By Nicole Bauke
Human trafficking, whether for forced labor, child labor, or prostitution, is a prominent issue throughout the world, including in the United States. Worldwide, an estimated 29 million adults and children are currently being trafficked, surpassing the arms trade as the second most profitable illegal trade in the world, behind illicit drugs.
Thursday, Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights hosted two advocates for victims of human trafficking. The first, Lorraine Dillon, is the founder of Right To Be Free, a local non-profit organization that funds the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked children in Africa. Eric Peasah, the other guest, is a former Ghanian social worker who founded the field sector of Right To Be Free, which works in Ghana to rescue children there.
“The worst part about human trafficking is the fact that anyone can be targeted, and unlike drugs or arms, victims of human trafficking are undetectable,” said Dillon.
Peasah flies to Ghana to work with local organizations fighting human trafficking and to find and free children doing forced labor for fisherman on Lake Volta. These children work 14 hours a day, going out as early as 4 a.m., and perform tasks that overbuild their muscles to an extent that can stunt their natural growth. The working conditions are life threatening, and many boys have been severely maimed from diving accidents.
Peasah’s organization is not a forceful one, he said. He has no governmental authority nor does he go into a trafficking situation with an unfriendly, closed eye to the traffickers. His aim is to befriend traffickers and reason with them as to why they should free the children who work for them.
Peasah stated that many of the traffickers are not inherently bad people, they are ignorant, or were trafficked themselves, or believe that they are doing these children and their poor families a favor. His job is to teach them that what they are doing is wrong, and provide different support programs, where, according to Peasah, “fishermen can buy shared equipment and create fish ponds to fish more effectively… without the children.”
It is not an easy job, and many times traffickers will hide their children when Peasah and men like him come to investigate the situation, or they will ram his boat in attempt to sink him. Still, Peasah said he has rescued between 80 and 90 children since 2003 and presses for our action in the U.S. It is important that we all educate ourselves and others, and advocate for victims of human trafficking.
In Peasah’s documentary, “Not My Life,” Sheila White, a former victim of sex trafficking and now a mentor for victims, said that you reach a point when “you really feel like you’re not even a person.”
In an attempt to combat this sentiment, the rescued children receive medical attention and live in a rehabilitation center for six months before being returned to their families. While this chapter of their lives will mark their history forever, it does not have to shape their identity.
A video from the program showed pictures of healthy and happy rescued children, a tribute to past victims, and an interview with one smiling boy going to school in Ghana now with dreams of becoming a doctor. The message: the change we can affect through our actions, knowledge, and care is paramount.