Why bringing back the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped and sold as brides is about a much bigger issue, and one that is almost never talked about in the U.S. – human trafficking.
In the middle of all of the Donald Sterling talk and debate over whether the Clippers did enough or not in the immediate aftermath (I was admittedly underwhelmed), something happened that went under the radar for mainstream media for a few days. Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a boarding school. Not just one kidnapped girl, or two, but nearly 300 girls with 276 still missing at this very moment. Yet, when it first happened, most people didn’t even know. Shortly thereafter, there were pleas on social media to #BringBackOurGirls.
It’s something that is rarely discussed: human trafficking. While people were discussing the very real sense that Donald Sterling was trying to perpetuate a modern day slave culture with his basketball team, there was a case of slavery with some of the Nigerian girls being sold as brides for a measly $12. Human trafficking represents an approximately $32 billion annual industry with people being sold for use as sexual slaves, forced laborers, organ harvesters, or for forced marriages and is one of the fastest growing activities of terrorists and other types of criminal groups.
This modern-day slavery is something that is more common than most people realize. According to the United Nations, 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking at any given moment. The most common type of human trafficking is sexual exploitation followed by forced labor – at a distant second. While we know the number of people who are themselves victims of trafficking, the numbers do not reflect the impact that is felt by the victims’ families and communities.
In the U.S., human trafficking generates $9.5 billion a year. At the greatest risk are children and young adults who run away from home. According to the National Runaway Hotline, one in three teens will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of running away from home. These prostitutes can make $150,000 – $200,000 for a pimp, per year, per child. According to the Polaris Project, these victims may be forced to have sex up to 48 times per day.
Women and girls are most at risk for forced labor globally. It is that vulnerability that cannot be ignored and needs greater attention. The momentum seen to bring justice to the young women kidnapped in Nigeria is something that should be leveraged to bring into focus just how horrific human trafficking is for all who are affected. Over 1 million people have been active in calling for justice and demanding that Boko Haram #bringbackourgirls. Just yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators reintroduced the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). We are a global community and these girls may be Nigerian, but they represent all of the young women (and men) who are robbed of their freedom and forced to live and work under someone else’s conditions.