Children and youth are one of the most vulnerable populations to fall into the hands of a trafficker. But children and youth are also some of the most vocal advocates in the anti-trafficking movement. When youth I’ve worked with learn about the realities of what trafficking looks like worldwide, when they hear that 27 million people are victims of trafficking around the world, they are shocked. They are horrified. They are angry. And they are ready to take action.
I have the privilege of working with youth all throughout the United States who inspire me every day to do my job. At the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, we work with hundreds of UNICEF Campus clubs throughout the country to help them activate around issues like trafficking. The creative ideas they come up with to get the word out always amazes me. Over the last few months though, there have been two groups that have especially amazed me in their efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking.
The first group of youth are from Benedictine University’s UNICEF Club and they organized “Taste the Change” during the month of January, where the club members were guest grillers at a Mongolian grill and used proceeds to support UNICEF’s Child Protection programs. Throughout the event, club members educated guests on trafficking and how they could take action against it while they ate some finger licking food!
The second group that has moved me with their determination to make a difference is the Girl Scouts. Last year was my first year participating in the Girl Scouts Senior Leadership Conference for girls who are sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school. I gave a keynote speech on human trafficking which was followed by a workshop to give the girls tools and resources to take action against trafficking in their own communities. Following the conference I learned that the girls had spent hours ripping apart fabrics and creating a rope that extended throughout the circumference of the gymnasium. Around the rope they had tied scraps of fabric, each one representing one child who had been trafficked throughout the three days they had spent at the conference. The visual impact was chilling.
When I returned this year, the girls brought the rope back for the opening ceremony and they shared that it was their hope that next year when they all gathered at this conference, the rope would be shorter.
During the closing ceremony, one young lady was chosen to share how the conference had impacted her life. It was a young woman I had been in contact with throughout the year who had become very passionate about trafficking.
She spoke about how infuriated she was when she learned about the horrors of slavery and trafficking. She shared about how she had written to her representatives, started a blog to educate fellow students on the issue and what they could do, and organized presentations and events to help increase awareness.
Fiona then told the story of the founding of Love146, an anti-trafficking organization that addresses child sexual exploitation. The founder, Rob Morris, went on an undercover visit to a brothel in Southeast Asia. He stared through the glass at a group of little girls, each one with a number pinned to their dress so that customers could identify them. They were all vacant, staring at the television watching cartoons, except for one girl, who was looking straight at them. She still had a fight and a fury in her eyes. Her number was 146.
Fiona gave her audience several actions to take against trafficking. To end her speech, she gave the girls one challenge. She took a sharpie out of her back pocket and wrote “146” on her arm, holding it out for everyone to see. Then she asked everyone to take out a pen and write a number on their hands, and to introduce themselves as numbers, rather than names, the next time they met someone at the conference. She told them to remember how it feels to be nameless.
I was beaming with pride. Last year I had planted a seed. Now, right before my eyes, I had watched that seed grow into a tall, strong, powerful tree that was planting seeds of its own. Fiona’s impact was immediately evident, as the next group of girls who got up each introduced themselves as a number, and not a name.
This is the power that the voices of youth have. Together we can end trafficking. Use your voice today, and create change for millions of children, women, and men worldwide.
Written by Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, End Trafficking Program Officer, U.S. Fund for UNICEF