In many countries, people today celebrate, ‘Your Freedom Day’ focusing on what freedom means to us with the thrust being to draw international attention to at least 30 million people caught in modern human slavery.
The event comes at a time when, according to the United Nations, the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis with tens of millions of people facing starvation and famine in Africa. The worst affected are in South Sudan and Yemen where bloody conflicts are adding to the catastrophe. Making matters worse, United States President Donald Trump -- widely seen as a reckless and arrogant right-wing extremist -- is threatening to cut foreign aid by about 50%.
Known to be caught up in modern human slavery are millions of children forced into slave labour. Because of poverty their parents or guardians often have no option but to allow this. As a result, the children get little healthcare and less education, meaning that their future is ruined.
In African and other poor countries recent reports allege that some organisations are setting up orphanages mainly to get huge amounts in foreign aid. But the children are alleged to be ill-treated or sometimes even sexually abused.
Leading the ‘Your Freedom Day’ campaign are some international high school groups which are calling on people to check on products that they regularly use, find out how they are produced, and if there are reports of child slaves having been used, the people should boycott the products. A world inter-religious movement convened by Pope Francis is also closely involved in the campaign against modern human slavery. We hope that in all countries religious leaders will join forces and call upon the people to act effectively and urgently against modern human slavery affecting children, young girls and women.
In many countries girls or women are drawn into sex slavery through sophisticated means. One woman reported how she responded to an online ad calling for public relations officers in a foreign country with a high salary and other perks. When she went there, she found that she was caught up in a sex-slave racket. Such is the plight of millions of women and girls whose lives and reputations are ruined. If only divine power can save them, then religious leaders need to lead the people out of their comfort zones, to leave their religious boats on familiar shores and plunge into the deep to restore the lives of modern human slaves.
In Sri Lanka, investigative journalists – unfortunately there are just a few left today -- have revealed few if any major cases of child abuse or enforced sex slavery of girls and women.
Yet, on a smaller scale, it is known there are hundreds of households, mainly the richer ones in urban areas, which employ child domestic aides without giving the essential right to education.
On a bigger scale, we have the crisis where about one and a half million Sri Lankan girls and women are known to be working in Middle-Eastern countries, most of them are domestic aides, some are reported to be physically abused and forced to work about 14 hours a day while others are sexually abused. Sri Lanka can never forget and must never forget the tragedy where Rizana Nafeek was executed on the dubious charge of being responsible for the death of a child. This crisis is a shame and a scandal. In the short-term, the National Government needs to take more effective measures to protect these innocent workers. One such move could be the appointment of more women diplomats to Middle-Eastern capitals so that they could give personal care to the girls and women. In the long-term, through the setting up of high-tech manufacturing companies in rural areas, increasing and diversifying our export markets, we could reduce the number going overseas for jobs.
If we are concerned only about ourselves and just read or hear reports about the large scale abuse of children, girls and women, then we are self-centred or enslaved to ourselves and the freedom we talk about may have to be put into the category of Donald Trump’s fake news.