Let My People GodCanada has been named as a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking and child sex tourism. We can do something about it.
I thought slavery had been abolished with the end of the Atlantic slave trade and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. But two years ago, I came across a book called Be The Change, written by a 15-year-old abolitionist. His message compelled me to act.
Fifty percent of all trafficking victims are children, some as young as five years old.
Worldwide, 27 million people are enslaved, and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually. Fifty percent of all trafficking victims are children, some as young as five years old. The UN reports that 79 percent of human trafficking is for the commercial sex trade. According to the RCMP between 600 and 800 persons are trafficked annually into Canada and another 1,500 to 2,200 come through Canada destined for the U.S., some as young as 12.
Canada has been named as a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking and child sex tourists. And Canadian women and girls—a disproportionate number of them Native—are forced into prostitution domestically.
Gone are the chains and leg irons we traditionally associate with forced labour and slavery. Traffickers use addiction, coercion, violence and the threat of violence to force people to work for very little or free, and to limit or deny their freedoms. People from poorer circumstances are transported, domestically and across international borders, with promises of work and a better future. (Kidnapping is common, and Liam Neeson's recent movie, Taken, is an example of traffickers methods.) Documentation is stolen, the promised job doesn't exist, victims may not speak the language, and they're trapped. No one holds a gun to victims' heads—they don't have to. Traffickers have become sophisticated and, with the involvement of organized crime and street gangs, their threats of violence are real and actionable.
Traffickers use social networking sites such as Facebook to target underage victims. They pose as music promoters, boyfriends and model scouts, and then use Craigslist personal ads to sell their victims' services. UBC professor Benjamin Perrin, Canada's leading human trafficking expert, stated that the annual profit from a single trafficking victim is $280,000. Human sales and trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal trade in the world behind drugs and firearms, and is gaining ground. With guns and drugs you profit from one sale; with a girl you can repeatedly make a profit by selling her online. Imani Nakpangi was convicted in a Brampton, Ontario, court of forcing two girls into prostitution. One of his victims, a 15-year-old, claimed to have earned $360,000 for Nakpangi.
Micro-brothels can be found in every major Canadian city—in upscale condo units, massage parlours and spas. Victims of forced labour can be found on farms, fishing boats and in homes (domestic workers such as housekeepers and nannies are common victims). Any of these may have been falsely promised work or marriage, been lied to, stolen from and denied freedom. This is the picture of modem-day slavery in Canada.
So what can we do? Two simple things: Get informed and then act.
There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn about a group already dedicated to ending slavery. Some of these initiatives are faith-based; some are not. Some are grassroots and others are large-scale. The choice allows everyone to get involved. Here are some places to start:
Loose Change to Loosen Chains is a student-led initiative created by Zach Hunter, the I 5-year-old abolitionist I first mentioned. He says anyone can change the world.
Love 146 is named in honour of one little girl trapped in prostitution whose rescuers did not arrive in time to save. Her tenacity inspired the founders to work harder to free children trapped in the sex trade. She's known only by the number pinned to her red dress: 146.
Not For Sale says, "It's time to show the world that slavery exists amongst us." They have posted an interactive map of forced labour/slavery cases in Canada. Check out www.slaverymap.ca to see if your city is on the map.
International Justice Mission has a Canadian branch in London, Ontario. Invite an IJM speaker to your church, donate, volunteer or organize a fundraising event. IJM sends investigators and lawyers to rescue victims and prosecute those involved in trafficking. They also provide rehabilitation and education to those they rescue.
The Salvation Army Church is working in Vancouver in connection with the Olympic Games and has opened a secure shelter for victims. Learn more about their work at www.thetruthisntsexy.ca.
The Future Group was founded by Benjamin Perrin and is dedicated to eradicating child prostitution.
Get creative! Host a benefit dinner. Put up an information table at a summer festival. Organize a tournament, concert or art auction. Have people sponsor you to "give up" something or gather some friends and have a Freedom Fast. Pray.
Four men from Manitoba biked through the Rockies; a Christian school in Michigan had a Run for Justice; students at McMaster University started a Campus Chapter with IJM and staged a demonstration to highlight the relentless nature of the sex trade in women and children. I began a summer reading challenge with the school-age children at my church. We had church members and family sponsor them for 50 cents a book and raised over $100, which we donated to IJM.
Finally, make other people aware of the problem. Lamont Hiebert, of the band Ten Shekel Shirt and cofounder of Love 146, encourages people to influence others where they live and work.
Hiebert uses his musical platform to inform. Zach Hunter speaks at dozens of events every summer. His goal is not to make people feel guilty, but to give them something tangible they can do to change the world. What is your area of influence? Can you share the message with your church, at your workplace or school, or take this on as a family mission project?
Every life saved, every successful prosecution, is a victory. What will you do?
Lisa Hall Wilson is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three children in London, Ontario.
Originally published in testimony, April, 2010.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2010 Christianity.ca.