An estimated 2.5 million people across the globe — many of them children — are victims of modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking. Some are forced into brutal manual labor, while others become captive to the sex trade. Still others are forced to act as soldiers and, in some cases, participate in war crimes. Unbound believes we have a special role to play in combating this epidemic.
Solving a problem begins with understanding its scope. With human trafficking, that is a particularly unique challenge. Some worldwide estimates make no distinction between trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, while others separate the two. The difference is that, while both acts involve coerced and prolonged exploitation, human trafficking also includes the element of displacement. Victims of trafficking are, either by force or deceit, taken from their homes and, often, across borders.
For obvious reasons, criminal exploiters work hard to keep their activities hidden, making it extremely difficult to track traffic between countries. Compounding that challenge is the varying degrees to which nations are willing to cooperate in both providing reliable trafficking data and prosecuting traffickers. But there is another factor that sometimes makes trafficking difficult to identify. Exploitation comes in many forms and is not always easy to recognize. For example, many who work in the sex trade appear to do so freely, but surveys consistently show that a majority of adult prostitutes were sexually abused as minors, which demonstrates that the psychological trauma — and the consequences — of such abuse can endure long after abusers have moved on. The fact that some victims seem to willingly participate in their own ongoing exploitation makes them no less exploited.
Exploitation also often comes in the guise of friendship. To illustrate, in Kenya there are nearly 3,000 agencies that purportedly help impoverished young people find work outside the country. Two-thirds of those are estimated by the Kenyan government to be fronts for human trafficking.
Amos Kihoro is the coordinator of the Unbound youth program in Nairobi, Kenya. An estimated 65,000 of his fellow Kenyans, most of them young people, are now being victimized by traffickers. Kihoro knows what he and others who care about these youth are up against.
“Kenya is not only [a] source but it is also used as a transit, particularly by our polarized neighboring countries,” Kihoro said. “Many have been apprehended while in houses that are poorly ventilated, as they await the “proper time” to be ferried out of the country, hence risking their lives from diseases, dehydration, and hunger.”
Kihoro understands the special threat that traffickers pose for youth who live in poverty.
“There have been many cases of young people being promised well-paying jobs in Asia,” he said. “Some have succeeded in heading out for “greener pastures” only to find themselves doing menial jobs contrary to their expectations, some receiving little payment or nothing at all.”
Once in that predicament, it becomes next to impossible to escape.
Unbound counters these forces by empowering young people with the tools they need — education, hope, and self-esteem — to make them less vulnerable to traffickers. When they are able to rely on their own abilities and skills, and with the encouragement of their Unbound sponsors, these youth are much less prone to the kind of desperation that human traffickers feed upon.
Kihoro explained how sponsorship helps protect young people from victimization:
“Unbound sponsorship prioritizes education, hence ensuring that they do not drop out of school due to school fees. This reduces their vulnerability. In addition, youth mentorship programs, counseling, and empowerment programs help in dealing [with] and resolving other personal struggles that may lead our Unbound teenagers to drop out under the pressure of the promised big job opportunities in Nairobi, along the coast, or in other big towns or countries.”
Big problems can seem overwhelming, and human trafficking is a big problem that must be fought on many fronts. Unbound is working to do our part by bringing light — in the form of empowered and hope-filled young people — into some of the many dark corners around the world where those who would use others for profit lie in wait.