Editor’s Note: An op-ed by Free the Slaves Director of Programs Karen Stauss was published over the weekend by the Huffington Post, in a special section they called “Slavery Sunday.” Here is her commentary and photos from a recent visit to our frontline projects in India.
The brick kilns of Uttar Pradesh, India are more than 7,000 miles from Capitol Hill in Washington. But for years, they have been linked by a groundbreaking piece of American legislation.
That law is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), passed by Congress in 2000. It has established the U.S. as a world leader in the fight to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery, at home and abroad.
The TVPA has helped many people escape brutal abuse. It’s a beacon of hope for millions who are still trapped in bondage.
But the TVPA must be reauthorized every few years. And sadly, Congress allowed it to expire at the end of its last session. It’s the first time that has happened. Without the key piece of authorizing legislation in place to guide America’s global anti-slavery effort, the path to freedom for those in slavery is in jeopardy.
I was thinking about the future of the TVPA as I met slavery survivors in Uttar Pradesh a few weeks ago, just days after the last Congress was gaveled to a close in America. The TVPA had helped these villages move from slavery to freedom.
They had been enslaved because they borrowed money from an unscrupulous brick kiln owner. They were forced to work for him only, for as long as he wished, and they were charged staggering amounts of interest to ensure they could never pay off the debt. Whole families – including children – were forced to work. They were threatened with violence if they questioned the situation.
Debt-bondage like this is illegal. It’s slavery. But it happens throughout the world. And the stakes are quite literally life and death. One man told me that the brick kiln manager killed his eight-year-old son after a petty dispute about access to clean drinking water at the worksite.
The U.S. government provided funding to educate these workers about their rights and organize as a group. They made a decision together that would have been impossible for any of them to make alone: they all decided to escape. The survivors have been provided with a legal advocate and I was told that the brick kiln manager has been charged with murder.
This has been happening in village after village in India. Education leads to freedom. We’re not talking about slapping up a few billboards. It’s real community organizing (President Obama knows what that is). It requires spending time with extraordinarily vulnerable people to establish trust, identify leaders and build their self-confidence. It’s remarkable what happens when people marshal their innate power and join forces with their neighbors.
This type of initiative is innovative in the remote corners of Uttar Pradesh. But it isn’t expensive. And under the TVPA, the U.S. State Department has funded similar projects around the world.
What happens after people break free is a big part of the story. When people begin to stand up for their rights, their villages begin to benefit in many, many ways: better schooling, better health care, better nutrition, a better local economy. Residents in freed villages help slaves in neighboring communities, spreading freedom.
The people of the United States have supported this investment in freedom through the TVPA.
Congress must reauthorize the act to preserve America’s role as a key participant in the growing global movement to abolish slavery in the 21st century. It speaks well of our nation that the thing we value most – freedom – is something we help others achieve. It’s unthinkable that we would stop – that we would tell the next village in slavery that America can’t help.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz will headline a free outdoor concert in Myanmar this weekend to raise awareness about modern-day slavery and trafficking.
His performance at the base of the Shwedagon pagoda in People’s Square in Yangon is believed to be the first international concert of its kind in Myanmar, according to the Associated Press (AP).
He tells the AP that he has three goals: “educate, empower, engage.”
Jason has been a global ambassador for the modern abolition movement ever since he accompanied Free the Slaves frontline activists in Ghana on a child-slavery rescue mission.
His tearful account of meeting child slavery survivors was captured in the FTS video “The Journey of the Freedom Song.”
“I thought this (slavery) was something that was abolished when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” Jason recently told the AP. “But all it did is become hidden from our view. So I signed on, lent my voice, lent my music to the cause.”
Jason performed the “Freedom Song” at the 2010 FTS Freedom Awards in Los Angeles, backed up by energetic singers from the Agape Youth Choir.
Jason hosted a major anti-slavery concert in the Philippines last year, and now he is bringing his unique spirit of optimism to Myanmar, listed by the U.S. State Department as a Tier 3 country in the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, meaning it is one of the world worst hotspots for slavery.
“I’m going there with an enormous amount of gratitude and respect, and I hope we can actually make a difference,” Jason told the AP. “I hope it’s also a testament to the songs. I’ve always wanted my songs to be about healing and self-empowerment.”
Sunday’s Myanmar concert is being organized by MTV, and it will be broadcast internationally next year. It’s funded by the Australian Government’s Agency for International Development (AusAID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Walk Free, a global movement to end modern-day slavery; and produced in partnership with the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the United Nations Inter-Agency Project Against Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
FTS co-founder Kevin Bales is in Myanmar now for the show. Watch the FTS blog for his notes on how things went!
If you’ve ever wondered how pervasive slavery is in the modern world, you should check out today’s Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department. It chronicles the scope of slavery country by country around the globe—literally from A to Z, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
“The TIP report is a vivid reminder that slavery is happening almost everywhere, including the United States,” says FTS co-founder Kevin Bales. “It will take a global movement, and global leaders, to end it.”
The theme of this year’s report: “The Promise of Freedom,” commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States. The report was presented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery,” Clinton said. “Today it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery.”
Clinton noted how far the world has come since the days when slavery was legal, but noted how far we have to go. She did not shy away from using the “S” word during her remarks at the State Department in Washington.
“Labeling this for what it is, slavery, has brought it to another dimension.” she said. “There is no mistaking what it means, what it does.”
The State Department’s top anti-trafficking official says the report shows there’s been progress.
“As long as the Trafficking in Persons Report is needed,” said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, “we will find in its pages account after account of traffickers peddling false hope. But that’s not all that we find in the pages of this report. Because every year that passes those false hopes are overtaken more and more by real hope. The real hope that the modern abolitionist movement provides.”
The TIP Report not only identifies the extent of slavery in 186 countries and territories, it rates the efforts of individual nations to confront this human rights abuse. This year 30 countries have been doing a better job and received better ratings, according to State Department analysts. They said 15 countries have slipped in their efforts and were downgraded.
“An important contribution of the TIP Report is its balance,” Bales notes. “It shines a light on the problem of forced labor slavery as well as sex trafficking. It’s vital to fight modern slavery in all its forms, because everyone in slavery today deserves to live in freedom.”
A report does not end slavery, but the TIP Report is viewed by activists as an important tool.
“Excuse the pun here, but the TIP report is the tip of an iceberg,” Bales says. No single report, or national government, can end global slavery on its own. But the TIP Report serves as call to action for our president and Congress, as well as for other world leaders, to continue to mobilize resources and political willpower to make the eradication of slavery a worldwide priority.”
You know that fighting slavery is catching on with students when it’s getting attention from MTV! The network’s college channel, mtvU, has launched a new campaign this semester to tap into the growing student movement to end slavery. The goal: make it easy for young people to take action.
The mtvU Against Our Will Campaign will spotlight student actions and connect students with ways to get involved. Free the Slaves is one of three organizations that advised mtvU on crafting the campaign.
“Students are a powerful engine for social change,” says MTV President Stephen Friedman, “and mtvU is proud to give them a national megaphone.” The campaign was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative annual conference in New York today.
The mtvU channel broadcasts to dining areas, fitness centers, student lounges and dorm rooms on more than 750 campuses, reaching nearly nine million U.S. college students. If you aren’t on campus, you can see campaign public service announcements and short video features online.