Commentary: National Freedom Day
President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation on December 31, 2014, declaring that January 2015 would be observed as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The president further called for an annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1. We might think that is a strange declaration since we are privileged to live our daily lives in the land of the free and home of the brave. If only it were true for everyone.
People in this country and around the world are held against their will and coerced into many forms of violence and bondage, ranging from forced prostitution to domestic servitude. Globally, more than twenty 20 million people are subjected to modern-day slavery at the hands of human traffickers. Tragically, six million of these are children and 55 percent% are women and girls. Next to drug trafficking, it is the second most profitable business in the world, worth $150 billion.
We may have the impression that this form of modern-day slavery is happening outside our borders, somewhere else. However, it is right here in cities and communities across our nation. Exact data is not known because this crime against humanity operates underground, but it is estimated that since 2007, more than 85,000 people cried out for help to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (888-373-7888). Calls are now coming in with rising frequency because of the concerted effort to make the hotline number available in many venues of our communities.
In the year 2000, the United States Department of State established an office to monitor and combat trafficking of persons. They partner with foreign governments, international organizations, and local community members to collaborate in the establishment of policies that protect victims, prosecute traffickers, and prevent trafficking from happening in the first place. Our government, along with international partners, is taking this issue very seriously, but they need our help.
And whether we know it or not, we play a part in perpetuating this injustice. We want to buy our products at a cheap price, but they can come at a major cost to children around the world. Forced labor is happening in factories producing many of the products we enjoy every day. The food, clothing, electronic equipment, cosmetics, and jewelry we use every day could have been produced by someone forced into cheap labor. Even the coffee we drink, the fish we eat, or the chocolate we have for dessert may have been provided by those living in modern-day slavery. Here in our own back yard, women and children are imprisoned by traffickers to be sex workers through escort services, hotels, and strip joints.
The United Church of Christ joined with other communities of faith to observe January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Sunday. We applaud the historic action, led by Pope Francis, who gathered a powerful group of faith leaders at the Vatican on December 3, 2014, pledging to end modern-day slavery by calling people all over the world to action. You can join this effort by signing the Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery.
As we approach the end of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, join in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1 as a commitment to end modern-day slavery.
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The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo is a National Officer of the United Church of Christ.
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