Slavery Undercover

By Celock, John | Children's Voice, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Slavery Undercover


Celock, John, Children's Voice


An estimated 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States every year. About half are believed to be children.

Growing up without running water and electricity, only eating one meal a day in a poor rural village in Zambia, young Given Kachepa imagined the United States as a place with no crime, happy families, and wealth-a life the orphaned 11-year-old saw on television's Cosby Show.

He was anticipating a future of earning a dollar a day, if he could find a job, and dreading coming into contact with the rampant tuberculosis and HIV epidemics, when he was approached by a Texas church group about auditioning for a choir and the chance to come to the United States. He was thrilled. This would be his chance to live life like the Huxtable family.

With the promise of two years in the United States, including the chance at an education, a salary, money for his brothers and sisters, and the ability to raise money to build schools in Zambia, Kachepa saw the perfect opportunity. With only two years of singing experience, and facing rules barring three relatives from being in the choir at the same time-he had two cousins also auditioning-he was worried about losing his chance to come to the United States. When he was picked for the choir, he thought his life would change for the better.

"I could envision nothing bad happening," he says. "Our parents trusted America as the land of the free. If I had stayed, my life would have been a fight. I would have finished [school] through the seventh grade. I would not have a place to stay-I had been sleeping in a church. I would not know where I would get money for food."

Once he arrived in the United States, Kachepa discovered he would not be living a perfect life. His dreams of living a life of prosperity, with a close-knit family in a brownstone in Brooklyn, instead turned into a life of little sleep, no money, close scrutiny, daily threats, and the fear of returning to Zambia in disgrace. Kachepa had become a victim of human trafficking.

21st Century Slaves

The U.S. government estimates some 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States-about half of them children-and 800,000 are trafficked worldwide, each year. A study released this year by the U.S. Department of Justice pinpoints the East Asia/Pacific region as the largest source of individuals who are trafficked into the United States.

According to a breakdown provided by Free the Slaves, a nonprofit advocacy group, 46% of victims are forced to work in prostitution, 27% go into domestic servitude, 10% work in agriculture, 5% in factories, and the remaining 12% in miscellaneous categories, including food service and consumer goods.

"Trafficking is a hidden phenomenon," says Martha Newton, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "It can be forced labor in a Chinese buffet restaurant or a strip mall in your neighborhood. It is not your stereotype of sex labor."

The Victims of Trafficking Protection Act, enacted in 2000, is the federal government's main enforcement mechanism on human trafficking. In addition to making human trafficking illegal, the law provides for increased federal law enforcement tools; allows for increased social services for victims of human trafficking, including creating a designation of certified human trafficking victims; and created the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center in the U.S. State Department to monitor and enforce human trafficking laws.

Newton's office administers the certification process. Once victims become certified-a process she says allows victims to be treated as victims-they are eligible for mental health assistance, medical benefits, housing assistance, and job training and placement. Part of the certification process includes having victims cooperate with criminal justice proceedings against their captors. Since the law was passed, 969 people, including 97 children, have become certified human trafficking victims. …

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