In my last post, I shared the startling discovery that modern day slavery is happening much closer to home than you might think. In this post I am going to talk about child slavery.
At the conference on
modern day slavery that I recently attended, the 2007 Madame Afolabi case was
cited as a typical example of trafficking and forced labor in New Jersey. Madame Afolabi would travel to Togo and Ghana
and offer parents the opportunity to send one of their children to the US to go
to school and learn a trade. She would
also approach men and offer to help them pay for visas. They were told they had
to leave their wife and family behind and take her girls with them, but could
bring their families later. They had to
pose as family to deceive immigration officials. The girls documents were
confiscated when they arrived in the U.S.
Once here, the girls
were taught how to braid hair and sent to work at hair braiding salons. The Afolabi family owned two salons and also
provided girls to independent salons. The
girls were paid in cash, which they had to surrender when they returned home,
along with all their tips. The Afolabi
family made 3 million dollars over 5 years.
There were 24 girls; eight were still minors when the labor trafficking
ring was discovered. Most were minors when initially enslaved. All of the minors were coached to tell
customers that they were 18. Customers
would make jokes about how they never turned 19, but didn't question it any
further. Some of the victims commented that they wished their customers would
have asked questions about the things that didn't make sense.
The enslaved girls
lived in squalor in overcrowded, roach infested Newark and East Orange
residences and were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. They were also threatened with Voodoo curses,
and since Voodoo was known as a religion back home in Africa, the girls
believed in the power of these curses.
Emotional abuse and coercion also involved being threatened with being
sent back to Africa, which would be perceived as failure by their
When interviewed during the Homeland Security
investigation, the girls' families in Africa all described Madame Afolabi as
being a sweet and wonderful woman who gave their daughters an incredible
opportunity. Instead, she was a
predator who took advantage of their
trusting and hopeful natures.
One of the families
in Togo begged Madame Afolabi for money to help their sick daughter at
home. They were told there was no
money. The girl died. At a later date, Madame Afolabi visited and
gave the family $30 for their dead daughter.
There were two
trials, one for the visa fraud and the other for the labor trafficking. Madame Afolabi received a sentence of 27
years in prison. One of her sons was
sentenced to 24.5 years . Three other family members were also convicted and
sentenced to several years in prison each.
Is human trafficking
occurring in your community? To learn
more about the signs, you can go to: http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-the-signs
To advocate on behalf of trafficking victims, you
can contact your representatives and tell them to vote for
anti-trafficking legislation. For
further information go to: http://www.polarisproject.org/take-action/advocate
Another way you can
help is to fight online advertising of child sex trafficking. According to Change.Org and a NYTimes.com
op-ed article by Nicholas Kristof,*
Backpage.com’s adult ad section is the largest forum for advertising
child sex trafficking in the U.S. They
report that buying and selling of young girls and boys for sexual slavery is a
regular occurrence on the site. Backpage.com is owned by Village Voice Media. To sign the petition telling Village Voice
Media to stop child sex trafficking on Backpage.com: http://www.change.org/petitions/alta-communications-and-brynwood-partners-stop-financing-child-sex-trafficking?utm_campaign=uAaXFrseAf&utm_medium=email&utm_source=action_alert