End Human Trafficking

The month was April, the year 2008. I was in Brazil with my mother, learning more about her work and that of World Childhood Foundation, the organization with which she was associated. During our visit, we toured a community outreach facility located in the midst of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. The volunteers were attempting to educate and engage Sao Paulo’s poor, children and adults alike, in order to protect them from the pervasive effects of Brazilian organized crime. Specifically, they were working to protect children and young adults from the unseen horrors of the human sex trade.

For many Americans, sex trafficking is a non-issue. As a nation, we’re generally ignorant of the fact that more than 1 million children enter the sex trade every year and that human trafficking (both labor and sexual) is a $32 billion international industry. I find these numbers nauseating. Sex slavery is one of the fastest growing and most heinous criminal industries in the world, and every day we ignore its existence, it gets stronger.

In order to combat the sex trade, the world must first be informed of its existence. Widespread sexual trafficking plagues nations like Belarus, Albania, Nigeria, India, China, and Thailand. For instance, in India an estimated 2.3 million girls and women are involved in the sex industry, and according to the United Nations, 40 percent of those prostitutes are under the age of 18.

These are the numbers the world must see. In order to incite the grass roots, anti-trafficking movements vital to the sex trade’s demise, the average citizen must know the industry’s full breadth and width. If the sex trade remains hidden in the shadows, citizens will have no reason to take action.

To effectively combat trafficking, however, informing people isn’t enough. To truly combat the trade, communities must educate and engage with the industry’s most vulnerable targets: families and young children living in poverty. In order to protect these people, charitable organizations and local communities must work together to keep them off the streets. Organizations like World Childhood Foundation have been working for years to do just that. World Childhood stresses the importance of supporting small, non-governmental organizations that work to deter trafficking at its roots. Keeping poor children and families off the streets, and giving them homes, jobs, and an education, may save millions from sexual bondage.

Beyond efforts to inform the world’s populace and support local charitable organizations, changes must be made at industry and governmental levels. Codes of conduct such as ECPAT and the United Nations Global Compact offer industry leaders the opportunity to publicly express their commitment to combating human sex trafficking. These codes of conduct are especially important for the travel and hospitality industries, both of which are used heavily by the sex trade, because they give employees in those industries the tools to both identify and call attention to possible cases of sex trafficking.

At the governmental level, more nations must agree to outlaw sex trafficking and decriminalize trafficking victims. Furthermore, governments across the world ought to follow the United Nation’s lead in defining the inviolable rights of every human being and protecting those rights to the best of their ability.

Sex trafficking is a major international issue. In a world built on speed and accessibility, the trade is thriving. In order to bring these crimes to light and save millions from slavery, nations across the world must act to inform their citizens, support grass-roots organizations, and work together via international compacts and treaties.

According to the International Labor Organization, at least 1.4 million people are currently “victims of commercial sexual servitude,” and as stated, UNICEF estimates that over 1 million children enter the sex trade every year. I cannot stand idly by as millions suffer. They need our help. With international cooperation, their prayers will be answered.