Fourteen-year-old Jessica is determined to become a nurse so that she can help others. Every day she prays to God to take care of her and the other children at the aftercare home where she lives – today, she's free to use her talents for the good of others. Two years ago, her life was very different.
Jessica was trafficked when she was just 12-years-old to a remote part of Lake Volta, Ghana. She was forced to wake up at midnight to help bring in fish from the boats before doing housework and farm work - physically demanding work that no child should be subject to. Her life was not her own, she was not free to go to school or play, and she had no one to give her the love that every child needs.
International Justice Mission and local authorities brought Jessica to safety in 2018 and today she is free to grow, learn and become the person she was created to be.
We know there are thousands more children just like Jessica who are trapped in slavery right now – many of whom are being forced to make the very items we consume and use daily; products like our smartphones, our clothes and the food we eat.
In fact, 77% of UK companies believe there is a risk of slave labour having been used in their supply chains and we know that a quarter of the 40 million people in slavery today are children. I don't know about you but when I stop and think about this, it is deeply sobering. I don't want any child to be abused to make products that I buy.
But there is hope. It is possible to stop child slavery – at IJM we've seen child slavery decrease by up to 86% by working with law enforcement and governments to free people from slavery, apprehend abusers and make it too risky for traffickers to operate.
In 2021, will you join me in being part of a growing global movement determined to end slavery, for good? Imagine if enough of us took action now to change the course of history, for the better. That excites me – that's why I'm writing this piece.
You see the thing is, our choices matter. It's up to all of us to say we don't think it's ok for children to be abused in these ways - to choose to stop slavery and the worst forms of child labour, such as forced labour, sex trafficking and the growing problem of online sexual exploitation of children.
In fact, the UN General Assembly has declared 2021 the Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. This means that 2021 is a chance for each and every one of us to join together and make freedom possible for all children everywhere. To choose a future where child slavery is ended forever.
As I look to the future I hope to see, I'm adding my prayers to Jessica's – that children like her would be cared for, free and safe.
Today, many of us are turning our eyes and minds towards 2021 and considering New Year's Resolutions. In amongst the plans to eat more vegetables, drink more water, and do more exercise, I would love you to join me in taking a step towards seeing child slavery ended, for good by making one or all of the following resolutions:
1. Engage my church on this issue
From prayer, to action to generosity – the Church can be a key catalyst for long-term change. Around the world, we're seeing churches join the fight by raising awareness of injustice and praying for transformation, to churches running aftercare homes for survivors of slavery and advocating to governments. Could you engage your church?
2. Help stop slavery in supply chains
Slavery is in the supply chains of many products we buy. You can take action to stop this by: shopping with brands who are taking steps to reduce their risk of using forced labour; writing to your favourite brands and encouraging them to act; and by partnering with organisations like IJM who work to stop slavery at source and free people from slavery in places like garment factories. Together we can #MakeSlaveFreeNormal
3. Partner with IJM to find and free people
In 2020, IJM and partners helped bring thousands of children, men and women to safety from slavery and oppression and saw many abusers held to account so that they can't harm others. You can help make freedom possible by becoming a Freedom Partner with IJM.
Lastly – and perhaps most importantly of all – we can pray. Prayer is essential in crying out to the God of justice and asking for light to break through this darkness. In 2021, could you sign up to receive regular prayer points and join thousands in praying until all are free - adding your prayers to those of children like Jessica? You could also join IJM UK's 'Pray for Justice' event happening in February 2021.
2020 has been a hard year for all of us, but what we've been encouraged by is the glimmers of hope and breakthrough that we've seen when everyday people like you and me choose to take small steps towards justice and freedom. In 2021, will you do something powerful: choose a year of hope and freedom by taking action to end child slavery?
Thank you for being part of the fight until all are free.
David Westlake is the CEO of IJM UK, which works worldwide to end slavery.