U.S. President Barack Obama has proclaimed January 2010 to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and called for greater public awareness of the problem.
An estimated 27 million people worldwide are trapped as victims of human trafficking, according to Not for Sale, an anti-slavery advocacy group. The black market slave trade is lucrative, worth an estimated $9 billion a year, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“We must join together as a nation and global community to provide . . . safe haven by protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers,” Obama said in the official proclamation, so that “the men, women, and children who have suffered this scourge can overcome the bonds of modern slavery, receive protection and justice, and successfully reclaim their rightful independence.”
Traders often target impoverished, poorly educated individuals from the developing world looking for work or a safer place to call home. Once tricked with promises of safe passage, provision of work, help with visas or easy money, trafficking victims are placed in jobs with long hours, little or no pay, no health care and harsh working conditions. Many face emotional and physical abuse on a regular basis.
Rights groups, security agencies and governments have been working for decades to eradicate human trafficking. But most of it takes place under the table, through unofficial channels, in a murky, multifaceted underworld difficult to penetrate.