It is hard reality to share. I fear that when I give a speech, participate on a panel or attend an event...I fear my words will not fully impart the enormity of the problem. While honored to be able to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, I worried I would not be able to do the facts justice.
Currently, there are 27 million slaves around the world. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar human black market industry making it the second largest crime in the world. The majority of female victims are trafficked for prostitution. Poverty and lack of economic opportunities are the leading cause of slavery.
Traffickers often target impoverished, poorly educated individuals from the developing world looking for work or a safer place to call home. Once tricked with promises of safe passage, provision of work, help with visas or easy money, trafficking victims are placed in jobs with long hours, little or no pay, no health care and harsh working conditions. Many face emotional and physical abuse on a regular basis.
Those are the harsh facts. What follows is the hope.
Providing economic opportunities for women can help communities and society to thrive and break the cycle of poverty and human trafficking. Especially for survivors of human trafficking, they reinvest their income in their children's health and education.
The Somaly Mam Foundation supports 13 Victim Services programs (such as AFESIP) around the world. One of them - the Kampong Cham Center is located on the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia. It houses girls (ages 3 to 12) who have been victims of trafficking. The goal of the shelter is to help the girls' transition to a new life, a life of physical and emotional security and gain the skills and education that will restore their lives. The shelter provides the girls with basic needs, medical care and computer literacy and vocational training as well as a full working garden and fish farm run by the girls with the goal of food self-sufficiency in 3 years.
Portions of the programs are also open to local children in an effort to prevent trafficking, but to also change the local perception of trafficked victims. Because of this - the survivors and the shelter are NOT resented for all the support and resources they are benefiting from. If the shelter does well - everyone in the village also does well with new skills, better health and opportunities for a better future. The young women survivors are seen as the source of great value instead of something to be ashamed of or a drain on the community. In the long run, this shelter will improve the job skill sets of all the children - who will grow up to become adults seeking employment or entrepreneurs seeking skilled workers. In the long run, the shelter will be "good for business."
The evil of human trafficking is a hard reality to share. So I am very grateful at the warm welcome I have received in Davos for my words. I have also experienced great hope at hearing influential people talk about economic empowerment as a great weapon against human trafficking, micro finance programs, financial literacy and new business opportunities.
It is cold in Davos today - snow is on the ground and one can slip and lose one's balance on patches of ice on the ground. But the warmness of hope - hope inspired by real economic solutions to empower trafficking survivors - fills my heart.