Sierra Leone is one country which has answered that call. We appreciate the strength of support towards this agenda, and we implore others to support it.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means, like force, abduction or coercion, for an improper purpose including forced labour or sexual exploitation. It takes on many forms: domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, child labour, child marriage.’’
Freetown and Sierra Leone has a historical relationship with slavery, but slavery did not end with its abolition in the 19th Century. Instead, it changed its form and continues to harm people in every country in the world. We have seen women and girls forced into prostitution, adult and young males forced to work in agriculture or construction, children in sweatshops, or girls forced to marry older men. Their lives are controlled by their exploiters, they no longer have a free choice and they have to do as they’re told. The British Government estimates that tens of thousands of people are in modern slavery in the UK today.
Modern slavery can affect people from any age, gender or race. It more often than not affects people and communities who are vulnerable. It can be someone living in poverty who is duped by the prospect of an attractive job, only to find out it was not what was promised.
Slavery is more likely to occur where the rule of law is weak and corruption is rife, and to groups who are not protected by the law, for example migrants whose visa status is irregular. That is why it is so important for institutions to be strong, independent, and well-resourced.
In the UK, most victims are trafficked from overseas, but there are also a significant number of British nationals in slavery. Many people, again mostly women and girls, also end up in domestic slavery. Others, particularly children, are forced into crime such as cannabis production, petty theft or begging.
Sierra Leone is a source, transit, and destination country for children and women trafficked for the purpose of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are children, trafficked internally within the country, largely from rural provinces, and sometimes from refugee communities, to urban and mining centres.
We must all join hands to put an end to this inhuman act. It is the responsibility of every government and individual to stand against modern slavery. We commend Sierra Leone for having the courage to answer the Call to Action. We now look forward to working with the government in meeting those commitments.
The author is British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone