January 9, 2013

Call Human Trafficking What it Really is, Human Slavery...

Have you ever met a person, had a series of cursory conversations, only to later learn that you really missed out on an opportunity to learn something profound?

I met Rani Hong in 2007.  Our children attended the same school and played basketball together on a local basketball team. We occasionally sat next to each other on the bleachers engaging in polite conversation. Now let me tell you what I have since learned about this extraordinary woman that I never knew because I never bothered to ask her about anything other than the weather, upcoming school activities, and other meaningless topics.

At the age of seven, Rani lived in southern India with her family.  When Rani's father became ill, it became increasingly difficult to provide the family with food and basic necessities.  A local woman told Rani's parents that she could arrange for their daughter to be placed in a good home where she would receive regular meals and excellent educational opportunities.  Her parents also understood that they would continue to have daily contact with Rani.  Following the placement into Rani's new living arrangement the visits lasted for only a short time, as this happy and loved child was almost immediately sold to a local slave master.  And with that, she slipped from her parent's loving hands.

By the age of eight Rani's physical and emotional state had become so critical that she was near death.  Because she had no monetary worth in her disengaged condition, she was sold again.  This time, though, the transaction saved Rani's life. She was sold into international illegal adoption where she was ultimately adopted into a loving home in the state of Washington.

In 1999 Rani traveled back to India where she was reunited with her family.  And in 2006 Rani founded the Tronie Foundation with her husband, Trong Hong, who is also a survivor of human trafficking.  The Tronie Foundation was instrumental in passing anti-trafficking legislation in the state of Washington in 2002 after testifying before the Washington State Legislature.  Rani also addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, and was influential in the implementation of the UN Voluntary Trust for Victims of Human Trafficking. A fund that provides monetary assistance to victims who have survived the disgusting realities of human slavery.

Today Rani's endeavors include the continuation of national and international education.  She regularly speaks before groups of business and political leaders, as well as larger platforms including the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and a multitude of other national and international publications and televised programming.   She also remains a UN Special Advisor for human trafficking.

As I write this blog I am more inclined to call human trafficking what it really is...modern human slavery.  Some victims are sold for forced labor, but an even larger segment of the industry involves pornography and prostitution.  While we think of this unspeakable issue as something that goes on in third world countries, it actually exists internationally.  Even in our very own country.  While there are no accurate statistics for human trafficking in the United States, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimate that upwards of 300,000 US citizens are bought and sold into the system every year.  While human slavery in third world and other known impoverished countries customarily lure children with promises of a better life, US victims are largely made up of runaways, teens and tweens on the periphery of the educational system, and those in abusive situations. Although, middle and upper socioeconomic communities are not immune from this growing problem.

In 2012 an extensive study was completed by the State Department with several initiatives that have recently been implemented by President Obama.  The goals of the State Department involve education with the ultimate goal to eradicate human trafficking as we know it.  Sadly, this is a 32 billion dollar industry internationally so it is one that comes with many challenges because it is lucrative and difficult to enforce due to the nature of the crimes and the vulnerable victims involved.  However, with grassroots organizations like the Tronie Foundation and government programs, information is becoming more accessible and legislation is being passed to extinguish human slavery.

If you want to learn more about Rani Hong and the tireless work by the Tronie Foundation, you can do so by visiting their website at www.troniefoundation.org. You can also follow their progress on Facebook and Twitter for  up to date information on the issue of human trafficking.


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