Over the coming months we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which Abraham Lincoln announced on September 22, 1862 and issued by Executive Order on January 1, 1863. In 1865, as the guns of the Civil War fell silent, the Congress passed and the states ratified as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution President Lincoln’s commitment that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States.”
Like the United States, countries around the world have enacted laws and adopted international instruments to end slavery as a legal institution and to eliminate it as a criminal practice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. More recently, the UN Palermo Protocol has made the abolition of modern-day slavery a part of international law and a policy-making priority. Governments across the globe are united in this struggle.
Yet, despite the adoption of treaties and laws prohibiting slavery, the evidence nevertheless shows that many men, women, and children continue to live in modern-day slavery through the scourge of trafficking in persons.
The anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation marks not just a moment in our history, but an enduring commitment to freedom that we advocate and defend. Because we have not yet realized a world free from modern slavery, that commitment remains relevant today, and leads us to consider what abolition means in the face of modern-day slavery.
One way is to know on whose behalf we work – the survivors. Earlier this year, I visited a trafficking shelter in Kolkata. The young women and girls there had suffered terrible abuse. But with their own drive and determination and with the help of some remarkable women and men they were getting their lives back on track. I met one girl, about ten years old, who asked if I wanted to see the martial arts she had learned at the shelter. As she performed her routine, I was impressed with the skills she had learned; but more than that, I was moved by the pride in her eyes – her sense of accomplishment and strength.
Trafficking in persons deprives victims of their most basic freedom: to determine their own future. Our work in fulfilling the promise of freedom should be not only the pursuit of justice, but also a restoring of what was taken away. We should aim not only to put an end to this crime, but also to ensure that survivors can move beyond their exploitation and live the lives they choose for themselves.
This Report is a guide for our work. In the past decade, a global community of governments, non-governmental organizations, and countless other institutions and individuals have brought attention to this often-hidden crime. Through the work of many, this Report provides a clear and sobering analysis of the state of modern slavery. It tells us which governments are making progress, which innovations are working best, and how we can strengthen our efforts to bring an end to this crime.
A century and a half after the promise of freedom was fought and won in the United States, freedom remains elusive for millions. We know that this struggle will not truly be won until all those who toil in modern slavery, like those girls in Kolkata, are free to realize their God-given potential.