Editor's note: Davinder Kumar is an award-winning development journalist who works for children’s rights organization Plan International.
Five-year-old Aliya thinks it is a game she must master quickly to be a winner. From the time she wakes up, until she goes to bed, Aliya watches her mother and all the girls and women in her neighborhood consumed in a frantic race: Making beedis - traditional hand-rolled Indian cigarettes.
To create each beedi, the maker painstakingly places tobacco inside a dried leaf sourced from a local ebony tree; tightly rolls and secures it with a thread; and then closes the tips using a sharp knife.
For anything between 10 and 14 hours, regardless of how long it takes, Aliya’s mother and others must all roll at least 1,000 beedis to earn a paltry sum of less than $2 a day, paid by the middleman. FULL POST
Editor's note: Richard Stearns is the author of “The Hole in Our Gospel” and president of the U.S. office of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Follow Stearns on Twitter @RichStearns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard Stearns.
By Richard Stearns, special to CNN
This February, I visited Cambodia, where my heart was broken by the evils of the sex trade in that country. Too often there is an acceptance of prostitution that leads to a male culture that believes sex with virgins improves health has created an epidemic of young girls and boys trafficked into the cities. Roughly 30,000 young women and men in that country (some estimates are as high as 100,000) are trapped in slavery. When imprisoned in the brothels, these young women and men serve roughly 700 people every year.
I interviewed a young woman named Ruse (not her real name) who had spent three years in a Cambodian brothel before being rescued and sent to World Vision’s Trauma Recovery Center in Phnom Penh.
Ruse’s story was heartbreaking. Her family was extremely poor, and when she was just 13, her mother became very ill and needed medical attention. Her father had left, and she had two smaller siblings as well. The family desperately needed money. Ruse told me, “My virginity was the most valuable possession my family had.” FULL POST
U.S. President Barack Obama has declared January 2012 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
The presidential proclamation says: "Human trafficking endangers the lives of millions of people around the world, and it is a crime that knows no borders. Trafficking networks operate both domestically and transnationally, and although abuses disproportionally affect women and girls, the victims of this ongoing global tragedy are men, women, and children of all ages.
"Around the world, we are monitoring the progress of governments in combating trafficking while supporting programs aimed at its eradication. From forced labor and debt bondage to forced commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude, human trafficking leaves no country untouched.
"With this knowledge, we rededicate ourselves to forging robust international partnerships that strengthen global anti-trafficking efforts, and to confronting traffickers here at home."
(CNN) - Since its launch in March, the CNN Freedom Project has helped shine a spotlight on all aspects of modern-day slavery and spurred action from governments, corporations and individuals.
CNN reported on sex slaves and bonded workers, children and adults caught in despair, and the inspirational against-all-odds work of individuals and organizations fighting the trade.
Nearly 2,000 people have come out of slavery, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the hundreds of stories broadcast on air and published online.
By Jesse Eaves, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Jesse Eaves is non-profit World Vision’s policy adviser for children in crisis. He is based in Washington, D.C.
When 16-year-old Kyaw left his home and a life of poverty in Myanmar five years ago, he vowed he would never return. He was on a quest to find a steady job, and he’d heard that he could earn up to $150 a month if he traveled across the border to a fishing port in Thailand.
However, what he discovered would soon make him wish he had never left. Kyaw had been trafficked onto a Thai fishing boat operating illegally in Indonesian waters, and, according to him, the conditions were worse than those on an 18th century slave ship.
“They allowed us to sleep only about one hour per day,” said Kyaw.
Surrounded by a crew with guns, he and his fellow workers were treated as animals.
When we think of trafficking today, images of young girls forced to work in dark, back-alley brothels in Bangkok or Phnom Penh often come to mind.
But the issue of trafficking is much broader than that. FULL POST
Beginning next year, victims of sex trafficking in Illinois will have the chance to clear their legal records of convictions related to prostitution.
Senate Bill 1037, sponsored by Sen Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) and Rep Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood) “allows defendants of human trafficking at the time of their prostitution convictions to file a motion to vacate the conviction if the defendant's participation in the offense was the result of being a victim,” a release from the governor's office said.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says the new law gives victims of sex trafficking an opportunity to start over.
“Sex trafficking is a truly reprehensible crime that preys on the most vulnerable. Victims deserve a chance to clear their records and rebuild their lives,” Quinn said to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Editor's Note: In the recent documentary "Nepal's Stolen Children," CNN followed actress Demi Moore and 2010 CNN Hero of the Year Anuradha Koirala as they try to rescue women and girls from forced prostitution, especially girls trafficked from Nepal into India. A few days after the documentary aired, Indian police raided a brothel in New Delhi's red light district, rescuing nine girls. Rescue efforts like this are becoming more common in India as police begin to make it a priority.
By Sumnima Udas, CNN
Police officer Surinder Kaur is on a mission.
“I want no minor girls working here, no one should be forcibly working here … I want to shut down this [red light district]” Kaur says.
As the Station House Officer of an area that includes New Delhi’s largest red light district — G.B. Road – Kaur knows it won’t be an easy job.
Since she became the officer in charge of G.B. Road two years ago, Kaur has rescued 89 minor girls. Prior to her posting, Kaur says only four or five girls had been rescued.
A desk full of awards and “thank you” messages stands testimony to her achievements.
“Previously, everyone thought the police is involved with the brothel owners … so nobody passed any information to the police. But when I took over, I took it as a challenge. I decided I will definitely do something different and I developed faith in the public for me and my police force,” Kaur says.
A rescue of 9 girls
More than 2,000 prostitutes are estimated to live and work in New Delhi’s G.B. Road.
It’s not illegal for women 18 and older to work as prostitutes here, but many are underage and most are illegally trafficked from all parts of India and neighboring Bangladesh and Nepal.
“We concentrate on minor girls because the trafficking issue is about minor girls only. They are being brought from Nepal, they are being brought from other parts of India in the name of giving them jobs, but they are illegally brought here,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Aslam Khan says.
Just a few weeks ago, Kaur and her team raided a brothel on G.B. Road after they were tipped off by an anti-trafficking group that minors were working there.
She rescued 9 girls, all of whom she says looked under the age of 18. Six of them were from Nepal.
The girls were sent to Nirmal Chayaa, a government shelter where medical tests are conducted on suspected minors to determine their age. Test results for 5 of the 9 girls have been released so far confirming they are minors.
One victim is as young as 10 years old, according the Mumbai-based anti-trafficking group Rescue Foundation.
“I have already registered a case and we have arrested the brothel manager,” Kaur says. “We are now looking for the brothel owner.” (Read more about the arrest and rescues)
The brothel manager Kaur arrested is a 38-year-old Indian woman whose identity she could not reveal for legal reasons.
A surprise visit to a brothel
The police have arrested 27 brothel owners in this area in the past 2 years. Khan, the police deputy commissioner, says they conduct an average of one raid a month.
One recent night, CNN followed Kaur on one of her evening patrols.
Each night around 11 p.m., Kaur and her team drive around the red light district to make sure police officers are manning the gates and sometimes they make a surprise visit to the brothels.
The area is normally inaccessible to outsiders. Even non-governmental organizations have hesitated to take the media there, and brothel owners have attacked cameras in the past.
But this time, CNN was with a police woman who is very much in charge of the area.
Kaur took us up some dark and dingy stairs. The remains of chewed betel nut laced the walls, rats scurried around and men who were inside the brothel ran out and hid as soon as they saw the group.
Kaur knocked on the door several times, and five minutes later, the women inside greeted Kaur warmly but covered their faces as soon as they saw us.
She asked them if anyone wanted to come away with her. They all said “no.”
None of the prostitutes we met were minors. They said they wanted to be there.
“Please don’t give this place a bad name, to us it’s a temple, its what feeds our families,” said one of the prostitutes. “We have no choice. You won’t understand.”
Why not just shut down the place?
“I can’t force women to leave if they want to be there,” Kaur says. “Then where will they go? I can’t send them to the streets.”
After many years in the business, this had become their way of life.
However, if there’s proof a minor girl is being forced to prostitute herself, the police will act immediately.
Anti-trafficking groups say rescue efforts are becoming more common in India as police make them a priority.
President of the Rescue Foundation Triveni Acharya - who has been working in this field for the past 18 years - says she’s seen a “historical change” in the way authorities are handling trafficking cases.
“Previously, when we call police they say no, we have no staff,” she explains. “But now, if we call with a tip off they say no problem, please come.”
The police have also become more sensitized toward the prostitutes.
“Earlier they’d talk to the girls rudely, use foul language, now when they rescue the girls they talk to them with respect. They say come on child, dress properly, and come with us.”
Acharya says the police officers are now seeing the girls as victims instead of criminals, and that’s the biggest change.
“Rescuing minor girls and minor children has become our top priority,” Kaur says. “It’s the demand of the 21st century we have to change.”
Federal initiative targets human trafficking in Midwest
Western Missouri and Kansas will be the home base for a new team of six federal enforcement teams targeting human trafficking in the United States, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.
The Anti-Trafficking Coordination team, based in Kansas City, will streamline criminal investigations and prosecution of violators of federal slavery laws. FULL POST
By Liane Membis, CNN
It seems impossible.
Human trafficking cases, blind promises of freedom, forced prostitution rings — these aspects of modern-day slavery come to light all too often.
Estimates of the number of slaves worldwide range from about 10 million to 30 million, according to policymakers, activists, journalists and scholars. Approximately 100,000 victims are in the United States, working as slaves inside homes, in agricultural fields, in the sex industry and other places, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.
That’s millions of women, children and men struggling to escape captivity. That’s millions of people wondering what it means or what it would take to be free again.
But what about solutions - How can we end modern-day slavery? Three experts weigh in on what businesses, governments, the public and individuals must do. FULL POST
CNN's Jim Clancy interviews Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, about how the Indian government has recently stepped up its efforts at combating the problem of debt labor in the country.
A U.S. Government anti-slavery report published Monday throws the spotlight on countries it says are not meeting minimum anti-trafficking standards.
The U.S. State Department's Trafficking In Persons (TIP ) Report identifies countries that it says meet minimum standards, countries working towards them and countries that appear to be doing little to stop trafficking.
Each country is put into one of four grades - Tier 1, Tier 2, Two Watch and Tier Three. The United States can impose sanctions on countries in the bottom tier. (See how the countries rank)
This year, the Dominican Republic was the only country to lift itself out of the bottom tier, and the Czech Republic was the only country to slip out of the top-ranked countries.
The TIP Report cited weak prevention efforts for labor trafficking and the lack of formal steps by the Czech government to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.
It said the Dominican Republic got a higher ranking for protecting more victims and making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards laid down in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
As the report was published, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "This report is a tool and we are interested in working with countries around the world to get results."
She said one focus will be countries where anti-trafficking laws are on the books but are rarely used to convict the traffickers. (Watch Clinton explain why trafficking is "unforgiveable")
In Africa, Nigeria and Mauritius kept their Tier 1 status - the only African nations in the top rank - while Algeria, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, and Madagascar all dropped into Tier 3
In Asia, China stays on the Two Watch list while India moves off the Watch list and into Tier 2. The report credited India for law enforcement efforts but expressed concern over reports that corrupt officers facilitate sex trafficking.
CNN is seeking reaction of countries singled out for criticism. (See inside the TIP war room)
The report is compiled with the help of U.S. embassies, non-governmental organizations, aid groups and individuals who have submitted data or their own personal accounts.
It counts known cases of human trafficking in more than 175 countries, whether for commercial sex, bonded labor, child labor, involuntary domestic servitude or child soldiers.
And it tracks new legislation, prosecutions and convictions. (See how the report is compiled using 2010 figures)
Tier 1 countries meet the minimum standards laid down in the TVPA but it does not also mean the country does not have trafficking issues or that it cannot improve beyond the minimum.
Tier 2 countries don't fully comply with the minimum standards but are often seen as making significant progress.
Tier 2 Watch countries have fallen short of the legislation's minimum standards despite making "significant efforts." It includes countries with high numbers of victims of severe forms of human trafficking.
Tier 3 countries do not appear to be trying to reach the minimum standard - and they could face limited U.S. sanctions.
The report also honors as heroes 10 people around the world who are trying to stamp out human trafficking.
They include Amela Efendic, who works with trafficking victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina; Charimaya Tamang, a former sex slave who now runs an anti-trafficking organization in Nepal; and Dilcya Garcia, who has pioneered human trafficking prosecutions in Mexico.
How seriously governments around the world are working to combat human trafficking comes into sharp focus Monday when the U.S. State Department issues its 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
Published annually since 2001, the TIP Report counts known cases of human trafficking in more than 175 countries, whether for commercial sex, bonded labor, child labor, involuntary domestic servitude or child soldiers.
It also takes note of new legislation enacted, how many prosecutions were initiated and how many traffickers were convicted.
The State Department describes the TIP Report as a "diplomatic tool" that can be used to engage with other countries on the issue of human trafficking.
It is assembled with the help of embassies, non-governmental organizations, aid groups and individuals who have submitted data or their own personal accounts.
As a result, the report has become the world's most comprehensive survey of modern day slavery. It also explores which strategies are succeeding or failing in the fight against human trafficking.
"The TIP Report, for us, is an invaluable source of information," says Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's special representative and coordinator for combating trafficking in human beings.
She added: "In Europe we had a huge phenomenon of trafficking for sexual exploitation but now what is growing is trafficking for labor exploitation and child trafficking."
The global trade in human beings is changing, growing more sophisticated as a criminal enterprise that can boast more profits and fewer risks than the illegal drug trade.
The TIP Report accounts for that changing situation by placing countries into different tiers, which can point to progress made against human trafficking or the lack of effort. For friends and foes of Washington, it's a time of reckoning.
At the top, Tier 1 countries in 2010 like Germany, Sweden, Australia and South Korea are credited with full compliance with the requirements of the "Trafficking Victims Protection Act" re-authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2008. The U.S. is a Tier 1 country, but only began including itself in the survey in 2010.
Tier 1 does not mean a country doesn't have a human trafficking problem but rather that it has admitted the problem and is working to address it.
Tier 2 nations don't fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards. Countries in this category are often seen as making significant progress. In 2010, countries ranging from Greece and Argentina to Indonesia and Switzerland found themselves on the second level.
There are many countries that may find themselves on the Tier 2 Watch List. These are countries that have fallen short of the legislation's minimum standards but have made "significant efforts."
What complicates the status of these countries is they may have high numbers of victims of severe forms of human trafficking and there's little or no evidence they are pursuing prosecutions of traffickers or reaching out to provide more help to victims.
The Tier 2 Watch may also point to countries that failed to live up to past commitments to improve their records. Thailand, Syria, Singapore and Iraq made the watch list in the 2010 TIP report.
At the bottom of the list are the Tier 3 states that neither meet the TVPA's minimum standards nor appear to be making efforts to do so. North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran and even Saudi Arabia were among a dozen states shamed by the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report.
It's not just humiliating. It can be costly, too. The U.S. Congress passed the legislation providing for limited sanctions that could deny non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign aid.
Tier 3 governments could also find their diplomats, military and others ineligible for educational or cultural exchange programs.
What many will find is that the 2011 TIP Report goes far beyond just numbers and lists.
It will include current examples and stories of how human trafficking is undermining the dignity of millions of people around world.
Even more interesting for most of us may be the anticipated list of "TIP Report Heroes" who are honored for their commitment to end modern day slavery.