29.3 million > 27 million

I am stunned, utterly stunned, sitting at my desk reading an article titled Child Slaves in Modern India: The Bonded Labor Problem written by Lee Tucker in 1997.

The article introduces the story of nine-year-old Lakshmi from Tamil Nabu recounting her ten-year-old sister’s interaction with a “bonded labor man” pleading, “I don't care about school or playing. I don't care about any of that. All I want is to bring my sister home from the bonded labor man.”

I was also ten-years-old in when Lakshmi shared her story.

I am not stunned that bonded labor, child marriage, and human trafficking have been issues of human injustice for so long. In fact, I know each of these issues is deeply rooted (thousands of years) in culture, society, war-torn poverty, and in some cases religion. No, I’m stunned that the collective “we” have known about it’s modern form for the majority of my lifetime and it is just now becoming headline news.

I learned about the various forms of this injustice on December 31, 2011, and set out to do everything in my power to end it in my lifetime. And I’m not alone. There are hundreds of NGOs, social enterprises and justice campaigns that fight alongside me every day.

Since my awakening to the issue in 2011 the median number of victims of modern-day slavery has risen from 27 million to 29.3 million[1]. That confuses me. Shouldn’t it have gone down by now? With the global campaigns (End It Movement, A21 Campaign), organizations that fight it (IJM, Polaris Project, Not For Sale etc.), all the media coverage (CNN Freedom Project), and changes in government policy worldwide, shouldn’t the number have dropped by at least a million?

I dug into a lot of research to answer this question and decided to share the overview of my findings. I hope it will shed some light on misconceptions, answer a few questions, and bring you hope for the future. Here are the four main factors that contribute to the rise of human trafficking (concentrating on minor girls):

Traffickers are adaptable

 The men and women who run these sleazy business deals are not deterred by increased government regulations, laws or social stigma. Why? It is insanely profitable. What was once a $32 billion business in 2009 is now producing $150 billion annually. As with most illegal activity, including the drug and illicit arms trades, profit is the driving force.

The current world economic climate[2] has spurred the business as well. Employers seek to reduce their overhead, reducing the amount of legal employment, leaving traffickers in a desirable position to provide cheap labor alternatives.


Shushmita Dutt defines poverty as “capability–deprivation…[specifically], people having the capability to function as they wish. Some could be deprived of such capabilities in many ways, for instance, by ignorance, government oppression and lack of financial resources.”[3]

Regardless of the reason or definition of poverty in an area, it is historically one of the largest contributing factors to social injustice in the world. A girl/boy of primary school age in a poverty-stricken demographic will often be required to contribute to the household income by the age of ten.

In the countries most impacted by human trafficking, child marriage and bonded labor, girls are removed from school when it becomes a financial burden. Often the boys are sent to school and the girls must find work, take care of household chores, or marry. If the child cannot contribute to the household income in the traditional sense she is more susceptible to trafficking due the financial burden she bares.

Lack of educational opportunities for girls

It is thought that approximately 80 per cent of trafficked individuals are women and girls, while around 50 per cent are minors (Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, 2007:8).

Let's do the math. 11.7 million minor girls.

In 1991 Myron Weiner, author of The Child and the State of India stated, “[N]o one in the world has been successful in removing children from the labor force without making education compulsory. . . .”[4]

At the time Weiner wrote those words less than half of India’s children were attending school. Today, the numbers are not much better. By using education as a means to prevention we can:

Give families an alternative to selling their child as a means for providing for the family.

Remove vulnerable girls from the streets.

Educate the next generation of girls and empower them to become change makers in their country.

Prevent child marriage and decrease the fatality rate of girls who give birth before the age of 15.

Improve the literacy rate among girls, which will in turn increase literacy in the country as a whole.

We must draw upon education to achieve social justice.

The Internet

In a few months Go'el will launch our first handbag line to combat human trafficking, bonded labor and child marriage through providing educational opportunities as a means of prevention. We will utilize e-commerce technology, social media, and online publications to increase sales and fund our missional goals.

Human traffickers are doing the exact same thing. The Internet's reach and accessibility is not judicious. If a trafficker's brothel is shut down they can still illicit sex on the Internet. Online advertisements for good work bring victims right to their door. Porn cites produce a quick payday. I do not have an action plan or solution for this problem. But maybe you do?

11.7 million is the number I look at every day. It is a big number, it is a painful reality, it brings me to my knees, but if it is reduced by even one – just one – then it is worth the fight.


[1] http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/

[2] http://www.cesifo-group.de/ifoHome/facts/Survey-Results/World-Economic-Survey/World-Economic-Climate/Archive/2014/World-Economic-Climate-20140813.html 

[3] Dutt, S. (2010). Girls’ education as freedom? Indian Journal of Gender Studies. 17:1, 25-48

[4]See In Search of a Strategy for Elimination of Child Labour, 3 Nat'l Lab. Inst. Newsl. 13 (1995) (quoting a statement made by Myron Weiner). See generally Myron Weiner, The Child and the State in India (1991) (providing a comparative analysis of the relationship between national education policies and the high incidence of child labor). 

[4] Tucker, L. (August 01, 1997). Child Slaves in Modern India: The Bonded Labor Problem. Human Rights Quarterly, 19,3.


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