A leading charity working to end child trafficking and exploitation has appointed leader, speaker and business adviser Tania Bright-Cook as its new Chair.
Love146, which sums up its mission as "Abolition and Restoration!", derived its name from seeing a young girl with the identification number 146 pinned to her dress during an undercover investigation in a trafficking den. Unlike the other victims who seemed void of life, this little girl still had a spark of defiance in her eye, and founders of the movement were inspired to tackle the endemic head on.
An estimated 4.5 million people are enslaved in sexual exploitation across the globe today, while a further 14.2 million are in forced labour. And although a common myth suggests that such exploitation is limited to developing nations, that is simply not the case. Thousands are thought to be trapped in modern day slavery in the UK alone, and Love146 works to free children from trafficking across Europe and the UK, as well as the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and India.
The abolition of modern day slavery is currently a hotly debated issue, with a Modern Slavery Bill being considered by the UK Parliament. Britain has even been described as "on the cusp of a great historical advance" by Labour MP Frank Field, who has led a review committee of the initial draft of the Bill.
Love146 is therefore using 2014 as a key year to launch ambitious new projects on prevention, education and the protection and care of survivors, while also continually expanding their global presence.
"With so much recent focus in the media and within government around the scale and horror of human trafficking and exploitation, Love146 is well placed to be able to work with agencies and charities to support the vulnerable and to bring about lasting change. Tania will be at the heart of an important charity at an important time in the history of this issue," the charity has said in a statement.
Tania herself has said she is "delighted and humbled" to take on the new role.
"The abolitionists within the movement are extraordinarily motivated and talented - necessarily so, as the task ahead is huge. My primary focus is to support and orienteer that talent, so we significantly contribute toward abolishing the sexual and commercial exploitation of children across Europe. Nothing less," she says.
Tania shared with Christian Today about the work that Love146 does, and just how each of us can get involved in combating modern day slavery.
CT: Just how big is the child trafficking crisis? What's the reality and scale in the UK in particular?
TB: The horrible truth is that it's really big. The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UK HTC) published a strategic assessment on the scale of human trafficking in 2012 and they encountered around 2,200 potential victims of human trafficking; 550 of those were children. That's a very clear, big and published statistic, and you're looking at around a quarter of all potential victims being children. However, the National Crime Agency readily acknowledges that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg; modern day slavery, exploitation and human trafficking are not on the surface, and so the problem goes desperately unreported.
Frank Field's evidence review committee found that there could be as many as 10,000 victims in the UK every year, so if we're going on the same figure as the UK HTC, 2,500 children are somewhere in our communities being sexually or commercially exploited for financial gain, criminality and perversion. It's a very big crisis.
CT: What does that look like in the UK in particular? Where is it happening?
TB: That's a really interesting one. There isn't a very clear map plotting specific areas, but what we do know is that just by the very nature of urban areas – where there's a high density of people and therefore a higher population - there's higher likelihood of children and adults being trafficked.
But as someone said to me recently, don't let that fool you. In some of our very rural areas there are children who have been trafficked from other countries into the UK for things like domestic servitude in the home, or working in nail bars, restaurants and illegal drug farms. So there are very rural, countrified areas where people will have no idea that there are children from all over the world being used as slaves.
This means that in terms of where in the UK, the answer is everywhere. Higher population simply equates to higher likelihood, but it is a countrywide issue, which makes it a very, very difficult thing to plot and react to geographically.
CT: You mentioned Frank Field who is positive about the difference the UK can make. How can the UK be part of the solution?
TB: The one thing we've got in our tool kit as we speak is the draft of the Modern Slavery Bill. It depends on who you speak to and what arena they are in, whether that's frontline support for trafficked children or those in politics trying to affect policy. People have got different expectations as to what this bill will actually be able to do.
It's fair to say that in terms of the UK being part of the solution, at least we are in the process of crafting something relatively meaningful. Obviously we welcome any proposal for new legislation, and for us what this Bill has to do is have a direct impact on exposing the hidden crime of slavery, bring more perpetrators to justice, and most importantly protect and support victims.
If we in the UK can be part of the solution by publishing a modern-day slavery bill that does those things, then we can genuinely be part of something that will be historic.
CT: Just how important is it at this time in history in particular that we tackle child exploitation and trafficking?
TB: My answer to that would be that every year is a vital year! But obviously in 1807 the transatlantic slave trade was banned, in 1834 slavery was abolished across the British Empire – so why is it that this conversation is still going in 2014? We're talking about thousands of children who are still affected personally and destructively through slavery.
So is 2014 a critical year? Yes, every year is. But with the general election looming in 2015 I'm really hoping that if we make as much noise as we can this year, petition and campaign, and get the agencies in the Christian field to work together as cleverly as we can, then we have a chance of making sure that this is on the political agenda. That's my plea really, that we get really, intelligently vocal, and draw together and come up with ways that people can get involved and can understand what's going on.
Teresa May said in a recent publication that the Government is determined to stamp out this appalling crime, but I want to know what 'stamp out' means in a political context, so let's use that as an opportunity to our advantage this year.
CT: How can we make people more aware of modern slavery?
TB: I think in the first instance it's obviously about educating people. Globally, the trade of human beings is the second highest grossing criminal activity after the trade of illegal drugs. So we look at drug criminality and drug use in our country and we're all educated – there have been loads of campaigns – but we don't have that same level of understanding when it comes to this issue of human trafficking.
Really for me there are four ways that as Christians particularly we can contribute to this needed growing awareness.
One: Engaging in prayer, be that as simple as I've done. Form a prayer group in your church, hold a specific prayer meeting in your town to bring these issues before other faith-filled people in your communities, and cry out to God for him to show us ways that we can get involved. Intercede for those who are being destroyed right at this moment through what's happening to them.
Two: Engaging through the Word. Encourage churches to include a sermon on God of justice - why is justice fundamental to us as Christians? Love146 have a team of speakers who can equip and inspire people to action, and then from there prayer can be strategic.
Three: Engaging practically. Given the sensitivity, the hidden nature and the complexity of this issue it's difficult to get involved practically, but there are ways. As well as prayer, engaging practically could be setting up a Love146 Task Force in your area, which are growing across the UK. It's just a group of abolitionist-minded people who get together and learn, find resources and fundraise.
Four: Engaging politically. This is fundamental for us. Meet with your local MP, talk with other Christians and petition Theresa May. Write in and understand what's happening politically so we can inform it. Speak to your local police to find out how're they're tackling human trafficking within the local community, and find how you can be supporting them.
Those are just some ways that I believe people can be empowered to help tackle this together.
For more information on Love146, go to www.love146.org