U.S. Group Fights to Free Modern-Day Slaves


This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

American officials estimate that at least 800,000 people a year are brought across borders, into slavery. But they admit this estimate is probably low. Last June, the International Labor Organization estimated that at least 1,200,000 children a year are victims of trafficking. Slavery involves the sex trade, as well as other kinds of forced labor and military service.

One of the groups fighting to end the slave trade is the International Justice Mission. This non-profit group in the United States helps nations enforce laws against slavery.

Gary Haugen started the group in 1997. He was a trial lawyer for the United States Justice Department. He fought cases of police wrongdoing. He also assisted the United Nations. He directed the investigation into the 1994 killings in Rwanda.

The International Justice Mission receives information from aid and religious workers about possible cases of slavery. IJM lawyers then build legal cases against those responsible. Investigators secretly gather evidence. They use tape recorders and video cameras. The group intervenes once it has enough information to support a case. Members go to local officials to seek legal charges.

IJM estimates that it helps free several hundred people a year from slavery. Its Web site includes the story of a boy named Sridhar in southern India. It says his parents sold him to a local moneylender to pay for food. He was 10 years old at the time. His parents owed the moneylender $31.

So, for six days a week, the boy made cigarettes to pay off the debt. The amount he earned each day would have kept him in slavery until he was an adult. IJM investigators say they helped the boy appeal to the local government. They say he is now free and attending school.

Another job of the group is education. IJM officials say have a religious duty to fight slavery. The group says it provides people of faith with the training, tools and resources to become active.

Gary Haugen says international treaties are important. But he says sometimes the best way to fight slavery is to attack it at the local level.

The International Justice Mission Web site is ijm.org. The mailing address is post office box 58147, Washington, D-C, 20037, USA.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.