This March marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the British Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade—the culmination of a twenty-year struggle by William Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists, a story brilliantly captured in the new Hollywood release coming next month titled Amazing Grace.
Wilberforce would be appalled to learn that, two hundred years later, however, people are still trafficking in human flesh.
An estimated 27 million people in the world today are in slavery. They are sold into sexual slavery or forced labor from sub-Saharan Africa to suburban America, from big-city brothels to small-town sweatshops. Every day, men, women, and children looking for work and a better life are tricked, coerced, or forced into slavery.
If this is news to you, don’t be surprised. This is a silent horror. No one is paying any attention.
Thankfully, some are. Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and winner of our Wilberforce Award, is one I’ll tell you about next week. And Ambassador John Miller, appointed by President Bush as director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, is another. He has championed the cause of victims of human trafficking all around the world.
Miller’s message has been simple: The selling of persons into sexual slavery or forced labor is inhuman and intolerable. His efforts have been assisted by the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor.
Recently, Ambassador Miller announced his departure from the State Department to join the faculty of George Washington University. We all owe him a debt of thanks for his service, and now it’s up to us to continue that struggle.
By some estimates, the number of people moving across borders to find work has doubled every year for the last five years. In this stream of migration stands the human trafficker, ready to deceive unwitting victims. These traffickers must be brought to justice here at home and around the world. Traffickers must be held accountable.
Christians need to press government for the one thing that puts the traffickers out of business: investigations and prosecutions that cripple their criminal networks and bring them to justice.
We also need to pressure our leaders to make the abolition of human trafficking a priority. Governments, unlike their citizens, are already aware of the problems. What’s needed is to build the enforcement capacity, especially in places where traffickers operate without fear of prosecution.
This means on-the-ground law enforcement assistance and training for countries that, having recognized the problem, are ready to prosecute. The Bush administration has a great resource in the success that the Department of Justice has already had. And the president is deeply interested in this. I know, because I’ve discussed it with him personally—and we thank him for his support.
If this is going to become a priority, however, Christians have to make it one.
William Wilberforce once said, “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” Only this kind of good “fanaticism” can bring today’s version of the slave trade to an end.