaian slavery survivor James Kofi Annan. He received a 2008 Free the Slaves Freedom Award for his work to rescue children from fishing slavery, as well as his work to educate children to prevent the spread of slavery.

Now, James has been nominated for a World’s Children’s Prize. The award promotes children’s rights and global educational programs. Candidates for the prize are nominated by children aged 10 to 18 throughout the world. Then, kids vote for who will win. The online ballot box is now open. Voting ends on October 1st, 2013.

James certainly deserves the nomination and hopefully he’ll win the prize. He lost his childhood at age 6. James’ parents sold him into slavery because they felt they could not afford to feed or school him. He worked under horrible conditions in fishing villages from sunrise to sunset. He was barely fed and hardly had any shelter.

At age 13, James escaped. He befriended children in a school and used their books to learn to read. He worked to feed himself and put himself through school, eventually earning a master’s degree. He became a banker, but decided to leave banking to work full time helping free kids from slavery.

“By rescuing others, I feel I’m rescuing myself,” James says. “I feel that I’m correcting the injustice that was done when I was young.”

James’ organization is called Challenging Heights. It operates a rescue shelter for more than 60 children and a school for 700 students of different ages, and helps communities organize to resist child trafficking.

“James is a passionate advocate for children and dedicated to ensuring that no child ever ends up enslaved as he was,” says FTS Ghana Manager Christy Gillmore. “He understands the root causes of slavery and works to empower communities and children to protect themselves from slavery. He brings children home and makes sure they never go back.”


In another development, James has been selected as a “Change Leader” for an organization called Reach for Change. The group promotes social entrepreneurship as an instrument to advance children’s rights. They support “passionate, result-driven, competitive and involved” people who give their voices for change for children.

James certainly is that. Congratulations to James on his recent honors.

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. Wired. “Child Labor, Environmental Destruction, and Dangerous Working Conditions: Is Small-Scale Mining Really So Bad?” http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/child-labor-environmental-destruction-and-dangerous-working-conditions-is-small-scale-mining-really-so-bad/

2. The Daily Mail. “Widow accused of keeping household servant virtually a prisoner in her New York mansion for 5 1/2 years goes on trial.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2289864/Widow-accused-keeping-household-servant-virtually-prisoner-New-York-mansion-5-1-2-years-goes-trial.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

3. The Times of India. “Congress walks-out on human trafficking.” http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-07/bhopal/37530563_1_minor-girls-girl-children-home-minister

4. The Times of India. “High court seeks report on child labour, missing children.” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/High-court-seeks-report-on-child-labour-missing-children/articleshow/18839870.cms

5. The Wall Street Journal. “SEC Says “Conflict Minerals” Rules Mandated by Congress.” http://blogs.wsj.com/corruption-currents/2013/03/06/sec-says-conflict-minerals-rules-mandated-by-congress/

6. The New York Times. “Global Slavery, by the Numbers.” http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/global-slavery-by-the-numbers/

7. The CNN Freedom Project. “Pimps hit social networks to recruit underage sex workers.” http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/05/pimps-hit-social-networks-to-recruit-underage-sex-workers/

8. Charisma News. “Congress Sends Human Trafficking Bill to Obama.” http://www.charismanews.com/us/38499-congress-sends-human-trafficking-bill-to-obama

9. Blumenthal.senate.gov. “Blumenthal, Cornyn, Carter, Maloney Introduce Bill to Fight Human Trafficking.” http://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-cornyn-carter-maloney-introduce-bill-to-fight-human-trafficking

10. The Huffington Post. “Underground Trade Part Six: The Shame (of Human Trafficking).” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phillip-martin/underground-trade-part-si_b_2789219.html

Obama signs TVPRA 2013 Marina Colby ECPAT

President Obama signs TVPA | Photo: Marina Colby, ECPAT USA

President Obama put his signature Thursday onto the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s anti-slavery activities.

Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was included in the renewed Violence Against Women Act. The combined bill passed Congress with bipartisan support in February. The bill signing was attended by hundreds of activists, government officials and tribal leaders.

“Today is about young women like Tye, who was brought into the sex trade by a neighbor when she was 12 years old,” the president said in remarks prepared for the bill signing. “

“Tye was rescued with the help of an organization led by trafficking survivors. Today, she’s enrolled in college. She’s working full-time to help at-risk girls stay out of the sex trade. Couldn’t be prouder of her. So proud of her,” Obama said. “So with this bill, we reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help more girls turn out like Tye. That’s what today is all about.”

The president’s signature on the TVPA ends a multiyear struggle to win reauthorization for the law. It is now in force until 2017, according to the White House. But it’s important to note that a blueprint for action is not a budget. The anti-slavery movement will need to mobilize again when it comes time for federal appropriations.

Please stay tuned. We will likely need you to call, tweet, Facebook and e-mail your Congressional representatives again. Your involvement has made this happen. Thanks for your support.

And thanks to Marina Colby of ECPAT USA for sharing her personal photo of the bill signing!

tubman smallEarly March includes two key dates that remind us of the importance of women in the struggle for human rights.

Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global observance of the contributions made by women who are working to improve the political, social and economic status of women throughout the world.

Sunday, March 10th is the day that an inspiring American woman died, one of the bravest, selfless heroes of the anti-slavery movement: Harriet Tubman. This year is the 100th anniversary of her passing.

School kids learn the name Harriet Tubman in high school history class.  She was born into a family of slaves in Maryland around 1820. At age 6, she was “rented out” as a house servant to neighbors. She suffered many years of abuse at the hands of slaveholders.

Tubman could not read or write, but she knew what she wanted — freedom. In 1849, she escaped to the free state of Pennsylvania.

Tubman could have spent the rest of her life in safety. Instead, she went on a daring quest to rescue other slaves, utilizing the network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman returned to slave states in the South again and again, helping her own family and many others escape to the North. With each treacherous trip, she risked being captured or killed. She became one of the Railroad’s best “conductors.”

“No transit system ever devised could possibly surpass the ‘Underground Railroad’ for sheer nobility of purpose,” says historian Ron Soodalter, co-author with FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales of The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.  “And no ‘conductor’ demonstrated greater courage and commitment to freedom than did Harriet Tubman,” Soodalter says.

As Tubman herself said, “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She’s credited with guiding over 300 slaves to freedom.

Today, Tubman’s legacy continues to inspire. It’s more than a chapter in American history. It lives on in the work of slavery survivors throughout the world who are now guiding others to freedom. You can see some of them on the FTS website — recipients of the Free the Slaves Harriet Tubman Freedom Award.

This is an important year of historic anniversaries. We’ve already been commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This month, we note that the work of Harriet Tubman is part of the historical record of anti-slavery accomplishments that should never be forgotten.


Many women in Nepal’s restaurants, dance bars and massage parlors are forced to have sex with customers. Photo: Peggy Callahan for Free the Slaves

Nepali officials have begun their first-ever systematic investigation of sex slavery inside Kathmandu restaurants and dance bars.

It’s raising hope that safety and freedom can be established for women who are secretly exploited and sexually harassed by owners and clients.

About 50,000 women and girls work in restaurants, dance bars and massage parlors in Nepal’s capital. Free the Slaves research has shown that nearly half of these workers have been forced to go out with customers or have sex with them at work.

In so-called “cabin restaurants,” known for their small private booths, women must satisfy customers’ every need behind drawn curtains. Many women told researchers that they were not allowed to quit.


Cabin restaurants are known for small booths where customers exploit waitresses when the curtains are drawn. Photo: Peggy Callahan for Free the Slaves

In January, authorities conducted their first systematic inspections of entertainment venues, accompanied by representatives of FTS frontline partner organizations Shakti Samuha and the Alliance Against Trafficking Women and Children in Nepal (AATWIN).

Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a regulation against sexual harassment at entertainment venues in 2008.  Employers must pay the minimum wage and post a notice about worker rights.

But many establishments have ignored the ruling. It has required ongoing pressure by Nepali civil society organizations to get government officials into the streets to enforce the law. Activists have challenged government officials on live TV, and have even staged a sit-in at government offices to demand action.

The pressure has worked. The investigations are a major breakthrough, according to FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann.

“These initial inspections send out an important signal to the owners that authorities are ready to intervene,” Baumann says, “as well as showing the workers that their organized pressure on the authorities can get significant results.”

You can learn more about FTS projects in Nepal, as well as see the inside of a notorious “cabin restaurant,” in our documentary Turning the Tide: Fighting Slavery in Nepal.