Monday, May 7, 2012

Enslaving Children for Profit in the 21st Century

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 families. 

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:

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:

Another way you can help is to fight online advertising of child sex trafficking.  According to Change.Org and a op-ed article by Nicholas Kristof,*’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. is owned by Village Voice Media.  To sign the petition telling Village Voice Media to stop child sex trafficking on



  1. Thank you, Andrea, for writing about this very important topic.

    It is awful to hear that this type of trafficking and slavery is going on so close to home in today's time.

    Thank you for also providing us with some ways to identify when this crime may be taking place right under our noses as well as some steps we can take to take a stand and/or fight some of the demand by targeting the online advertisers.

    1. You're welcome, Dorlee. I'm glad you found it beneficial.