February 22nd, 2012
10:04 AM ET

Bras liberate women from sex slavery

By Lisa Cohen, CNN

Editor's Note: How can individuals help combat modern day slavery? Watch "Taking a Stand, Making a Difference".

Denver, Colorado - Staring down a mountain of bras in her basement, Kimba Langas knew things had gotten out of hand.

The stay-at-home-mom started collecting unwanted bras as a way to help women on the other side of the world. It started small through word of mouth, and then a Facebook page.

But the bras quickly overran her home in suburban Denver, Colorado. They were in her basement, in her garage, in her car. They were in bags, in boxes, in envelopes. Her husband, Jeff, tried to navigate his way around them, but it wasn't easy.

"He was constantly moving boxes out of his way to access his tools," Langas said. "Down in the basement is where he keeps his table saw and other large tools, so besides having to move boxes, he would suffer a scolding from me from getting sawdust all over the bras!"

And the neighbors were beginning to talk, too. "If the weather's nice I usually count and box up bras in my garage," Langas said. "The neighborhood boys who are always around playing in the cul-de-sac try to pretend they're not watching!"

Langas collects unwanted bras for a charity called "Free the Girls" which gives them to young women coming out of sex trafficking in Mozambique - not to wear, but to sell in used clothing markets where bras are a luxury item and command top dollar.

The girls can make three times the average wage, more than enough to support themselves and not be trafficked again.

Sitting in her living room packing boxes of bras with her four-year-old son, Wyatt, she reflects on how quickly the little project took off.

It was the pastor of her church who came up with the idea for "Free the Girls." He was planning on moving to Mozambique for missionary work, and called Langas to see if she would run the project with him. She thought it sounded like fun.

"One of the things that was so appealing to me for "Free the Girls," besides the catchy name, was donating bras," she said. "I had probably five or six bras in the back of my drawer. As women, you know, we buy a bra, don't try it on, get it home, wear it once, it doesn't fit. And it's one of those items where you'd like to donate it when you donate clothes to a charity, but you're not sure. Do we donate bras? What do we do with bras?"

Apparently, that sentiment resonated with women across the U.S.. Shortly after launching the Facebook page, the bras started coming. The response was much bigger than she expected.

"I remember in the beginning how excited I would get to pick up envelopes and small boxes, and wow, if a box had 50 or even 100 bras that was crazy," Langas said. "And all of us of sudden, you know, 800 bras, 1,000 bras, 1,250 bras.

"There was a drive in Arizona and the women collected 8,000 bras. There's a church in Tennessee that collected 3,000 bras. There's a group here in Denver that collected 1,250 bras. It's just one of those things that caught on and spread."

It spread so much that Langas had to rent a storage unit to hold them all. But now she has a big problem: How is she going to move 25,000 bras 10,000 miles (15,000 kilometers)?

A shipping container would cost $6,500; money she says she just doesn't have. When she hears about people traveling to Mozambique, she asks them to take an extra suitcase with them, filled with bras. But her goal is to raise enough money to ship all of them.

In the meantime, she is encouraged by the volunteers helping her and motivated by the young victims she is fighting for, happy to do her small part in the fight to end modern-day slavery.

"Eventually it is going to change," she says. "I know it is. And if it's not in my generation, I hope that my son gets to see major change and I hope, by the time he's out of college or maybe even my age, hopefully sooner, he will be like, "Slavery? What? Oh, I read about it in my textbook."

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Topics: How to Help • Solutions • Uncategorized
February 20th, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Baby opens door into Indian trafficking ring

In a New Delhi hospital, a two-year-old girl is fighting for her life after a teenager brought her there three weeks ago, unconscious with severe head injuries and bruises, fractured arms and human bite marks covering her tiny body. All of India began following her ordeal through newspapers and television.

Police investigating the baby's case unearthed a suspected ring of human trafficking. The details sparked outrage among authorities and the public, who say the case raises a host of questions about child abandonment, exploitation and the poor treatment of girls and women in the world's second most populous nation.

Now the baby, named Falak by doctors, has thrust an ugly side of Indian society into the national spotlight.


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Topics: In The News
Record breaking rowers
February 20th, 2012
01:36 PM ET

Naked rowers spotlight slavery

Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean may be an extreme test of human endurance but an all female crew who completed the feat discovered a secret tactic to ease the physical burden - rowing nude.

"We spent a lot of time rowing naked because when the sea water gets inside your clothes it increases friction against your skin which can cause sores," says Debbie Beadle, Skipper of the Row for Freedom team.

The trip followed a route previously used to transport slaves between Europe and the Americas in the 19th century, raising money for UK-based anti-human trafficking charities the A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK.


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Topics: How to Help • In The News
February 13th, 2012
05:53 PM ET

Hope for Vietnam's children of the dump

By Natalie Allen, CNN

Twelve-year-old Dieu wears a bright-green top sprinkled with yellow flowers as she squats in a pile of garbage with her mother.

The two talk and laugh while their hands work quickly, sorting plastic from the discarded food and waste.

A full bag will bring their family just pennies. But this is their life’s work. They live on a dump in Rach Gia, Vietnam, part of the Mekong Delta.


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Topics: Life In Slavery • Solutions
Isabel's misery touches Taiwan
Taiwan Foreign Minster Timothy Yang meets with Isabel in California.
November 23rd, 2011
01:13 PM ET

Isabel's misery touches Taiwan

A Taiwan girl whose story of being sold into slavery was featured in the CNN Freedom Project has met with the country's foreign minister.

Isabel's story of abuse sparked a media storm in Taiwan and CNN has learned several people have come forward claiming to be the mother or sister of Isabel.


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Topics: Domestic Servitude • Uncategorized
Violin symbolizes brush with slavery
November 22nd, 2011
05:57 PM ET

Violin symbolizes brush with slavery

By Colleen McEdwards (CNN)

Atlanta (CNN) - My sister has a violin that was passed to her from my grandmother, to my mother, and on to her. To a musician today, the instrument would probably be written off as a ratty old fiddle. But to us it is not just a violin. It is the violin.

Six months ago my mother died from ovarian cancer after a courageous fight. Less than two years ago, her mother, Isabel Connell Wise, died in a nursing home at the age of 93. In fact, my mother’s cancer was diagnosed the same week her own mother died.

In the midst of the loss of these two family matriarchs, I learned that my grandmother’s family housed an indentured servant in the early 1920s.


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Topics: Domestic Servitude • Uncategorized
November 17th, 2011
11:28 AM ET

Slaves freed after CNN documentary

By Fred Pleitgen and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN

(CNN) - Hundreds of African refugees have been released from captivity in the Sinai Peninsula and allowed to cross from Egypt into Israel, shortly after a CNN report detailed the horrendous conditions the migrants face.

The report, "Death in the Desert," which was first published online in early November and broadcast on CNN International on November 5, showed evidence that African refugees, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, were being held captive by Bedouin human traffickers in Sinai, who try to extort massive sums of money from the refugees’ families for their release.


November 8th, 2011
10:30 AM ET

'Death in the Desert'

The CNN documentary "Death in the Desert" showed the remarkable risks Africans were prepared to make to try to get to Israel.

A hazardous trip across Africa to Egypt where Bedouins would take them across the Sinai Desert but also hold them as bonded labor.

And if they couldn't pay, bodies have been found with organs missing and fresh scars - signs, experts say, of organ trafficking.

Now watch the documentary in full online in three parts.


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Topics: Life In Slavery • The Traffickers • Uncategorized
Not My Life: Heroes and villains
October 20th, 2011
11:05 AM ET

Director sees horrors, miracles of slavery

Atlanta, (CNN) - Across the world, man's inhumanity is secretly on show wherever human traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable. But there is also hope and inspiration in the stories of survivors, and the dedicated, but under-resourced, anti-traffickers.

For four years, Robert Bilheimer documented their stories in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa for the documentary "Not My Life" which airs on CNN International this weekend.

CNN sat down with the Oscar-nominated director to talk about the horrors of human trafficking and the uplifting tales of the survivors he met while filming.


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Topics: Life In Slavery • The Traffickers • Uncategorized
Spanish raids free slave labor
July 5th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Unraveling the web of Spain's sweatshops

In a series this week, CNN shows the struggle against human trafficking through the eyes of the investigators at Mossos d'Esquadra, the police agency for the Catalonia region of Spain.

They wear football jerseys, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. They look like ordinary customers having a beer at the corner pub but that ability to blend in is also key to their role in the fight against human trafficking.

They are the men and women of an elite human trafficking unit in Spain's Catalonia region and they have to get key players in criminal gangs to trust them.

The region is a hot spot for traffickers. Barcelona - its biggest city and one of Europe's marquee tourist destinations - provides a cloak for traffickers who bring victims in on tourist visas.

Large-scale criminal organizations from Eastern Europe, Africa and China are setting up shop - bringing people into Spain under the guise of giving them jobs, then keeping their passports and forcing them to work in nightmarish conditions, either in prostitution or labor exploitation. (Read more about Spain's hot spot for human trafficking)

It has kept the Mossos d'Esquadra undercover unit, which is formally called the Central Unit Against Trafficking of Human Beings, very busy. FULL POST

Slavery report names weak link nations
June 27th, 2011
02:01 PM ET

Slavery report names weak link nations

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.

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Topics: Government • In The News
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