Ending Child Slavery…All Together Now!

by Jill Christianson, National Education Association

On a sunny day late in September, I tagged along on a lobbying visit to the Brazilian Embassy in Washington – led by Kailash Satyarthi, with colleagues from the Child Labor Coalition and the International Labor Rights Forum.  Following this fall’s swirl of activities at the UN General Assembly and a myriad of meetings about the Beyond-2015 plans (Sustainable Development Goals) including education, Kailash is focused on one thing…ENDING CHILD SLAVERY.

Kailash Satyarthi – who is this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Malala, talked in that meeting about how language about ending child slavery can be inserted into the negotiations for the new goals.  He’s counting on governments taking the lead to act on behalf children who are trapped in slavery.  The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are around 5.5 million children who are enslaved.  This includes thousands of children in fisheries in Ghana, girl brides in Yemen, 6-year-olds who are Restaveks in Haiti, children weaving carpets in India, and the over 100,000 children who are sex trafficked in the United States. 

Stories of ending slavery are impactful – we can make a difference.

The educators of Maryland recently heard from survivors of trafficking (yes, a form of slavery) at the Maryland State Education Association Convention.  Survivor Evelyn Chumbow told her story of being sold at the age of 9 and transported from her community in Cameroon to domestic torture in Silver Spring, Maryland.  She counts herself younger today to compensate for the lost years that she endured in slavery.  She is speaking out about her experience so that others can learn and take action.

Evan Robbins is a teacher making an impact.  With his students at Metuchen High School in New Jersey, he has successfully helped broker the release of 40 children who were slaves in the fisheries of Lake Volta in Ghana.  His organization, Breaking the Chains through Education is now funding a Ghanaian social worker to ensure the well-being of the rescued children – in community life and at school.  Evan’s high school students make presentations in their community about the children who are enslaved in the fisheries of the West African nation and actions that every day people in the United States can do to help.

We have a global issue here – and yes, we can take action.  Though we have globally made progress on EFA and the MDGs in education since 2000 – we now must focus on the hardest to reach children in the most difficult of circumstances.  The new Sustainable Development Goals will likely call for progress of all nations – including the United States – in education and beyond.  You can add your voice to be sure that the enslavement of children is addressed in these goals.

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General needs to hear from us.  Sign the Petition to End Child Slavery.  By doing so, we can make a difference!

The End Child Slavery Week, beginning on November 20, brings global attention to the needs of children whose human rights are not recognized – including the right to quality education.   This new advocacy includes the Global March Against Child Labor, combined with Education International, Anti-Slavery International and other global organizations.  Together, we can act to end the enslavement of children.

Jill Christianson is with the International Relations office at the National Education Association and a member of the Child Labor Coalition. (This column was originally published Oct. 31, 2014 on the web site of the National Education Association).