We’re in a devastating health crisis that is affecting millions. Economists have signaled a severe global economic crisis, with unprecedented levels of unemployment already pushing another 40-50 million people into extreme poverty – a figure predicted to rise significantly.
But of equal concern, and caused by both these health and economic catastrophes, is the hidden global crisis that has been triggered by this pandemic: a turbo-charging of the crisis of human trafficking.
At its core, human trafficking stems from vulnerability; it’s the most vulnerable people in our communities who are targeted by traffickers. Victims typically have suffered trauma, experienced violence or disaster, are orphaned or lack caring, supportive relationships. Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 40 million vulnerable men, women and children had been trafficked into slavery.
Data already indicates that following COVID-19 there will be millions more men, women and children at risk than ever before — a tsunami of trafficking in the wake of this pandemic. Thanks to COVID-19, loss of livelihoods will leave desperate families wide open to false offers of work as they look for ways to survive. Human traffickers lure victims by promising a better life, with the chance of earning money or receiving an education, of helping their families. They trick, deceive, and sometimes force them into situations of exploitation, abuse and slavery from which they cannot escape. And we’ve known for a long time that they flock to crises of any sort – conflicts, natural disasters or public health emergencies like COVID-19 – to exploit those left vulnerable.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak was accompanied by spikes in abuse, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, teenage pregnancy, violence against children, child labour, and other forms of human trafficking. It is extremely realistic to expect similar occurring in the aftermath of COVID-19; but on a much greater scale.
Throughout the world, we are already seeing rapid increases in sexual exploitation and abuse, especially of children. Enforced lockdowns have seen much higher Internet usage worldwide, accompanied by an increased demand for online pornography. This is creating further demand for trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation.
Severe economic hardship will lead to an increase of families resorting to selling their children into situations of child labour and child marriage as a source of income. It is predicted that COVID-19 will directly cause more than 4 million girls to be married within the next 2 years. And millions more men, women and children will fall prey to trafficking promising work and decent jobs. Those already trapped in forced labour are facing increased abuse and violence, and are being forced to work even longer hours. Migrants will be at particular risk.
What can SIM do?
While this may seem overwhelming information, the good news is that SIM is able to do something to stop this from happening in our communities. For Freedom is SIM’s global anti-trafficking ministry. Our focus is on preventing human trafficking and protecting those most at risk. Instead of waiting until people have been trafficked (fallen off the cliff) and helping them then, we work at the top of the cliff, putting protective measures in place to stop people getting to that point of falling off the cliff (being trafficked). Often these are very practical things, like access to school, healthcare, having enough to eat, a safe place to live; having a strong family or other strong supportive relationships looking after you.
These things build layers of protection around vulnerable individuals and communities, and make them more resilient against being trafficked. And the great news is that the top of the cliff is where SIM is already working, engaged in many practical ministries – for example health, sports, church planting, education to name a few. We are already in a prime position to put practical protective measures in place to keep communities safe from the risk of trafficking following COVID-19.
For Freedom is working to help SIM teams and workers as they do this. Earlier this year our partner ministry in Zimbabwe trained 75 teachers and volunteers who work with orphans and vulnerable children. They estimate through their work in schools and communities, these teachers will teach over 47,000 children this year how to keep themselves safe from being trafficked. We’re working with them on a new COVID-19 project to support vulnerable communities from the risk of trafficking.
—Sarah Scott Webb, For Freedom
What can you do?
- Support the work of For Freedom: project 99737 Go to our website or email Michelle at email@example.com. Will you help?
- Sarah needs further financial support to be able to increase her hours to cope with an increasing workload resulting from the impact of COVID-19. Can you help? Go to our website or email Michelle at nz.donor@ sim.org.
- Pass this article on to any mission partners you support and encourage them to contact For Freedom for support and guidance post-COVID: (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Keep safe online. Make sure the children and young people in your families and communities are safe online. For Freedom has an excellent resource available to help with this. (email@example.com)
— For Sarah and Karine as they lead For Freedom through this challenging season.
— For those left vulnerable and desperate in the aftermath of COVID-19
— For our partners in Zimbabwe, who launched their COVID prevention project in July, and for the communities they serve