Welcome to the Bridge to Freedom Foundation Blog

Thank you for visiting the Bridge to Freedom Foundation (BTFF) blog, where we look forward to bringing you inside information on the inner-workings of BTFF, inside information on our volunteer team and leadership, in-depth coverage of BTFF and partner events, news and happenings from across the globe and so much more.

Learn more about Bridge to Freedom Foundation and how you can help on the BTFF website. We do hope you will subscribe to and follow our blog and please e-mail us at blog@btff.org if you have any feedback, ideas or contributions.

Thank you for your support!
Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Happy National Coffee Day: Have a Fair Trade cup of Joe Today!

In the morning as that alarm clock blares I shoot out of bed like bullet with a sudden, mysteriously founded burst of energy, as I quite literally whack my alarm off and scramble to my morning routine. But that sudden burst of energy goes as quickly as it came and I know the only thing to get my now heavy feet moving against is a strong cup of coffee, which like magic turns me human again. So if your anything like me you cannot live without one of the worlds most traded commodities, but for me each sip comes with a secondary level of comfort in knowing that my 'life's water' is slave and child labor free, as I drink nothing-less than Fair Trade coffee.

Child labor and slavery continues to plague the coffee industry, forcing children to often work to harvest what will soon become your cheap cup of Joe you sip as you trudge through the day. Child labor in the agricultural industry consists of children being bought and sold as slaves or bonded laborers, as migrant or estate workers usually with their family. Many children work for commercial farms and plantations that produce our commodities and are estimated to be 7-12% of the work force. Besides coffee children are often found as labors in the harvest of cocoa, coconuts, cotton, jasmine, palm oil, rubber, sisal, sugar cane, tea, tobacco, vanilla, fruit and vegetables.

According to the ILO, over 132 million children, aged 5-14 years old, work in the agriculture around the world, they are just a segment of the estimated 246 million child laborers around the globe. UNICEF estimates that some 200,000 children are victims of trafficking each year in West and Central Africa alone, for the purpose of working in the supply chain for products such as; cocoa and coffee. Global March Against Child Labor estimates that one in every eight children from 5 to 17 years old, some 179 million, work in the owrst forms of child labor. These children are placed in hazardous working conditions in order to ensure that we have our sweet treats, it is truly a bittersweet story.

Fair Trade is everyone's issue, it is more than looking at the world through a lens of more organic and healthy food, it is more than a fair wage for farmers...Fair Trade is the way to sustainable future for all the worlds children. So join the fight for children across the globe, and join your global citizens for coffee with a cause and drink Fair Trade today!

Take the opportunity to learn about Fair Trade with your children and go on a few of the great sites out there that have games and resources for kids, such as Oxfam's Cool Planet

Please also see previous posts on Child Trafficking, Child Labor and don't forget to check out the following resource pages for more information:

Written by Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Every day, men, women, and children around the world are stripped of their basic rights and trafficked as sex workers, forced laborers, involuntary servants, or for their organs. The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking -- fed by poverty and corruption and facilitated by organized crime -- victimizes more than 20 million people globally. On the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Economic and Environmental Forum in Prague, RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash spoke with Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the OSCE special representative for combating trafficking in human beings, on the latest trends in the battle against the epidemic.

As Apple [prepared] to unveil the latest iPhone this week, the company’s manufacturing partner in China, Foxconn Technology, is coming under renewed criticism over labor practices after reports that vocational students were being compelled to work at plants making iPhones and their components.  Foxconn has acknowledged using student “interns” on manufacturing lines, but says they are free to leave at any time. But two worker advocacy groups said Monday that they had spoken with students who said they had been forced by their teachers to assemble iPhones at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, in north-central China.

Trafficked children in UK council care 'going missing'
Some children trafficked into the UK are going missing from local authority care, a Council of Europe report says. It says there are indications that increasing numbers of people are being brought into the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. The council raises particular concerns over a lack of secure and suitable accommodation for trafficked children who end up in local authority care.
It calls for better trained supervisors or foster carers for them. The Council of Europe's Greta (Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings) says reports suggest a "significant" number of trafficked children in local authority care go missing and some end up rejoining those who exploited them in the first place.

Romania, Bulgaria make trafficking cases priority
At least 540 Bulgarians were victims of human trafficking in 2011, while Romania investigated nearly 900 similar cases last year. The increase, attributed to sexual exploitation, confirms that the two countries remain both source and transit areas in teh region for such illegal activities, experts say. In Romania, the number of the cases in 2011 is up from 717 the previous year. At the same time, anti-human trafficking authorities indicted 480 persons in these cases, compared to 407 in 2010. More than 270 offenders were convicted, up from 203 two years ago. In Bulgaria, of the 112 offenders convicted last year, 95 received a court sentence for sex trafficking.

NGO founder 'shocked' at USAID 
An emotional Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda on Friday denied the charges filed against her by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for allegedly falsifying documents to hide the misuse of at least P210 million ($5 million) in funds donated to the Visayas Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI), a nongovernmental organization she founded in 1991. The VFFI president said she was “shocked by the malicious attack” on the NGO  that she had “built for 20 years with blood, sweat and tears,” but vowed to “continue to provide services for victims of exploitation and human trafficking” (and allow) “our body of work to speak for itself.”
The USAID asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in August to probe the foundation over funds for the group’s projects that it said were missing.

Prop. 35 gets tough on human traffickers
Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive and 2010 Democratic candidate for attorney general, is bankrolling a November ballot measure that would stiffen penalties in California for human traffickers and create new requirements for sex offenders. Proposition 35, whose opponents have no formal organization or funding, would increase prison sentences for traffickers from five to eight years to 12 years to life, depending on the circumstances. It raises the maximum fines from $100,000 to $1.5 million and requires that the money be spent to help trafficking victims and to assist law enforcement agencies prevent trafficking and rescue victims.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

ITVS's Women and Girls Lead Presents Half the Sky and MAKERS

Last Thursday, the Independent Television Series (ITVS) Women and Girls Lead media campaign presented two upcoming PBS media projects in the Senate Russell Building:
* Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
* MAKERS: Women Who Make America 
The event consisted of video clips from Half the Sky and MAKERS, remarks by several leading women in the media and government, and a panel discussion with other distinguished speakers. The purpose of this new initiative is to empower women and girls and to encourage them to take on leadership roles, improve their communities, and to become innovators in areas like the arts, science, business and politics.

Half the Sky is a four-hour television event based on the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. It covers several human trafficking-related issues such as sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and the prevalence of brothels. MAKERS is a digital video and broadcast initiative that tells the story of the women's movement in America through various documentaries.

The Speakers of the event were: Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Sheryl WuDunn, Co-Author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide Patricia de Stacy Harrison, President and CEO of the Corporation fro Public Broadcasting Urmi Basu,Founder of New Light Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS Esta Soler, President of Futures Without Violence Robin Morgan, Co-Founder of the Women's Media Center Among the topics of the event were whether a true difference can be made, the role of public TV, and how far the U.S has come in making progress. All of the panelists seemed to agree that a true difference can be made in the field of media and in the women's movement. Sheryl responded that it is important to highlight the contributions of women and men making changes, and that it is crucial to show people there is a road open to change. Urmi Basu stated that one of the challenges with education is convincing mothers that their daughters deserve a better future, and that an education will allow girls to have better lives. Some of the questions from the Question and Answer segment included what can be done to help change negative stereotypes of seniors, whether the media projects will be shown overseas, what more needs to happen, and the difficulty in choosing whether to intervene in certain potentially dangerous situations.

Check it out Bridge to Freedom Foundation Volunteer Seda Nak was captured on Instagram at the Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn event! Way to represent BTFF and fight for womens rights -especially those victimized by modern slavery- Seda!
You're probably wondering, "What's next?" Well, some of the future initiatives will include the launch of: 18 videos in home languages, including the Half the Sky and MAKERS projects 2 or 3 mobile games, including "9 minutes" - a maternal health game a Facebook game, in November, that will engage and teach people about the issues women face What can you do? Support these initiatives and watch related documentaries and other media. The Half the Sky television event will be broadcasted by PBS this Fall, while MAKERS, will air in Winter 2013.

For more information, visit: Women and Girls Lead - http://itvs.org/women-and-girls-lead/ Half the Sky - http://itvs.org/films/half-the-sky MAKERS - http://www.makers.com/

Monday, September 17, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

WWII-era "comfort women" seek apology
Filipina women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II, otherwise known as "comfort women," are seeking an apology from the Japanese government and a place in the history books of Japan and the Philippines. "Many lost their minds, many died, and many did not recover from fear," said Lita Vinuya, 81. "Look how well Japan has recovered since the war. Surley, they can afford to spare us a little bit of compensation."

India to punish employment of children under 14
Proposed changes to India's child labor laws would mate out prison terms of up to three years, in addition to substantial fines, to anyone who employs children under 14. About 28 million children under 14 are working, chiefly in agriculture, according to UNICEF. the government has "recognized that the long term benefits of education are far more consequential than the short-term gains of child labor," said A.K. Shiva Kumar, an economist with the National Advisory Council.

 Human Trafficking: a misunderstood global scourge
 Sex trafficking has become an American cause célèbre. But does it divert attention from the broader human trafficking issue of modern-day slavery? During a diplomatic visit to Calcutta, India, in may, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped at a shelter for young women and girls. It was not an ordinary shelter, but one with a specific mission - a mission Ms. Clinton wanted reporters to broadcast to Americans back home. It was a shelter established to help human trafficking, an international crime that Clinton and other international players have  called one of the world's largest and most pressing human rights concerns. It was also, primarily, helping girls who'd been trafficked for sex.

"I was constantly at risk of rape or murder," says Leah Albright-Byrd while walking in a public park near Century City in Los Angeles. "I have a friend who was killed as a result of being exploited." When she was in eighth grade, Leah started living on the streets in Sacramento, California. She quickly became a victim of what law enforcement officials now call "human trafficking." "It was a very traumatizing experience," she says. "I ran away from home at the age of 14." Almost immediately, she says, a pimp found her and began selling her for sex on the Internet throughout the state of California.

In new report, Human Rights Watch calls on President Morsi to combat human trafficking in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, calls Sub-Saharan African migrants main victims. Ina report entitled 'Egypt: End Sinai Nightmare for Migrants,' HRW highlights the plight of African migrants, especially Eritreans who are often detained by human-trafficking networks while on their way to next-door Israel. Human Rights Watch has documented the trafficking of the mostly sub-Saharan migrants and human seekers in Sinai, who are tortured and sexually assaulted to press their relatives for ransom," the report reads.

Four men face human trafficking charges after allegedly trying to smuggle an American family Canada. Police say Emmaneal Stanley Omoghan, Felix Omoghan, Seth Lazore and Oren Lazore snuck five people then taken aboard a boat and skipped across the St. Lawrence River. Two adults and three children were said to be on board.

The government's repatriation program for overseas workers in strife-torn Syria has uncovered rampant cases of human trafficking. The Inter-Agency Council Against (Iacat) said about 80 percent of the 1,800 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) brought home from the MIddle East country as the civil war there heightened were victims of human trafficking. Most of them were from the provinces of Maguinadanao, Basilian and Sulu in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Ruby Ramores, Iacat executive officer, said.

A former clique leader of MS-13 in Maryland pled guilty today for his role in a gang-run juvenile prostitution ring. Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington Field Office; and John P. Torres, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Washington made the announcement after the plea was accepted by United States District Judge Anthony J. Trenga.

Friday, September 14, 2012

FACT: More than 13 Million Children are Human Trafficking Victims

There are an estimated 27 Million people around the globe who are the victims of human trafficking; of these more than half -over 13 million- are children.

Why are so many children being trafficked today, and where do they come from? Victims of child trafficking exist in every corner of the globe. International victims are lured by traffickers who offer promises of a better life, work opportunities or a chance to live in a more democratic and free society. Some families, desperately poor, are willing sell one of their children as a sacrifice for the rest of the family.

Contrary to a common assumption, human trafficking is not just a problem in other countries. Human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and some U.S. territories. Domestic child trafficking victims are most commonly trafficked into sexual servitude -forced prostitution- as they are often "wooed" by men -or women- who prey on their vulnerabilities and often lack of a father figure.

Family members, acquaintances, pimps, employers, smugglers, and strangers alike traffic children. They all prey upon the children’s vulnerabilities – their hopes for an education, a job, or a better life in another country. However the reality of these promises are a far cry from the promise of freedom, or an escape from poverty and hardship. Traffickers use psychological intimidation or violence to control the children and gain financial benefits from their exploitation, as the children are forced into prostitution, trained to kill in child armies, forced in to situations of harsh labor, etc. These innocent victims of physical, sexual and psychological exploitation are literally robbed of their childhoods -that which is rarely recovered- and treated as a commodity.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Myanmar military releases 42 more child soldiers
Myanmar authorities released 42 more child soldiers from the armed forces [last] Monday, a move to further end recruitment of under-age children in the armed forces, reported Xinhua, citing local media. The 42 children, who are from across the country;s regions and states, were handed over to their parents in the presence of officials of the ministry of social welfare. The move came after an agreement was signed between Myanmar government and the United Nations in late June on prevention of further recruitment and use of under-age children in the armed forces.

With the upcoming elections, you can't turn on the television without seeing a negative campaign ad or heated news segment giving Americans a glimpse of the political divisions that currently exist in out country. While politicians argue over our future government, we lose sight of how the actions of our current government are impacting the lives of real people right now, like the millions of enslaved men, women and children in the U.S. and around the world at risk if Congress fails to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act by the end of the year.

NY taxi drivers get sex trafficking lesson
New York City taxi drivers will soon not just be taking passengers around the city, they're being asked to help spot potential sex trafficking victims. Under a new city law, drivers should be on the lookout for clues that a passenger is a victim of a sex trafficking activity.In a little under three months the law will kick into effect, and drivers will be required to alert authorities if they see suspicious situations in their cabs which may cause them to believe there is a trafficking victim in the backseat. The city plans to run a training course for the drivers of taxis and private cars for hire. A video is planned to teach what to look for.

A Move That Could Help Reduce Child Labor
Campaigners for the abolition of child labor in India welcomed a Cabinet decision Tuesday which would ban the employment of children under the age of 14. The government's ministers called on Parliament to pass an amendment to the Child Labour Act 1986, a law which, until now, has allowed children below 14 to be involved in "non-hazardous" work. The amendment, if passed, would impose a maximum three-year jail term and 50,000-rupee fine for anyone employing a child under the age of 14 in any kind of work or engaging under-18s in hazardous work. The change would be the most significant development in India's child labor laws since the introduction of a partial ban in 1986, according to activists working for an end to the practice.

Fair Food Program helps end the use of slavery in the tomato fields
Since 1997, the Justice Department has prosecutes seven cases of slavery in the Florida agricultural industry - four involving tomato harvesters - freeing more than 1,000 men and women. The stories are a catalogue of horrors: abductions, pistol whippings, confinement at gunpoint, debt bondage and starvation wages. Thankfully, those enslaved workers may be among the last found in Florida's tomato fields. Today, virtually all Florida tomato growers have joined the Fair Food Program, which includes a code of conduct outlawing debt bondage and requiring human conditions of labor and a more livable wage. Shade stations, toilets and drinking water are appearing in the fields, and educators are spreading word about the code to the harvesters.

Friday, September 7, 2012

FACT: Slaves today are seen as disposable commodities

How does Historical Slavery Compare to Modern Slavery? Today the life of a slave is often equated to that of mere dollars. Today people are comparatively cheaper than they were in the 1600-1800s. Prices for modern-day slaves are at an all time low, while profits remain high. Now ownership tends to last only a few months to a few years, making slaves cheaper to purchase and more easily disposable. In 1850 the purchase price of a slave in the southern US averaged the equivalent of $40,000 today. According to Free the Slaves, a slave today costs an average of $90. People have become a disposable commodity, cheap and easy labor one can just toss out when no longer needed. Globalization and the post-World War II population boom have increased access to, and lowered the cost of, transportation, which has in turn contributed to the increased levels of global slavery. Victims are often driven into slavery by severe poverty or acute need for economic gain. Additionally, the ethnicity of today’s slave is rarely important, however age and gender all too often are and thus women and children make up the majority of modern slavery victims.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

DC SMS Survivor Speaker Panel

Last Thursday, DC Stop Modern Slavery held an All-Survivor Speaker Panel to bring awareness to human trafficking and address some issues faced in society including the influence of media and the law. The contributing speakers were Stacy Jewell Lewis, writer and director of the play Stolen, and Barbara Amaya, activist and author who is currently working on a book entitled, " A Girl's Guide To Survival: Life Lessons From The Street"; Shamere McKenzie, also a survivor, moderated the panel.

After speaking, the panel was opened to a Question and Answer section. When asked  about the role of media, Stacy stated, "We are generally being reprogrammed everyday...media is slowly taking away childhood and putting it into an adult [perspective]." She also added that the "media role is good and bad, [in that it includes] those who want to educate versus those who want to entertain." It was really interesting to hear her take on the Disney film The Lady and the Tramp when speaking about the role of cartoons in media. Stacy expressed how she realized that there were many parallels, though unintentional, with the film and human trafficking.

Barbara contributed to several questions regarding the law including the terms on which police charge. She stated that the charge is "loitering for the purposes of prostitution;" those who are charged are taken to the courthouse chain-gang style like a humiliating walk of shame. Additionally, Barbara mentioned that Safe Harbor laws should label victims as people with needs because survivors are barred from many programs, like Victim Assistance and jobs, when they have convictions.

All three survivors had the opportunity to respond on the use of the word "pimp." People have become desensitized to the term over time, especially since the term is being glamorized. Shamere said "if the media can make us laugh at things, then it's ok."

DC Stop Modern Slavery will be having a pre-walk rally this Monday. The rally will include guest Tina Frundt, the founder of Courtney's House. Bridge to Freedom foundation is a proud partner of Courtney's house.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Human Trafficking Ring Leaders Arrested in Austin
Police say they arrested the "main pimps" from two human trafficking rings that authorities said forced women into prostitution and moved them around the nation. Two men and a woman who were working in two interconnected rings were arrested Thursday night in Austin. Police found four victims - two from Houston and two from Florida - who were being forced into prostitution, Austin police Lt. Jerry Gonzalez said. Two women - whom Round Rock police took to the hospital because of injuries - told officials that they had been kidnapped in Houston and taken to Austin for the purpose of prostitution and robbing potential "Johns" arrest records said.

In California, an Effort to Fight Human Trafficking

This November, California voters will decide on a ballot initiative that would strengthen penalties for those involved in the sex trafficking of women and children. The CASE Act - or Californians Against Sexual Exploitation - would make those cases easier to prosecute. And if it passes, those convicted of the crime would have to register as sex offenders, which they're not currently required to do. Los Angeles is a major hub for child sex trafficking in the state, though the LAPD does not give out numbers on how widespread the problem is because it is such an under-reported crime. 

Host Nations for Migrant Workers Inefficient in Fight Against Human Trafficking- Binay

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Tuesday said that host countries for migrant workers failed to protect migrant workers' deploring they lacked a strong legal framework to support labor and recruitment policy under international human rights standards. "Human trafficking and human smuggling or illegal recruitment flourish in part because destination countries do not complement the efforts of labor-sending countries at combating these twin evils in labor migration," Binay said in a speech he delivered at the 23rd Conference of the Presidents of Law Associations in Asia (POLA) held in Pasay City.

Republican and Democratic Conventions could spur sex trafficking experts?
The tens of thousands of people expected to attend the 2012 national political conventions may spur sex trafficking in the host cities. Advocates say the start of the Republican National Convention [last] Monday and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte [this week] could create a corresponding increase in the number of workers who may be compelled involuntarily to perform commercial sexual acts, the Charlotte Observer reported.