Aziz heard that his school would be closed for the month. His school, like many others in Uzbekistan, was closed so that the children could work in the fields picking cotton – for no wages, for the government, and in appalling conditions. Aziz knew what he would be doing, but he didn’t know how to stop it. In Cambodia, a young girl named Chamroeun, gets off the bus in the city. Instantly she is bundled into a building. Rather than the promise of vocational school, Chamroeun finds herself trapped in the sex trade. The prosperity that her parents wanted for her was a fantasy.
Both Aziz and Chameroeun were involved in modern forms of slavery. As well as labour and sexual exploitation, modern slavery includes domestic servants who get paid little and have their freedom limited; forced marriage; being forced into a crimes like pick-pocketing or carrying drugs; child soldiers, and organ harvesting. Twenty-one million people, 55% of them women, are trapped in the kinds of slavery listed above. It is marginalised people that are most susceptible to slavery.
In 2012, I met a group of women in Aweil, South Sudan, who were liberated slaves. Most had a young child from their forced marriage. It was a moment of denial – this couldn’t be happening, this couldn’t be true, I thought – but it was right there in front of me. As people who believe that people are made in the image of God, we need to work to support the victims and challenge the powers that enslave them.
If you notice a situation where you think someone may be enslaved, you can report it to the police. Telltale signs are:
- Awkward behaviour as if someone else is controlling their behaviour;
- Signs of abuse, such as lack of self-esteem, anxiety, bruising or untreated wounds;
- Always short of money;
- Little contact with family, and
- Not in possession of their own legal documents.
You can also report to Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org/share-information) who can give you more guidance about what to do.
You can join with others to challenge the systems that benefit from slavery. In 2013, GMP was involved in a campaign to stop children, like Aziz, being forced to work in the cotton fields. Cotton from Uzbekistan was traced to Australia in products made by Rivers. Along with many others, GMP supporters wrote cards and letters to Rivers, asking them to guarantee that their cotton was not harvested with child labour. After a time, Rivers responded, and children like Aziz were freed to focus on their schooling.
In 2017, GMP invited supporters to give their input on the Modern Slavery Act being debated in Federal Parliament. GMP continues to work with the Stop the Traffik campaign to highlight the issue of modern slavery and give people options to fight against it. Join with us to challenge the systems that benefit from slavery.
Futher resources can be found on the GMP and Stop the Traffik websites.
Colin Scott, COCOA Director