Sparking rage vs modern-day slavery

The International Labor Organization estimates there are now 20.9 million people living in modern slavery — almost twice as many people in the National Capital Region

PAYING TRIBUTE. Human trafficking survivors perform in a recent forum to thank groups that fight modern-day slavery.

MANILA, Philippines – How do you feel when you hear about modern-day slavery?

Unfortunately, some have already grown numb about it, says Fiona David, executive director for global research and policy of an anti-slavery movement, Walk Free.

“Sometimes I despair. I don’t understand how someone can treat another person as if (he or she were) a piece of property,” says David in an interview Thursday, June 14, after Walk Free’s dinner soiree to explain the movement’s advocacy.

Why is it, she says, that it appears common in some areas to exploit other people? For David, this makes it look normal for them to withhold other people’s wages, beat them, and subject them to sexual threats. Criminal laws help, but are inadequate to address this global problem, she says.

“We need to change attitudes, so that treating another person as a piece of property becomes unthinkable,” David says. “Attitude change is linked to prevention. The police cannot be everywhere to police abuse — but the community can be.” (Watch more in the video below.)

Millions in slavery

Modern-day slavery, which includes human trafficking, is happening at immense proportions worldwide.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are now 20.9 million people living in modern slavery. This is almost twice as many people in the Philippines’ National Capital Region.

Left with little choice, these people become “stripped of their dignity and humanity, forced to work effectively without pay, trapped behind bars, and worse.”

The Philippines alone is a human trafficking hotspot, which, in 2009 and 2010, remained in the Tier 2 watch list of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. It bounced back only in 2011, when the US State Department upgraded its rating to Tier 2.

The US State Department then recognized the Philippines’ “significant efforts” to curb human trafficking, even if it does not yet fully comply with the minimum standards for addressing this global scourge.

Medyo mahaba-haba pa itong ating laban na ito,” says Cecilia Oebanda, president of the anti-human trafficking group Visayan Forum Foundation. (This is going to be a prolonged battle.)

In another interview, Oebanda notes new trends in human trafficking in the Philippines, such as trafficking for sex pornography. This is the subject of a  series of arrests recently made by the US government in the Philippines, among other countries. (Read: US arrests child pornographers in PH.)

Oebanda also cites the trafficking of persons with disabilities for prostitution or forced labor. (Watch more in the video below.)

Information important

To combat the problem of modern-day slavery, David notes knowledge is key.

“One of the most important things people can do is to learn about this problem — learn that it really does happen in their own backyard (and) learn to identify the warning signs, so that if they see this problem happening in their communities, they’ll know where to go and get help for people who need it the most,” David says.

She also believes in spreading the word through social media.

David cites Walk Free’s petition calling on the Philippines to ratify the International Labor Organization’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, or C189. (Read: Protect domestic workers, ratify ‘C189.’)

Walk Free’s petition gathered 23,000 signatures within its first 24 hours, David noted.

‘Power of social media’

“The power of social media, of course, is to bring large numbers of people behind really important issues, and to do it quickly. So in 24 hours, we can get 23,000 people. We can’t do that in a meeting hall or in a community center,” David said.

“But we can bring together, literally, people who care about this issue in Australia, people who care about it in the United States, people who care about it in the Philippines. And we can say, ‘We care about what you’re doing, and we’re here to support you,’” she added.

FIGHTING SLAVERY. Human trafficking survivors pose with representatives of groups seeking to fight modern-day slavery.

Oebanda also sees social media as a powerful tool against modern-day slavery. “Lahat halos ng kabataan ngayon ay nasa social media na, so ibig sabihin ‘yung exchange ng information ay mabilis,” she says. (Almost all young people nowadays are on social media, so this means the exchange of information is fast.)

Efforts to curb human trafficking, in social media and elsewhere, cultivate hope in advocates like David. She considers herself an “eternal optimist.”

“I take great hope from the fact that there are many people who see terrible things happening, and they passionately stand up and defend the rights of other people,” David says.

For David, it is an obligation to care for victims of slavery. “It’s humanity to care for other people.” –

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