Press Conference on START FREEDOM Civil Society Anti-Trafficking Initiative

14 October 2009

Press Conference on START FREEDOM Civil Society Anti-Trafficking Initiative

14 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



A youth-led education focused campaign launched at Headquarters today -- START FREEDOM -- seeks to engage minds and create action against human trafficking, a crime affecting people in all parts of the world, a panel of civil society representatives and United Nations officials said.

“Human trafficking is a crime that shames us all and everybody should do something to stop it,” said Steve Chalke, Founder of the “Stop the Traffik” initiative and UN.GIFT’s Special Advisor on Community Action against Human Trafficking.  He urged correspondents attending a press conference to tell as many people as possible about, which could be accessed as of today from Stop the Traffik and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) websites, as well as YouTube, to empower young people around the world to make a difference.

Today, an eight-minute global webcast on human trafficking was going live on the START FREEDOM website, he said, adding that four lesson plans, as well as other teaching resources, could also be downloaded for two age groups.  The lessons explained human trafficking issues, drawing attention to particular vulnerability of women and girls, as well as to the use of trafficked persons in product manufacturing.  The last lesson of the series was devoted to the subject “how do I get engaged?”  Thousands of schools around the world would be using those materials.

Mr. Chalke said young people could respond to the campaign by creating their own messages and adding them to the website to draw attention to the problem of human trafficking in their communities, he said.  The campaign would culminate in March 2010 with START FREEDOM Week, when the activities created by young people would be highlighted on the Internet.

Also speaking to the press were:  Ruth Dearnley, CEO of Stop the Traffik; Simone Monasebian, Chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) New York Office; and Taha Hegazy of the “End Human Trafficking Now!” movement.

“We need to have a global solution to fight a global crime,” Ms. Dearnley said, announcing the initiative and emphasizing that the project was the start of a new phase in the efforts to stop human trafficking.  Indeed, the beginning of a three- to five-year strategy, START FREEDOM had been developed by Stop the Traffik and supported by the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), in cooperation with the UNODC.

Stop the Traffik is a global non-governmental organization movement with over 1,300 member organizations in 50 countries, most of them active at grass-roots level.  Its members engage in raising awareness, educating and empowering communities and campaigning for trafficking-free products.  UN.GIFT is a global alliance, which was designed to mobilize State and non-State actors to eradicate human trafficking by reducing both the vulnerability of potential victims and demand for exploitation in all its forms; ensure adequate protection and support for victims; and support efficient prosecution of criminals involved.

Ms. Monasebian said that she looked forward to continued partnership with civil society. The initiative launched today sought not only to protect victims, but also engage all types of stakeholders, particularly the youth, in the efforts to stop human trafficking.  With 133 Member States having signed the United Nations Protocol on Human Trafficking, the challenge now was to get those two thirds of the United Nations membership to implement it.  Article 9 of the Protocol spoke about the power of civil society and media in prevention and dissemination of information.

She went on to say that being a multibillion dollar business, human trafficking was one of the most lucrative forms of organized crime, yet only one in 100 victims was ever rescued.  According to a recent report on protection, prevention and prosecution of human trafficking, only 40 per cent of countries reported to have secured at least one conviction of those guilty of such crimes.  The START FREEDOM initiative sought to empower people to fight human trafficking.

Representing civil society partner, “End Human Trafficking Now!,” Taha Hegazy, a young Egyptian, said that contrary to stereotypes, which portrayed young people as an “iPod and PlayStation generation, reckless and irresponsible”, youth were willing and ready to combat human trafficking.  There was a lot they could do.  It was up to them to inform their parents, families and friends in an effort to stop ignorance and denial.  They needed to be good communicators and powerful advocates, using their skills to help other children understand, to convince their friends, to bring on board their own parents and even their own teachers.  Youth, once committed, would make sure that the initiative would be a success.

Responding to a question about Stop the Traffik’s “Chocolate Campaign”, Mr. Chalke explained that the initiative focused on ending child trafficking into the cocoa industry, with specific emphasis on major cocoa growing nations of West Africa, such as Côte d’Ivoire.  With over a third of the world’s chocolate coming from that country, Côte d’Ivoire had about ten thousand trafficked children working as bonded labourers on cocoa farms.  Stop the Traffik sought to promote fair-trade chocolate that would guarantee no involvement of trafficked people in the harvesting of cocoa beans.

To another question, Ms. Monasebian said that cocaine could be snorted only once, a bullet could be used but one time, but a person could be smuggled several times over his or her lifetime, be it for slavery, child soldiering, sex or removal of organs.  Other aspects of the problem included the clandestine character of the trafficking business and the fact that it was not seen as a national security issue.

She said there were also legislative pitfalls and few penalties for the offenders. However, with training, social services, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations could play a role in detecting and preventing the problem.  Education was the best way to prevent human trafficking, and much could be done in that regard.

Mr. Chalke added that according to conservative estimates, last year, at least $40 billion in profit had been made by traffickers.  “We can all do something about this,” he said, adding:  “We can make it tougher for criminals, and we have to give massive levels of support to vulnerable young people and to the victims.”  He also advocated people familiarizing themselves with protocols that could ensure that no trafficked people were involved in the manufacturing of goods.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.