A common Bible story we read to our kids is the account of a boy who had a coat of many colors. Kids learn that this boy, seventeen-year-old Joseph, was sold by his older brothers as slave to tend the house of an Egyptian nobleman (Gen. 37; 29). We often use Joseph’s story to teach children about God’s sovereignty in all circumstances, but sometimes we overlook an important word within that narrative: slave. Because slavery is a horror many endure today, Joseph’s story is an opportunity for children to study and understand even modern-day slavery so they may 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 five or six years old.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), however, there are more than two hundred 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 irreversibly threatens their health and development through exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives.
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 one 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. Because Southeast Asians typically give alms to the poor to make karmic merit, child labor often takes the form of young beggars selling jasmine wreaths, key chains, or fruit along the beach to people looking to increase good karma.
How Can We Talk about This Issue with Our Kids?
Oftentimes we think children can’t handle hearing about a problem of this nature, but when we address these issues, it develops their understanding of God’s call for Christians to prevent injustice (Prov. 21:3; Mic. 6:8; Deut. 10:18–19) and his desire to bring earthly and eternal freedom to us all (Isa. 61:1; Gal. 4:4–7).
Whether you’re at home, planning an overseas mission trip with your kids, or living in a place where trafficking and forced labor are visible, here are a few ways you can address trafficking with your children.
Learn about human trafficking on a community scale and global scale. You can start with the resources listed at the end of this article. Know the signs of trafficking so you can teach children how to identify risky situations. Find a local government sector to alert if you identify a trafficked person. For instance, you can inform authorities in Thailand about child labor/trafficking by dialing 1300 or 1387.
Pray about how to have these conversations.
Whether you approach the topic at home or in a Sunday school class, 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 us to bring justice to the oppressed (Isa. 58:6–12). The story of Joseph is an easy bridge to a discussion about human trafficking because he was purchased and removed from his family and friends. 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 your children.
Prayer is a good opportunity to teach them that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). 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 your community, pray specifically for the victims that you know. Here is a prayer guide to get you started.
Equip children for ministry.
Discuss ideas and solutions with them to create children ministries for at-risk and trafficked victims. Remember, oftentimes God uses children—like David, the young shepherd boy—to reveal truth and creative ways to accomplish his will. 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.
Partner with government sectors, private sectors, and other churches within your 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 (Ecc. 4:12 NIV).”
Once we understand the situation globally, we can initiate change from where we are, with what we have, and with what we 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” (Matt. 25:40 HCSB).
National Human Trafficking Hotline
Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Parents and Guardians
A Parent’s Guide to Human Trafficking
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network