Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
by Marissa Costello
I was inspired today by three speakers whose presentations all related to one atrocity: human trafficking and forced labor. Ryan Smith, Presbyterian representative to the United Nations, Kevin Cassidy, Senior for the International Labour Organization, and Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, each spoke to a seminar group from the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, New Jersey. I was inspired by each speaker’s passion to change the world one life at a time, which just left me in pure awe. Let me tell you a bit about one presentation.
Mr. Cassidy presented a PowerPoint that incorporated pictures from his work, showing some of the victims of human trafficking and forced labor as well as statistical data from the ILO. If Mr. Cassidy did not include statistics in his presentation, I would have never guessed how many people are victimized by being forced into labor into forced labor. The ILO offers the following definition:
Forced labor takes different forms, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are the most vulnerable – women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers kept there by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing.
When people hear of human trafficking, we usually presume sexual exploitation. Mr. Cassidy reminded us that there are other types of exploitation that aren't so commonly known such as debt bondage and domestic slavery. Often people trapped in forced labor face multiple forms of abuse and violence.
A prime example of the complexity of human exploitation shared by Mr. Cassidy involved a young girl from rural northern Thailand. Noi was 9 years of age when she thought her world would change for the better. She was seen in a crowded market place with her parents by a business women from Bangkok. The well-dressed women offered the family an opportunity of a "lifetime". She said that she wanted to have the young girl work for her in her home as a domestic worker, promising her an education, housing, income to support her parents and to be freed from crushing poverty. Her parents thought that finally one of their 7 children would have a chance at a better life and agreed to let the women take their daughter the almost 500 miles away from her family to live in the modern metropolis of Bangkok. The well-dressed women turned out to be a trafficker: deceiving people into the promise of work and abusing them in every way. Noi was forced into prostitution, along with domestic work. For four years she suffered unimaginable sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. She was constantly threatened with violence and the murder of her family. She suffered through unimaginable abuse and violence for four years before she was freed at age 13.
After seeing Mr. Cassidy's passion and conviction, I can only hope that I can be just as passionate while giving back to those who are living lives that I could never imagine. I only got a glimpse into the lives of people who have been victimized and the hard work needed to give them back the freedom that was once taken. I hope I can be a person who takes part in that hard work.
Learn more about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Human Trafficking Roundtable and how you can work to help end human trafficking.
Your generous gifts to the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations support the seminar program.