By Presidential Proclamation, January has been named National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month since 2014. When we think of slavery, we often think of the past, but it is estimated there are more men, women and children enslaved today than any other time in history. CNN’s recent report of the slave trade in Libya sheds light on present-day barbarity. Those who were captured fleeing Nigeria and sold in Libya were hoping to migrate to the U.K. to liberate themselves from bleak conditions in their home country.
Boko Haram, a militant group, is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state. Boko Haram believes in a version if Islam that does not allow Muslims to participate in any political or social activity associated with Western society, such as voting in elections, receiving a secular education or even wearing items like shirts or trousers. Nigeria has become a battleground. Boko Haram bombs churches, bus ranks, bars, military barracks; the police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja, aren’t even safe from their fire.
The Nigerian people who fled their country were living in fear, and their vulnerability has been exploited. But this is not just one country’s problem. This is not a single isolated incident. This is simply the latest modern-day slave trade to make the news.
- In Mali, slavery is found in artisanal gold mines, agriculture, transportation, begging and sex trafficking.
- In Ghana, sex trafficking, fishing and portering (carrying loads for market vendors and shoppers) are among the more common arenas for slavery.
- In Niger, forced labor in mining, sex trafficking and forced marriage are among the most frequent forms of slavery.
- In Senegal, children are organized into captive beggar gangs.
- Women and children from Czechia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Nigeria, the Philippines and Vietnam are subjected to sex trafficking in Czechia, as well as transit through Czechia to other European countries, where they are subjected to sex trafficking.
- Chinese men and women are forced to work in textile factories in Milan, Prato, Rome and Naples.
- Transgender individuals from Brazil and Argentina are subjected to sex trafficking in Italy.
- Mexican women are trafficked to Florida for what they thought would be cleaning or waitressing jobs, but upon arrival their travel documents are confiscated and they are forced into sex work.
- Trafficking has impacted Native communities for centuries, since the earliest point of contact with Europeans. Indians are considered to be one of the most vulnerable targets for trafficking. American Indian and Alaskan Native women suffer sexual violence at the highest rate per capita in the country.
- An estimated 50,000 women and girls are trafficked to the United States every year from around the globe. They are mostly forced into sex work, but are also into the household labor, agriculture, food and care services and garment industries.
Slavery is still a massive global problem. In 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which requires the Secretary of State to report the progress of all governmental efforts to fight human trafficking, according to the act’s minimum standards for the elimination of modern-day slavery, and to list progress in every country.
Some progress is being made, but due to the often invisible nature of these crimes to the majority of the population, it remains overlooked. The United States is a Tier 1 country under the TVPRA, meaning it meets the minimum standards of TVPRA mentioned above, and yet an estimated 50,000 women and girls are trafficked to the United States each year. This number does not include those trafficked from within the United States, so it is a fair assumption that Tier 2 and 3 countries have even larger numbers of trafficked humans. Slavery often exists in seemingly ordinary industries like agriculture, construction, mining, textiles, fishing and hospitality, and most often happens without international travel.
Slave traders and slaveholders target villages and neighborhoods that are impoverished, marginalized and stigmatized. Nigerians, for instance, have been treated like cattle to be bought and sold, as seen in CNN’s harrowing video coverage. These injustices will only cease if there is a clear, strong response to the buying and selling of human beings—more than a Facebook repost, more than a Twitter thread. Like every other social justice issue that came up last year—and there were many—there is often a whirlwind of outrage when these stories break, but little discussion of how the average person can help the cause.
The United Nations has called for an end to slavery by 2030. That would mean many of us would finally know a world without slavery in our lifetime—only if the conversation, marches, activism and support for survivors continues. Here are some ways all of us can keep the conversation going, and take actionable steps towards ending slavery:
- Slavery often exists in seemingly ordinary businesses. If you suspect trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
- Contact your S. Senators and Representatives and tell them to increase funding for the Trafficking in Persons Office of the U.S. State Department to fight slavery on the front lines.
- Volunteer for a local anti-trafficking organization.
- Buy products that are certified fair-trade or come from companies whose manufacturing practices have been independently verified as slave-free. Know the Chain can help keep slavery-tainted goods out of your shopping cart or business.
- Give to programs actively working to end slavery: Free The Slaves, International Justice Mission, END IT Movement, A21, Love 146 and Not For Sale.