As a new school year begins across the nation, students will once again take up their books to learn about the shameful history of the slave trade around the world. The problem is that the slave trade is far from history. In fact, it is very much the shame of our world today.
Currently, more slaves exist than during the time of slave trade abolitionist William Wilberforce. But unlike in Wilberforce’s day, 80 percent of today’s slaves are women and girls; 50 percent are children.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. State Department came out with its Trafficking in Persons Report for 2011. The report created global concern as nations reacted to their “tier placements.” Most third world countries fell under “Tier 2,” a dubious designation reserved for nations whose governments don’t “fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA’s) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
The report is no surprise to those of us who work to rid the world of extreme poverty. For instance, in the 26 developing nations where Compassion International serves, 19 were placed in the “Tier 2” category. An additional five nations where Compassion serves were on the “Tier 2 Watch List,” a group of “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” according to the report. Only one of the 26 countries found itself in “Tier 1”—meaning it was fully compliant with the TVPA’s minimum standards.
The nature of slavery may differ from country to country—from enslavement in the sex trade slavery to child abduction by rogue military organizations—but nearly all enslaved children share a common trait: extreme poverty. It’s no coincidence that the majority of countries on the State Department’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 of the human trafficking lists are also grossly impoverished nations.
While the trafficking of any human being is grossly inhuman, there is nothing more damaging than the trafficking of children. By destroying the potential of a child’s life, the very future of the country in which that child resides becomes bleak. Nations with high rates of child slavery are compromising their next generation of leaders in business, government, the arts, education and every other area of productive society.
One of example of a nation in the grips of the child sex trade is Brazil. In Brazil, the trafficking of children for sex is at epidemic levels, falling just behind the world leader, Thailand. In Brazil’s poorest regions, mothers, many of whom are stuck in the sex trade, often push their own daughters into the business at age 12 or younger to increase the family’s meager income. Too many Brazilian children learn this twisted sense of normal and grow up having lost forever the chance to just be a child.
Ironically, it is often a sudden economic boon to an impoverished nation that poses an increased threat to the country’s children. Such is the case in Brazil following its selection as the host of both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Even though these events are still a few years away, both have already made sex trafficking a more lucrative business in the country. As people come from all over the world to prepare and enjoy the sports venues, many more will come as sex tourists preying on the country’s young people.
Protecting children in these vulnerable areas of the world requires both a long- and short-term strategy. Most typically, Compassion International takes a long-term strategy by tackling the underlying issues that make child enslavement possible. Prevention through education, care and nurture is how we work to protect all of the 1.2 million children we serve around the world.
There’s still time to do something to protect the children of Brazil. International sports venues don’t have to become breeding grounds of filth and debauchery. Putting food on the table need not include forfeiting childhood and sacrificing his or her innocence. Since sex trafficking is a symptom of the greater, more pandemic problem of poverty the solution to this problem starts by freeing children from the grip of poverty.
It is time for slavery to finally live where it belongs: in the history books.
Mark Hanlon is the Senior Vice President, USA, for Compassion International. Compassion is the world's largest Christian child development organization working to release children from poverty.