For more than a decade UN.GIFT Special Advisor for Victims Rani Hong has been an outspoken leader in the fight to end human trafficking, a strong voice for millions of unheard victims. Taken from her family in southern India as a young girl to be enslaved and then sold into illegal adoption, Rani is a true expert on the crime. Her ability to overcome trauma, loss and grief has inspired leaders from all over the world to join the global movement against human trafficking. UN.GIFT sat down with Rani to discuss her own story and her tireless work to ensure that people around the world can live without fear of enslavement.
UN.GIFT: You spoke last month at the U.N. General Assembly's meeting on human trafficking. What was the message you delivered there?
Rani: I started off by telling my story: A little girl stolen from her family in India at the age of seven. Why should my story be told? Because there are millions of other little girls like me. Imprisoned. Silenced. Enslaved. People think of slavery as something in history books. But it still exists. Modern-day slavery exists. I'm speaking for those millions with no voice -- someone's daughter, someone's niece, someone's sister. Through me all of these victims have a seat at the table.
We as survivors are building a strong network. Our collective experiences need to be part of global efforts to combat human trafficking. I'm helping turn a political and economic issue into a human one.
UN.GIFT: How was your message received?
Rani:The General Assembly was very receptive. Societies often think about victims as disenfranchised -- rather than about victims as global leaders and part of a strategic solution. I'm pioneering this idea, and the international community seems to be receptive. Survivors' messages need to be transmitted to every country, to help change behavior.
The international community is very open to that idea. I was invited to a special lunch organized by the president of the General Assembly. At the table were very high level leaders and diplomats -- and I, a survivor, was there too, telling our collective story.
UN.GIFT: What are the most crucial steps that need to be taken to combat human trafficking?
Rani: First, we need to strengthen international partnerships. There are still big gaps in our cooperative efforts and I would like to see more cooperation among all stakeholders. I am asking others to engage with me to spark new conversations, uncover new ideas and to unlock new solutions by partnering with me to build and bridge this cooperation in this world-wide movement.
Second, we need to let the voice of survivors be heard, invite us to be part of your roundtable discussions, forums and global events
When we look at the issue we see it as a global threat to peace and security. And this is valid. But it's more than that. Human trafficking affects every country. We need to raise awareness and demand action -- I'm calling on UN member states to take action.
UN.GIFT: Have you seen any significant improvement in efforts to combat human trafficking in the time you've been working as an advocate for survivors?
Rani: I've been working on this issue for 13 years. In 1999 I found my birthmother in India. When I returned to the US and told people my story they were shocked. They thought that slavery happened in the 1800s.
Today, people know that human trafficking happens and are talking about it. This is a big step. But we still have a long way to go. Also we have a long way to go to really help survivors. I am here to tell them: you are not alone. We need policymakers, funders, members of the media, corporations and the UN to work with us.
UN.GIFT: What are some of the upcoming efforts that you'll be participating in?
Rani: I'm partnering on a project now that looks at how technology is being used to recruit victims. We live in a world of technology. We need to transform it to be part of the solution rather than the problem. This type of large-scale project requires funding, so today I am asking our readers for help.
This August I'm partnering with the [US] National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) to raise awareness amongst prosecutors and law enforcement officials. At this event NAPABA is engaging with me to address the injustices that human trafficking victims face in the U.S. and abroad. Together we will promote justice and equality for victims of human trafficking.
Also I just returned from Nepal where I launched a leadership and media training program called Shakti Samuha in Kathmandu. We brought together survivors from far-reaching districts to participate in the conference. The idea was to train grassroots survivor leaders to be global leaders in order to promote lasting and sustainable social change.
Born in India, Rani was taken from her family and became a victim of human trafficking when she was seven years old. By age eight, Rani's physical condition and emotional state were so dire she was close to death. No longer of any value to her owner, he sold her into illegal adoption. The turning point came when an American woman adopted a little girl from India who she thought was an orphan. Through her adoptive mother's love Rani began to find stability, healing and a sense of personal freedom.
In 1992, Rani married Trong, also a survivor of human trafficking. Together they founded The Tronie Foundation in 2006. By sharing her story since 1999, Rani has helped international government officials, NGO's, corporations, philanthropies and journalists understand the circumstances that give rise to human trafficking.
About the Tronie Foundation
The Tronie Foundation is a human rights organization that aims to cause a global shift in consciousness and behavior by exposing the human cost of slavery. The Foundation is committed to building consensus on human rights as a basis for positive social change to enroll everyone in a vision of a better world. The non-profit organization takes a systemic view of human trafficking, recognizing that slavery would not exist if those who are most vulnerable had sustainable economic models and access to healthcare, education and clean water.
Currently, The Tronie Foundation is running an educational initiative 'Rani's Voice' as a tool to raise awareness about human trafficking by strengthening the voices of survivors. The initiative is supported by Humanity United, a foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom.
For more information about the Tronie Foundation please visit www.troniefoundation.org
Follow Rani Hong on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RanisVoice