This week, St Andrews will showcase a film that tells a story not often told about people who often go unseen. A young Nepali girl named Lakshmi is sold into sexual slavery, forced to work in a brothel in India, and must find her way to freedom. Though the film Sold, starring Niyar Saikia, follows one girl’s journey, its narrative is unfortunately not unique. In Nepal alone, an estimated 20,000 girls were being trafficked out of the country each year in 2012. That number that grew even larger after the 2015 earthquakes, partly due to the lack of functioning schools. The film aims to show the world the brutality of child trafficking in order to inspire a movement to address the crime globally. The filmmakers, in partnership with Childreach International’s Taught Not Trafficked campaign, have their work cut out for them, however – they estimate that only 8% of people in the UK are aware of the issue of modern slavery.
Across the world, an estimated 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor, a term which encompasses sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, organ harvesting, and forced marriage. Many obstacles exist to breaking down this illegal industry; for one, forced labor is highly profitable, generating around $150 billion in profits every year. It is also difficult to track complicated, global supply chains to ensure that your sweater or smartphone was not, somewhere along the line, made with forced labor. The world is trying to move in the right direction on this issue, with governments enacting legislation to prevent goods created with forced labor from entering their borders and NGOs working to help victims worldwide. The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children has been signed and ratified by 170 parties. Still, the problem remains, in part because of a lack of public awareness.
Here in the UK, the Home Office estimates that there are currently between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery. These victims come from all over the world, from Albania to Nigeria, though many are British Nationals. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was created to consolidate legislation, introduce harsher sentences, and propose trafficking prevention orders. Successful prosecutions for trafficking are still rare, though the number has risen since the introduction of the Act, with 39 people successfully prosecuted in 2012 and 192 in 2015/16. The Act has been criticized by experts, however, for not creating jurisdiction for these crimes when committed by UK nationals or companies abroad and for not adequately focusing on victim support and protection. It is obvious that there is still significant work to be done to ensure that no one else has to go through the horrors that these victims go through, and that those still stuck in these situations are liberated, and that those responsible for these crimes are adequately punished.
What can you do to help end trafficking in your community and around the world? Start a fundraiser, set up an anti-slavery group in your hometown, and, of course, bring a few friends to Childreach International St Andrews’ showing of Sold. The film screening and panel discussion will be held on Thursday, January 26th at 7pm in the Byre Theater. You can watch the trailer for Sold here and reserve tickets here.