Yes, it’s going on–right under our noses. Worldwide, more than five million kids have been bought and sold, forced into prostitution, or made to work at grueling, dangerous jobs with little or no pay. Many of them are right here in the United States. There have been reports of human trafficking in all 50 U.S. states (Trafficking in Persons Report, 2011). The U.S. is a source and transit point for trafficking and is considered one of the major destinations for trafficking victims. This sickens me.
Trafficking of children is a grave violation of their rights, robbing them of their childhood, their well-being, and the opportunity to reach their full potential. No country is untouched by human trafficking as a source, transit point, or destination.– Dr. Susan Bissell Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF
But, when I think of trafficking, I think of young girls being forced to be sex slaves. While that is true in many cases, kids are also being sold into labor trafficking. This can occur in restaurants, bars, tourist industries, and in janitorial and agricultural work. Other areas include begging rings, traveling sales crews, and domestic servitude. Even the products we buy in our everyday lives may have been harvested or produced by the victims of child trafficking. There are 128 “worst offenders”— goods that are most commonly produced by child labor or forced labor. Some goods that have the highest rates of child labor are: gold, sugarcane, coal, cotton, rice, tobacco, cocoa, diamonds, garments, coffee, bricks, carpets.
Active in child protection in more than 150 countries, UNICEF is the primary UN agency focusing on the rights of children and approaches trafficking as a serious violation of these rights. UNICEF works closely with governments at the national and local levels to combat child trafficking. Here’s how you can help:
- Find out how the work of exploited people has a direct effect on your life. Visit the Slavery Footprint website to take an online survey that helps you determine how many slaves touch the products you buy. Through the site’s action center and mobile app, consumers are invited to take action and call for ethically sourced products.
- Support policies that protect victims of trafficking. Ask your senator to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (S. 1301). Visit volunteers.unicefusa.org/advocate for a sample letter.
- Write an article about human trafficking for your local newspaper or community blog. Don’t feel comfortable writing it yourself? Write to the editors of the paper and ask them to do a piece on it.
- Visit President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C. The “Can You Walk Away” exhibit is open year round. Admission is free.
- Volunteer in a professional capacity. Because modern-day slavery touches all of our lives in some way, you have a role to play no matter what your line of work is. Do pro bono legal work, promote products made by survivors with your marketing skills, use your athletic platform to engage fans on the issue, or create an artistic piece to raise awareness about human trafficking. The possibilities are endless.
- Walk for freedom. Join or organize a walk in your city to raise awareness about human trafficking. For more information on how to organize a walk, visit forsakengeneration.com/about/freedomwalk/.
- Petition the President of the United States. Ask President Obama to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This international treaty recognizes that children are not possessions, but people who have human rights. Visit unicefusa.org/advocate to learn more.
- Switch to Fair Trade brands. Fair Trade-certified products are produced without slave or child labor. Profits from Fair Trade products support farmers and laborers involved in production and ensure that they are paid fairly and work under safe conditions.
- Purchase products made by survivors of human trafficking. From jewelry and handbags to lotion and soccer balls –purchasing survivor-made products helps to support sustainable employment and rehabilitation programs for survivors. Start shopping. Visit polarisproject.org/take-action/raise-awareness/buy-productsmade-by-survivors
- Advocate for state laws addressing human trafficking. Visit polarisproject.org/what-we-do/policy-advocacy/state-policy. Advocate for victims by visiting change.org’s human trafficking petition page.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you as part of my ongoing commitment to the Global Team of 200. All opinions are my own.