Thursday, February 5, 2009

Set Them Free!

On 20 Jan, I joined millions others watched the live telecast of the inauguration of the 44th President of the America.

I could not help but noticed the unusually excited crowd. It was as if they were watching a rock concert. Ask anyone to say something about the 44th President of American, you are likely to hear comments that Barack Obama is the first
black President.

It seems that few people are truly color-blind.

It is indeed a significant chapter in the American history to have an African-American president, 220 years after the first President, George Washington took office in 1789. It's about time.

Many African-Americans have their origins from their slave ancestors. Slavery was prevalent for centuries in the America until it was abolished in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln successfully led the country through the American civil war.

In his book Roots, Alex Haley traced back six generations of his family to Kunta Kinte. who was kidnapped in Africa and sold as a slave. I read the book many years ago and it taught me much about slavery in the old days of the America and how it came to a stop.

The end of slavery did not mean the start of equality. The African-Americans continued to fight for their civil rights. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King actively raised awareness to abolish racial discrimination against African-Americans, notably in his famous speech "I Have A Dream".

When Obama was elected as the president in 2008, it was exactly 40 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated. When he took office in 2009, it was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

It is simply too tempting to ride on the coincidence and amplify the significance of having the first
black American President.

The people have a insatiable appetite for stories about the new First Family and the newspapers went along to report on them. Among other things, it was reported that the First Lady, Michelle Obama's great-great grandfather was an American slave during the pre-civil war days.

With all the attention on slavery, it is hard for anyone to ignore Obama's ethnic origin.

While slavery may sound very much like part of the America's past, it has not really gone away in this modern time. Today, we call it "human trafficking".

Over the past one decade, human trafficking has grown into an epidemic scale. This business has become rather sophisticated and the victims are often exploited in the most inhumane way.

The syndicates appear to be playing a happy 'hide-and-seek' game with law enforcers from various countries. Many were caught but many more went into action.

Human trafficking victims are sometimes tricked, forced or simply abducted by the smugglers. In the most saddening way, many are also sold by their poverty stricken parents. Young girls and children are the 'favorites' and they may be forced into sex trades or becoming child soldiers and beggars. Men are also at risk of being trafficked for forced labor jobs.

Some statistics suggest that there are about 600,000 to 800,000 people who are being smuggled every year. Since human trafficking is illegal, it will not be meaningful to rely on any form of estimates. I think the numbers may just be the tip of the iceberg.

What can we do to stop all the nonsense?

Much of the effort must come from inter-governmental cooperation. Although they cannot ensure that the illicit activities can be cleansed, their tightened network certainly can form a formidable deterrent.

Non-governmental organizations can help too. One of such is the Somaly Mam Foundation. It has the support of the United Nation and it is known for empowering victims to become activists and agents of change.

At individual level, that means, you and I, we can help by sharing and spreading the awareness. In many ways, human trafficking activities are fueled by demand. We can do our part not to contribute to the demand directly or indirectly.

For those who love music, you can learn more about human trafficking at the MTV EXIT, which is a campaign about freedom. Join your favorite artists at TV programs, online concerts and live events and watch them lend their supports in fighting against trafficking.

Freedom is a basic human right - no one should be living without it.


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