This year, the United States is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the date President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that freed African-American slaves. A century and a half after millions of men, women and children held in slavery were declared forever free, President Barack Obama noted that the Emancipation Proclamation, “reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to the enduring cause of freedom. Then as now, we remain steadfast in our resolve to see that all men, women and children have the opportunity to realise this greatest of gifts.”
Regrettably, we are still a long way from achieving the vision of a world free from all contemporary forms of slavery. As many as 27 million people worldwide are victims of modern-day slavery, also known as trafficking in persons. Modern slavery takes various forms. It could be the abuse of domestic workers trapped in their employers’ homes or the enslavement of a man on a farm or estate. It could be the prostitution of a young girl in a bottle store or the compelled service of a boy working in a local market. Whatever form it takes, at its core, human trafficking is a crime of exploitation that robs its victims of their freedom and dignity. Modern slavery and human trafficking occur in every country in the world, and we all have a responsibility to respond to it.
The United States is committed to fighting modern slavery at home and around the world using what is known as the 3P approach—prosecuting traffickers, protecting their victims, and preventing this crime in the future. We are eager to partner with governments that take this problem seriously, and we are working with governments as well as stakeholders in civil society, the religious community and the private sector, which all bring unique capabilities and expertise to this struggle. A major part of our work is raising awareness about this issue around the world and encouraging greater activism in finding, stopping, and preventing this crime.
The Malawian Government is a strong partner in the fight against modern slavery. Many different government institutions, from the Ministry of Home Affairs (including local police and border officials) to the Ministry of Labour, from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare to the Ministry of Justice are all working at all levels and with other partners to identify trafficking victims, give them the care and shelter they need, and prosecute their traffickers. I am impressed by the strides in this area over recent years and am encouraged by the government’s declared intent to pass a draft Anti-Human Trafficking Bill into law in the near future.
To effectively fight this modern day, transnational scourge, active and engaged citizens are crucially important. If you suspect trafficking in your community, you can report possible traffickers or victims to the nearest victim support unit, located in police stations nationwide. If an offer of employment seems too good to be true— it probably is, so ask questions before jumping at offers. You can also support efforts to keep children in school as long as possible, which offers them better education and makes them less vulnerable to exploitation.
It is going to take all of us—learning how to identify trafficking in persons, knowing what to do when we see it, and preventing it from harming our communities—if we are going to succeed in our common fight against modern slavery. And this struggle deserves nothing less than our full support. As President Obama said: “the fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.” The United States remains committed to this work, and I hope you will be our partner in this effort.
—The author is US Ambassador to Malawi