RICHMOND, Va. — A common Bible story that is shared with children is the account of a boy who had a coat of many colors. Kids learn that this boy, 17-year-old Joseph, was sold by his older brothers as a slave to tend the house of an Egyptian nobleman. Joseph’s story is often used to teach children about God’s sovereignty in all circumstances. But sometimes an important word within that narrative is overlooked: slave.
Slavery is a horror many endure today. And Joseph’s story is an opportunity for children to study and understand modern-day slavery and develop a heart that longs to bring freedom to the oppressed.
What is modern slavery?
Modern slavery, trafficking in persons, and human trafficking have been used as umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
The Global Slavery Index reports that up to 45.8 million people globally live in modern slavery through hard labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, forced labor, child labor, or debt bondage. Nearly one in three victims of slavery is a child, some as young as 5 or 6 years old.
According to the International Labour Organization, however, there are more than 200 million child laborers around the world. Child labor is not always considered slavery, but it nevertheless hinders their development and is against their rights. One example is children who work below the legal age for employment and miss opportunities to go to school.
The ILO also reports that of the children in child labor, some 115 million are engaged in hazardous work that threatens their health and development through exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances.
Child trafficking in Asia
Sadly, trafficking is particularly visible in Asia, where the exploitation of children in commercial sex trade remains the worst form of child labor. UNICEF estimates that about 1 million children are lured or forced into the sex trade in Asia every year. In places like Cambodia, half of them are sold by someone they know. Thailand is believed to receive a large number of children trafficked from Laos, Cambodia, Burma and China.
The children are made to work as prostitutes, domestic servants, workers in factories, farms, and fishing vessels, or couriers of drug traffickers. They often have no contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers. It’s also common for kids to work voluntarily because they view it as a way to make money for their families.
How to discuss this issue with kids?
Oftentimes adults think children can’t handle hearing about a problem of this nature. But when people address these issues, it develops a kid’s understanding of God’s call for Christians to prevent injustice (Proverbs 21:3, Micah 6:8, Deuteronomy 10:18—19) and His desire to bring earthly and eternal freedom to us all (Isaiah 61:1, Galatians 4:4—7).
Whether one is at home, planning an overseas mission trip with their kids, or living in a place where trafficking and forced labor are visible, here are a few ways to address trafficking with children.
Learn about human trafficking on a community scale and global scale. Know the signs of trafficking and teach children how to identify risky situations. People should locate a local government sector to alert if they identify a trafficked person. For instance, people can inform authorities in Thailand about child labor/trafficking by dialing 1300 or 1387.
Pray about having these conversations
Pray about how to address kids according to their age. For example, particular language specific to this topic may be inappropriate, so it could be softened for tender ears. This subject needs to be presented with caution, but children need to know God’s heart on the matter in order for Christians to help bring justice to the oppressed (Isa. 58:6—12).
Create an environment where children feel safe to explore and discuss this issue, especially if there are sensitive, young children present. Having adults they trust nearby can help reduce anxiety and fear and combat misinformation.
Pray with children
Prayer is a good opportunity to teach them that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). With their faith, trafficking mountains can be moved. Lead them to pray for God’s protection upon them and others.
Pray for the victims’ rescue and rehabilitation from the abuse. Pray that mental, physical and spiritual healing takes place. If trafficking or forced labor is visible in one’s community, they should pray specifically for the victims that they know.
Equip children for ministry
Discuss ideas and solutions with them to create children’s ministries for at-risk and trafficked victims. Including children will give them a sense of belonging to the projects and long-term goals the church has for ministry and serving God.
Get involved outside the church
Christians should partner with government sectors, private sectors, and other churches within their region by volunteering with them, fundraising for them, and donating to them. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).”
Once people understand the situation globally, they can initiate change from where they are, with what they have, and with what they can do. Working together, God will be glorified and say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). (BP)