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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

National Human Trafficking Hotline Bill Passed 
Great news everyone! The Human Trafficking Hotline Act has passed the PA legislature. It is now on to the Governor's Office for final approval. Once the Governor signs the legislation, it will take effect in 60 days. House Bill 235 was introduced by Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks) as a companion bill to Leach's Senate Bill 338. The bills would require the Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline number to be placed prominently in certain establishments and locations in an effort to curb the incidence of human trafficking in Pennsylvania and help victims. You can view the Press Release here: SB 338 Press Release

Shrimp Exports to West tied to bonded labor
In the third chapter of Siddarth Kara's new book on bonded labour, she explores the shrimp industry of Bangladesh. Chingri (shrimp) harvesting provides a highly illustrative case study of the very powerful ways in which environmental change can directly contribute to human trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labor exploitation, especially in the far reaches of the developing world. Each of the stages of Bangladesh's shrimp industry supply chain is tainted by some form of severe labor exploitation.

Increase in Teen Sex Trafficking in DC
If you think human trafficking is something that happens only in other countries, think again. It's happening to girls as you as 12 years old right here in the area of the Nation's capital. FAIR Girls is a non-profit organization that helps victims of human trafficking to survive. Asia Graves of Northwest DC works for the organization, speaking out in high schools and telling her story. At age 16, she was bought, beaten, raped, choked and sold again. She's 24 today, a college student, an advocate and a true inspiration. But her path wasn't easy. This college student, and now-women's right advocate has scars you can see, and many you can't. She says her hell started when she ran from her drug-addicted mom and alcoholic dad, "The support I found was from young men as well as men who were actually pimps who told me they loved me. They were the father figure that I never had," she said.

Forced Migration in the 21st Century: Urbanised and Unending
More than 70 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict, political upheaval and disasters, as well as by climate change and development projects, and are now living as migrants, the International Red Cross said on Tuesday. The World Disasters Report 2012 said most forced migrants are displaced for the long term or are  permanently dispossessed, requiring governments and humanitarian agencies to adopt more flexible approaches to migrant and integration. The cost to the international community of forced migration is at least $8bn (£4.9bn) a year, according to the report.

New Human Trafficking Law to Make Prosecutions in Scotland Easier
It is hoped that the statutory aggravation legislation will make it easier to prosecute the perpetrators. The move was one of a series of measures agreed at a summit on human trafficking held in Edinburgh. The meeting came on the day it was revealed there were 93 suspected victims of the crime in Scotland last year. The inter-departmental ministerial group also showed the majority of trafficking victims north of the border came from Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Beedi industry's child workers trapped in economic slavery
Each day, between 10 and 14 hours, Indian women and children roll at least 1,000 beedis- for less than $2. Beedis, traditional hand-rolled Indian cigarettes, make nearly half of India's entire tobacco market and while the manufacturers make billions of dollars, the millions of workers are trapped in economic slavery.  A study estimated over 1.7 million children working in the industry and it is usually the only way to keep food on the table.  "The pressure to keep up with the speed and meet the target is so intense that many skip their meals and even avoiding drinking water so they do not need to go to the toilet," says Shanu, a community volunteer. The situation of the beedi workers involves violations of their fundamental right sand freedoms.

Life gets strange hunting traffickers in the US
CNN Freedom Project is reporting on the fight against sex trafficking- not in the developing world, but in the affluent Orange County near Los Angeles.  Undercover cops are working to earn the trust and confidence of  girls forced into prostitution, a new attitude of law enforcement that prostitutes are victims, controlled and manipulated by their pimps.  The police set up sting operations to capture these pimps, but even with months of surveillance, it can be difficult to get charges to stick.  Despite the frustration, the women are offered shelter, protection and a chance to start anew.

Canadian teen girls charged with human trafficking
Two girls have been charged with human trafficking and a third teenager is still at large for alleged pimping.  Three separate incidents were identified where three female victims were lured to a housing complex in Ottawa through social media and then forced to other locations for prostitution purposes.  Staff Sgt. John McGetrick said that the meetings were supposed to be an "enjoyable activity", like a hang out.  "There was no ill-intention in the invite."  Police believe that there were no adults involved in the operation and the police are now looking for the johns that sexually engaged with the victims.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

Monday, the FREE Project hosted a screening of the film The Dark Side of Chocolate, sponsored by George Washington University (GWU) Elliott School Institute for Global and International Studies

The film reveals the hidden practices of the chocolate industry, including the use of child slaves on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. Afterward, there was a question and answer session with Sean Rudolph, Campaigns Director of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). 

The ILRF is campaigning against two organizations, Hershey's and Whole Foods. Why these two companies? Well, Hershey's owns Dagoba chocolate, an organic high-quality brand of chocolate that makes up a very small percentage of the chocolate products sold by Hershey's and is sold in the Whole Foods markets. Unfortunately, Hershey's has been known to be a participant in child labor and the non-fair trade market through their supply chains. Many other food cooperatives have refused to support Dagoba chocolate until Hershey's proves that it is willing to commit to ending child slave labor in West Africa where much of its chocolate comes from. 

Rudolph mentioned that some of the governments of these African countries are trying to find solutions to the child slave labor problem with cocoa companies. Child labor is a significant issue in West Africa, especially in countries such as the Ivory Coast. An estimated 1.8 million children in West Africa are in the cocoa industry. The First Lady of the Ivory Coast is trying to hold cocoa companies accountable by making it so that these companies have her approval before continuing their work. In Ghana, the government, buys all cocoa products and sets prices. Still, part of the problem is the inequality of the supply chains. The governments of these African countries have some control, but they do not necessarily have as much power over multinational companies as one may think they do. The campaign, called Raise the Bar, Hershey!, seeks to gather support in urging the Hershey Company to commit to ethically sourced, Fair Trade cocoa.

Although I love Hershey's candy, I do not approve of their use of child labor. I've joined the Raise the Bar, Hershey! campaign and have committed myself to not purchasing Hershey's products until the Hershey Company commits to ending this problem.

Support the raise the Bar, Hershey! campaign. Also, support the Bridge to Freedom Foundation by registering or donating to our team for the 2012 DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk!!! Go to sms.kintera.org/btff.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Child marriage at heart of today's global day for girls 
World leaders are joining United Nations agencies today in calling for an end to the practice of child marriage on the first International Day of the Girl. Ideas for action and myriad events -- including several dozen as part of the Girl Up campaign -- are planned worldwide, where one out of seven girls is married before age 15. "While the oppression of girls perpetuates a cycle of poverty, the empowerment of girls has a ripple effect that strengthens families, communities, countries, and ultimately the world," writes Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation. 

Afghan child brides under UN spotlight
Greater efforts must be made to protect girls in Afghanistan, where nearly half are married as child brides and almost one in six weds before they turn 15, the United Nations said Thursday. "Early marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights and impacts all aspects of a girl's life," a group of UN organizations said in a statement to mark the International Day of the Girl Child...The UN group, including the children's and women's organizations as well as the Afghan mission, said there was a strong link between the age of a mother and maternal death. Despite progress in the past 10 years, the UN says Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is still 327 per 100,000 live births -- one of the worst in the world. "Girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24," the statement said. The UN points to a link between access to education and the prevention of early marriage.

Well, Uttara from West Bengal was 12 years old when her father fixed her marriage. He even paid the groom's side 2000 rupees. An impoverished farmer, he had to sell a goat and trees to raise the dowry. This may seem an image from the past - yet, this is a common reality all over the country. Close to half the girls in India are married before 18 years of age. In Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal, child marriage concerns 3 out of 5 girls. India has the highest absolute number of child brides - about 24 million. This represents 40% of the 60 million child marriages globally.

Islamists in Mali recruit, pay for child soldiers
Across northern Mali, Islamists have plucked and paid for as many as 1,000 children from rural towns and villages devastated by poverty and hunger, the Associated Press has found in several dozen interviews with residents, human rights officials, four children or youth and an Islamist official. The AP also saw several other children with machine guns half their size strolling down the streets in Timbuktu, where Westerners can no longer go because of the threat of kidnapping. The interviews shed new light on the recruitment practices of the Islamists, including first-hand accounts of how much money is being offered to poor youth and their families to join. They also provide evidence that a new generation in what was long a moderate and stable Muslim nation is becoming radicalized, as the Islamists gather forces to fight a potential military intervention backed by the United Nations.

Senate OKs harsher anti-trafficking bill
Attempts to commit various human trafficking-related activities such as recruitment, selling and transporting persons are now crimes under a new Senate-backed bill, which has been unanimously approved on third and final reading. The Expanded Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act of 2010 or Senate Bill No. 2625, extending the original anti-trafficking law or Republic Act 9208, imposes harsher panalties on attempted trafficking and encourages state officials, not-for-profit entities and the media to publicize the identities of accused traffickers. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged President Benigno Aquino III to fast-track the signing of the measure.

According to a growing list of religious groups, feminists, celebrities and policy makers, adult classifieds website Backpage.com is profiting from one of the ugliest crimes on the planet: sex trafficking. Backpage’s critics say they are facilitating sex slavery and should shut the site down. New York Times writer Nick Kristof pressured Goldman Sachs to unload its shares in Village Voice Media overnight (and at a $30 million loss) in March. In July, Washington State introduced a legislative attack on CDA230 that aims to make websites like Backpage criminally responsible for third-party content posted by minors – a move that put the EFF on the offensive on behalf of the Internet Archive, Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman says, to make sure the legislation “doesn’t cross the line to the government throwing people in jail for what their users do.”

Debt bricks in Pakistani 'slaves'
One does not always need a time machine to travel into the past - a visit to a typical brick kiln in Pakistan's Punjab province is enough to evoke a time when human beings were traded like animals and slavery was rampant. Overburdened by loans, generation after generation of workers, totaling about 4.5 million spread across 18,000 kilns around the country, toil for nothing more than the promise of freedom. Ata Muhammad (28) and his wife work for 18 hours a day at a kiln in the outskirts of Lahore, where they are paid 450 rupees (US$4.80) per 1,000 bricks, irrespective of how long it takes to complete the task. According to estimates from the labor department, it takes a standard family of five, including children, a whole day to make 1,000 bricks.

Experts to study region's gangs, sex trafficking
A trio of local professors have received a $399,000 federal grant to research the scope and nexis of gang activity and sex trafficking in the region. The three-year study, entitled “Measuring the Extent and Nature of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in the San Diego/Tijuana Border Region,” will bring together Point Loma Nazarene University’s professor of cultural anthropology Jamie Gates, University of San Diego’s assistant professor Ami Carpenter and San Diego State University’s professor of criminal justice Dana Nurge. The project will begin in January. The National Institute of Justice has begun funding research on trafficking across the country in recent years in an attempt to understand the scope of the problem. Experts at the federal agency say much more work is needed on assessing how much trafficking goes on, how it works and who are the perpetrators and victims in the United States.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

International Day of the Girl Child

Earlier today, our Executive Director, Cassandra Clifford posted on the Foreign Policy Association's Children blog about the struggles of girls around the world and the need to end child marriage.

She stated that for millions of little girls across the world, childhood is brief. It is estimated that 10 million girls a year worldwide, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are married under the age of 18, some as young as seven or eight. According to UNICEF, more than 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India. There are some 60 million children who have been forced to enter into marriage and the numbers will only continue to rise if gender inequality is not made a global priority.

This year, the fight against child marriage was made a priority by The Elders’, a coalition of prominent retired statesmen that includes Nobel Peace Prize winners and former heads of state, who launched a campaign against the practice. Their effort, Girls Not Brides, was formally launched at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York and has now gained the support and backing of many other global foundations.

One major front of this battle is India. According to The State of the World’s Children 2012 report released by UNICEF last Wednesday, 22% of women between 20 and 24 in India gave birth to a child before they turned 18. Furthermore, 45 out of every 1,000 babies are born to mothers between the ages of 15-19 years old. The report’s shocking statistics also showed that 57% of male adolescents (15-19 years old) and 53% of female adolescents thought a husband was justified in beating up their wives under certain circumstances.

Read the rest of this post by our Executive Director, Cassandra Clifford on the Foreign Policy Association's Children's blog here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round- Up

Changing the culture of child marriage in Malian refugee camps – mission impossible?
When the Taureg fled the fighting in north Mali into neighbouring Burkina Faso they brought part of their culture with them – the practice of child marriage. When one raises the question of early childhood marriage in the refugee camps they close ranks and shy away from the subject. “It is taboo to discuss child marriage,” says Fatimata Nabias-Ouedraogo, Plan Burkina’s Child Protection Advisor. “If we notice a young girl in the company of a man and we ask who this man is, they would say ‘Oh, he’s a friend’. We know that he might in fact be either the husband or fiancĂ© who is looking over her.” In the Taureg culture, early marriage is seen as mechanism to prevent the girl from yielding to temptation to have sex outside of marriage. To do so – or to become pregnant – would be akin to an unpardonable sin. Nabias-Ouedraogo says there are numerous health, social welfare and economic reasons why early marriage is a bad thing.

An online game is gaining popularity on Facebook for not merely amassing points, but also creating social good. "Global Good Challenge," launched by the United Nations Foundation, offers chances to win prizes -- such as tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards and VIP passes to a Lady Gaga show -- for taking social action online and in the real world to help combat global issues such as child marriage, disease and poverty. "Instead of donating money, we want people to donate their social media influence," says the game's creator, Zaw Thet. Check out the Global Good Challenge here: www.unfoundation.org/features/globalgood/

UN Foundation executives are singled out for work
Among the executive honorees on Variety's Women's Impact list are Elizabeth Gore and Dani Zapotoczny of the United Nations Foundation, who lead large-scale partnerships and community outreach, respectively. "My job is not to save someone's life but to provide you with the opportunity to save someone's life -- whether you're using your voice to sign a petition against child marriage or giving $10 to buy a bed net," Gore says.

 DHS, DOT and Amtrak to Combat Rising Problem of Human Trafficking in US

As part of the federal government’s redoubled efforts across the spectrum of federal agencies to combat human trafficking, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, announced Thursday a new partnership among DHS, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Amtrak to battle the trafficking of humans, a problem that poses a homeland and national security risk. Under the new partnership, “DHS and DOT will work with Amtrak to train over 8,000 frontline transportation employees and Amtrak Police Department officers to identify and recognize indicators of human trafficking, as well as how to report suspected cases of human trafficking,” DHS said in an announcement.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Obama rails against 'modern slavery' of trafficking 
US President Barack Obama has decried human trafficking as "modern slavery", while outlining new measures to tackle the problem. He called trafficking an "outrage", in remarks to an annual global forum organized by ex-President Bill Clinton. International efforts were needed to help more than 20 million trafficking victims, said Mr Obama. As he spoke, the White House unveiled steps to stop trafficking in government contracting, including overseas. The administration's executive order also announced new training programmes for prosecutors, police officials and immigration judges, among others. In Tuesday's speech to the Clinton Global Initiative, Mr Obama said that human trafficking "must be called by its true name: modern slavery". Victims included abused workers who toil for little pay, boys who are turned into child soldiers, and girls sold into the sex trade. "It is barbaric and it is evil and it has no place in a civilised world," Mr Obama said.
Uzbek government breaks promise to end child labor in cotton fields
Uzbekistan’s prime minister pledged last month to end child labor in the country’s cotton fields. But as the harvest season gets under way, human rights activists say children as young as 13 are being put to work under grueling conditions, despite extreme measures to recruit adult labor. “Every year, from the beginning of the first days of September, the entire country is immersed in a cotton hysteria,” said Hakim,a human rights activist based in Tashkent, who asked his last name not be used for fear of persecution. “Urban residents are in a panic looking for a way to escape slavery and not be sent to work.”

Fact Sheet: Executive Order Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts
 More than 20 million men, women, and children worldwide are victims of human trafficking.  Companies around the world are taking steps to eliminate the potential for trafficked labor in their operations and supply chains, and President Obama is committed to protecting vulnerable individuals as government contractors and subcontractors perform vital services and manufacture goods procured by the United States.  As the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, the U.S. Government has a responsibility to combat human trafficking at home and abroad, and to ensure American tax dollars do not contribute to this affront to human dignity.

India slowly confronts epidemic of missing children
 They are boys like Irfan, drugged and abducted at the age of 9 by two men on a motorbike as he walked home one day after playing with friends. “It was living hell these past two years, trying to figure out where we could find him,” said his father, Iqbal Ali. “I used to run a biscuit bakery, but from the day he disappeared, I got so caught up trying to meet politicians, police and people who claim to do magic to get children back, that I had to shut down my bakery. I had no time for it.” More than 90,000 children are officially reported missing every year, according to data compiled and released late last year by leading children’s rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which showed the problem was far greater than previously thought. Up to 10 times that number are trafficked, according to the group...It is an epidemic that, until a few years ago, remained unreported and largely ignored by the authorities. 

Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation Becomes Law
Some 65,000 children were lured into the sex trade in California between 2009 and 2010, yet only 13 people were ever sent to prison human traffic during that time. Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation to help prevent sex trafficking crimes involving minors in California. Authored by Senator Mark Leno, D-San Rafael, and signed into law Monday, the bill gives prosecutors new tools to help ensure that criminals who are convicted of sex trafficking crimes are denied access to the resources, equipment, and cash flow that would allow them to operate and commit future crimes.