Invisible Chains: Modern-Day Slavery & How You Can Help
Your parents accept immediately. You pack your few belongings, and travel to the city.
He may take you to a brothel, repeatedly rape you, and threaten to hurt your family if you do not work for him.
He may take you to his home and force you to work as a domestic slave. This imprisonment will include regular beatings and possibly sexual abuse.
He may take you to a factory to make rugs, matches, shoes, or some other item; you will labor in horrific conditions, with little food, hardly any rest, and no pay.
This is the story of millions of children across the world. This is the face of modern-day slavery.
A hidden, dangerous, and profitable business, slavery has become a widespread epidemic—and people of all ages and backgrounds must intervene now in order to end it. Gary Haugen, a Christian abolitionist, writes in his book, Good News About Injustice, “When it comes to seeking justice in a world of vulnerable men, women and children, all of us are privileged to play a role. As with all of the good works at the core of God’s priorities, this is an all-hands-on-deck proposition.” Even Christian teenagers here in America can fight slavery—but only if they are aware of its existence.
Most Americans believe slavery is extinct; they see slavery as a Civil War era crime that belongs only in history books. Little do they know that there are 200,000 slaves in America today, and almost 18,000 are trafficked across its borders each year. David Batstone, author of Not For Sale, reports that “attorneys from the US Department of Justice have prosecuted slave trade activity in ninety-one cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation.”
Slavery is illegal everywhere, thus making it harder to identify and prosecute. And unlike 18th and 19th century slavery, color and race do not affect a trafficker’s criteria; the vulnerable, weak, and poor are most susceptible. Batstone tells us that “of those individuals extracted out of impoverished countries and trafficked across international borders, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.”
Why is slavery so prevalent today? There are several reasons. The world population has tripled since World War II, making resources and jobs scarcer, and poverty a widespread issue. The potential for vulnerability swells with the amount of destitute minors available.
But poverty is not the only reason slavery is at a crisis point today; Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to combatting human trafficking, says that “While poverty and inequality are important factors in making certain populations more vulnerable to being trafficked, they are not the primary cause of trafficking. Trafficking is a criminal industry driven by 1) the ability to make large profits due to high demand, and 2) negligible-to-low risk of prosecution. As long as demand is unchecked and the risks for traffickers are low, trafficking will exist regardless of other contributing factors.”
Trafficking is rarely prosecuted correctly; even in the United States, ignorance causes the government to incorrectly judge a trafficking crime as an illegal immigration crime. Traffickers bring children illegally into the states, force them to work in brothels, fields, or restaurants, and when the government intervenes, the children are imprisoned, or sent back to their country. Now more destitute and vulnerable than before, these former slaves, who often are addicted to drugs or so mentally shackled they can’t imagine a different kind of life, find the nearest brothel and return to their former lives.
The government is beginning to crack down on traffickers and their cohorts; in 2008, congress passed an anti-trafficking bill that will help local authorities prosecute traffickers.
- --Pray. The greatest service we can give to those in slavery is to pray for them. As Samuel said to the Israelites in 1 Samuel 12:23, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” Gary Haugen reminds us that “God calls on his people to pray about situations of injustice. In praying for victims, every one of us can participate in what He is doing to help them. In the mysterious ways of God, our prayers—the prayers of the righteous—are “powerful and effective” for all those who are “in trouble” (James 5:13-16).”
- --An area where youth have a tremendous impact is in merchandise consumption; as teenage abolitionist Zach Hunter says in his book, Be the Change, “Students have a lot of buying power. Find out about the issues of fair trade by searching online. Make a decision not to buy anything you suspect may be made by slave labor, and support products that are certified fair trade.” Target has a statement that says all its suppliers are fair trade. So does Gap, Inc., which covers Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. To see what other stores are fair trade, visit http://www.chainstorereaction.com/, a website that enables you to e-mail hundreds of companies and ask them whether they are fair trade or not. The website then lets you know if, when, and how these companies respond. According to Kevin Bales, a leading expert on modern-day slavery and author of the excellent book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, “If slavery stops being profitable, there is little motivation to enslave.”
- --Voice your concerns to political officials. It is important to elect politicians who will fight slavery. Our government needs to put pressure on other countries to enforce their laws, because “if the laws that already appear on the books were enforced, the slave trade would end tomorrow.” Sign up for International Justice Mission’s (http://www.ijm.org/) e-mail updates; they will let you know of any upcoming anti-trafficking legislation you should know about, and show you how to contact your representatives and voice your opinion.
- --Give to abolitionist organizations. Although many American teenagers do not have much money at their disposal, a few dollars a month make a huge difference to an organization fighting slavery. Consider giving to World Vision, Polaris Project, Project Rescue, International Justice Mission, or one of the many amazing organizations dedicated to fighting modern slavery.
- --Raise awareness in your community. One of the reasons slavery is so common, is because people think it is extinct. Once they are aware, they are more likely to recognize a situation where slavery/trafficking is involved.
- --Keep your eyes open. Slavery does exist in the United States. It may be in your hometown. If you live near or in California, Florida, or in a large city like Chicago or New York, you may unknowingly see slaves every day. Learn to recognize the signs. Become informed—read what you can about slavery. If you see a situation where you believe trafficking is involved, call 1-888-3737-888, the NHTRC (National Human Trafficking Resource Center).
David Batstone tells us, “There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. It is we who are on the stage, and we can change the winds of history with our actions. Future generations will look back and judge our choices and be inspired or disappointed.”
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens,
to let the oppressed go free,
and that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
your healing shall spring forth speedily,
and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul,
then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.”
Gracy Howard is a freshman at Patrick Henry College pursuing a degree in journalism. She hopes to one day write about modern-day slavery and work to continue to uncover the secrets behind the slave trade. She blogs about her passion for fighting slavery at http://www.forteforfreedom.blogspot.com/.