Modern day slavery and its forgotten victims

When I think of slavery, for some reason I think about William Wilberforce, the American Civil War and Rosa Parks.  And then the assumption that follows is that slavery is now well and truly abolished. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be more wrong.

Human trafficking is an approximately USD 60 billion dollar (in profits) industry, with an estimated 2.5 million people trafficked globally (half of whom are children). This equates to half of New Zealand’s GDP and population respectively.

In the past, this meant little to me until very recently when it dawned on me- human trafficking is a form of slavery.  Human trafficking is when people are kidnapped or tricked into a life of prostitution, begging for gangs or other forms of exploitative labour (whether on fishing boats or as live in domestic helpers). Human trafficking is a serious violation of human rights and I recently learned why.

How can we know whether our clothes are being made ethically?

During my time at the Burmese/Thai border this year, I heard harrowing accounts of girls being transported to brothels around the world where, as ‘preparation’ for sex work, they were systematically raped for many weeks so that they were mentally broken and with no will to fight back. Moreover, boys are not immune to sex trafficking either. However, most disturbing was the greater number of minors (under 10 years) being sold into slavery as domestic, live-in helpers, opening them up to sexual exploitation at ‘home’. This may sound like foreign phenomena only to be found in Asia, however, the recent US’ Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 reveals that not only is New Zealand a destination but also a source for human trafficking (ie people are trafficked  from New Zealand).[1]

What can we do as Christ’s family?[2]  Isaiah 58:6 seems to speak to it directly:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

Put another way:

 “By recognizing the task of combating trafficking, you are saying to the world that the suffering and the agony of children and women victims matters, and that there is an urgent need to rescue, assist and empower them. Their lives are as important as our own lives; they must be set free from horrific exploitation.”[3]

At what point should I intervene? When the victim is a Burmese child or when the child is from Porirua, Wellington? My personal journey this year has forced me to combat my personal apathy to ‘real world’ issues.  Justice cannot just be left to the lawyers, and, systematic rapes are not a matter to be discussed only by trauma experts. This is the reality of millions and I can no longer pretend that I cannot see.

I just hope that God’s grace is sufficient for me, that I may see the voiceless and victims as my brothers and sisters, and that I will have a soft heart to remember them in their suffering rather than be blinded by my own apathy.


[1] For information about trafficking in New Zealand, see http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/164233.htm.

[2] To learn more or take part in working against trafficking in New Zealand, visit Justice Acts NZ, http://www.justiceacts.org.nz/

[3] Dr. Saisuree Chutikul, Former Cabinet Minister and Senator, Thailand

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9 Responses to “Modern day slavery and its forgotten victims”
  1. Robyn Chester says:

    Hi Elaine. You make a wake up point that hearing that this may be happening in NZ awakens me afresh to my apathy about the issue of slavery. I can be, and am, affected by the horror of trafficking realities, but what do I actually ‘do’ about it. At this point I don’t do much. I help keep the reality alive by sharing and posting articles or blogs or videos on facebook or e-mails. But is this enough? That is always the quandary ‘what to do?’ Do we give money to assist as we do to others on the coal face making the difference. Sometimes this doesn’t feel enough. the wrong is so wrong. Thanks for your blog (Patty put me onto it via facebook). As an aside – the link regarding information about trafficking in New Zealand http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/164233.htm is not correct it seems. Could you check and repost? I’m interested in reading the article. Thanks. Kind regards Robyn Chester

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