A new police unit has just been set up in Scotland to tackle child trafficking. It started because increasing numbers of Vietnamese young people were seeking help from Edinburgh local authorities after being trafficked to the city, likely destined to work in nail bars, car washes, on cannabis farms or in the sex industry. This follows on from the recent news that sent shockwaves through the UK; 39 Vietnamese migrants found frozen to death in a lorry in Essex.
Cases of human trafficking have been identified in every local authority in Scotland, from cities to villages, and the Highlands and islands. Research into the prevalence of slavery today shows us that these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ten million children are in slavery around the world today. That’s 20 times the population of Edinburgh. Surely, this is one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time?
The scale of this vast tragedy can sometimes leave me feeling paralysed. But through my work with anti-slavery charity International Justice Mission (IJM) I have been inspired this year. I’ve heard story after story of brave children helping to rescue other children from slavery.
If young children, some of whom have been horrifically tortured themselves, have the courage to stand up to traffickers and help rescue others, then shouldn’t we also have the courage to send rescue in whichever way we can? Esther (all names have been changed) was enslaved as a little girl. She was trafficked to a remote island on Lake Volta in Ghana. For ten years she worked long days in the fishing industry. She was brutally beaten and abused by her slave owner’s family and became dangerously malnourished. Throughout it all she constantly wondered ‘Mummy, why did you not search for me?’.
Geoffrey, who was also trapped in slavery on the same island as Esther, bravely managed to alert the police to what was happening. Because of Geoffrey, IJM and the local police were able to find and rescue Esther. Because Esther then courageously spoke out, 12 other children enslaved on the island have also been set free, including Esther’s friend Emelia. We are seeing this snowball effect in many of the communities that IJM works in. It’s not only happening in Ghana.
In June, a nine-year-old boy in South Asia, noticed a group of children being forced to work in a water treatment facility near his home. He told his father Raja what he’d seen.
His father is one of my colleagues at IJM, who had once been enslaved himself. IJM and local police then investigated the facility – five teenagers, and a young man were rescued. The boys had been forced to work nearly 24 hours a day in appalling conditions, leaving them wounded, exhausted and terrified. They are now living in freedom. In July, Manikandan – who was trafficked aged 11 – escaped after nine years of slavery and helped IJM and police to rescue three young children enslaved in the factory where he had worked.
These rescued children and their friends are now being supported by IJM aftercare programmes. They are just a few of the 50,000 people IJM has worked with police to set free to date.
You can help send rescue to children trapped in slavery today. This Christmas IJM is running a campaign to stop child slavery in Ghana. IJM has helped rescue more than 160 children enslaved on Lake Volta but thousands remain trapped. The funds we raise this Christmas will support IJM teams of investigators, social workers and lawyers to work with police to find and rescue more children.
Young people in Scotland are also joining us in sending rescue. Holy Rood RC High School in Edinburgh has raised almost the equivalent of an entire IJM rescue operation at £5,000. Again, children are helping bring freedom to other children.
We have a particularly exciting opportunity this festive season. IJM is taking part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge, the UK’s largest match funding campaign, meaning all donations made between 3-10 December will be doubled – will you consider giving a gift of freedom this year? Find out more about how you can double your impact at www.bit.ly/IJMBigGive2019
Anyone can send rescue – will you keep the snowball rolling so that more Esthers, Geoffreys, Emelias and Manikandans can enjoy this Christmas in freedom? Together we can end slavery in our lifetime. I will keep fighting; will you join me?
Andrew Bevan, Scotland director at IJM UK.