Africa (MNN) — Human trafficking doesn’t grab emergency headlines like a disaster or a terror threat does.
However, it has quietly become a global threat to vulnerable men, women, and children worldwide. It affects millions of people every year on every continent. It’s an organized and lucrative business, generating hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
But at what cost? 21 million lives worldwide, with nearly a fifth of them facing sexual exploitation, according to the International Labor Organization.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Several of the regions in Africa where Every Child Ministries works are known as source and destination countries for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude, criminal activities, and sex trafficking. Co-founder of Every Child Ministries Lorella Rouster says, “Traffickers are very actively targeting children and just trafficking them out in droves.” In one area, “We’ve started working with the children, and we gradually came to the realization that some of these kids have been trafficked, and came to believe that it was quite a number.”
It may seem vague, but Rouster says the reason she won’t identify the region is because “anything involving child trafficking is potentially a very dangerous issue. We have people right in the middle of the situation right now.” Revealing too much, too soon, could jeopardize the children as well as staff working in the area.
How do traffickers find their marks? They search for the poorest of the poor and sell the dream of a better life. Rouster explains, “When parents are really desperate and they’re just trying to keep the family alive, it is all too easy to believe those lies. Normally, the parents wouldn’t believe those things, but when you’re really desperate, then they begin to think that maybe those things are true.” Instead, “After the kids get trafficked, they end up in horrendous conditions (in one of the major cities that we work in). Of course, they get no education, and nothing is ever sent home to any of the parents.”
Usually, the children scavenge food from scraps and garbage. They’re homeless, abused, outcast, and hated, as well as unschooled, unskilled, and with no future. “I just can’t even really describe how lonely and how miserable the lives of those children are,” says Rouster sadly. ECM co-workers recognized a pattern. Once the scope of what was happening became clear, they had to respond, she says. “Now we have a plan to help by working to try to stop the trafficking at the source, in the place where they are trafficked from.”
ECM is solving the problem by getting in front of it. “Not only do we know exactly where these kids are coming from, we’ve also been able to identify the root causes that are making them so vulnerable, which are basically desperate poverty, that’s keeping the kids out of school, a lack of food security with families constantly struggling to find enough to eat.”
Escaping from slavery is extremely difficult. If rescued, re-integration into community is hard because of the shame, stigma, threat of retribution, and trauma experienced during enslavement.
Despite the odds, “Those that we have helped so far–those kids that are in the city–had never been to school before in their lives, and yet, they’re doing very, very well.” Plus, the kids are getting a different message. “The hope that people receive in the Gospel, really, that’s the ultimate solution for them. But they don’t have that, and those kids are constantly put down, so they don’t feel they are of much value to anyone.”
ECM calls it like it is: spiritual warfare. “We need prayer for the funding. We need prayer for the protection of our workers. It’s a very difficult environment, and anything involving child trafficking is also very dangerous, so we need to pray God’s umbrella of protection over them and over the children.” Even with a plan of attack and the right tools, ECM needs a little more to get this anti-trafficking project off the ground. “We really urgently need funding for this project. We have received some, but we still need about $74,000 by October. November is the ideal time for us to be able to launch the program this year.”