By Christine Mangale, Lutheran Office for World Community

Consider this:

  • 12.3 million people are in forced or bonded labor and Sexual servitude – (UN)
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually 80% of these are women and 50% minors. (US State Dept.)

I had the opportunity of attending the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference held at the Church Center for the United Nations, New York on September 29 – October 1, 2008.

This was of course an awakening for me, being a peer educator for many years and working with youth and young women in my home country of Kenya, given that East Africa, and Africa at large, is a hub for sex tourism and human trafficking.  During high season in the coastal region of Kenya which is my home, young girls literally drop out of school in search of whatever jobs they can find. The urge for better life and the biting hunger pains is a deadly combination that puts them at high risk of being trafficked by being lured into false lucrative jobs abroad.

In addition to those hoodwinked into non-existent jobs, there are those who are simply abducted by force and trafficked; I heard similar and even worse stories in this conference. There were testimonies of networks and syndicate that operate like the mafia, through fear and intimidation. I remain hopeful that much is being done, laws are being passed and although the fight is far from over, there is and will be progress to confront this crime.

As people of faith, we were reminded of our obligation to seek justice and as Churches be safe havens, not only to our congregants who many times are going through similar cases but are not voicing them out fearing rejection and isolation especially when the perpetrator is a fellow brethren.

Tough questions were raised at the gathering and delegates were left to contemplate on questions like: Are our churches really safe places for young women? Do we provide open space to young people who have creative and fresh ideas are constantly left behind in decision making process?

In the mix of serious sessions we also had an opportunity for a field trip. We were divided into groups and my group visited a youth organization called “The Door” in Broome Street New York where we met with one of the co-founders and an outreach/Advocate for trafficking victims, youths who benefit from their services were all going about their normal activities.

The Door serves young people between the ages of 12-21 years, they have a multitude of programs ranging from Health care, education, career guidance, social entrepreneurship and art just to name a few. They also offer Legal services, all this is geared towards leadership development and helping them make conscious action in life. Facilities at The Door are impressive and the experience there made me wish for more of such projects in our churches.

When Judges 19:1-30 was read during a session (verse 30 highlighted), many things ran into my mind: I was already thinking of what to do, how to do it and how to spread the word around. I have been addressing most of the root causes of human trafficking like poverty, but I have not directly addressed human trafficking specifically. I have read and watched on TV sometimes successful busts of gangs involved and  arrests of such traffickers, but I had not brought it down to my own level, and now more than ever I am convinced of the great need to advocate by whatever means necessary to fight human trafficking. Many FBO’s and NGOs are raising awareness regarding human trafficking and making efforts to educate the unsuspecting young people as this is group most targeted and vulnerable. Work of such organizations like International and Ecumenical partnerships were highlighted as vital.

The challenge is: Are you already informed and involved? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us “The time is always right to do what is right.

Take counsel, and speak out!

For more information and resources, please visit:
http://www.ncccusa.org/womensministry/humantrafficking2.html
Films about Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: http://www.love146.org

The conference was sponsored by National Council of Churches Justice for Women Working Group & United Methodist Women’s Division, United Methodist Seminar Program on National and International Affairs.