11.38am on 25th September 2006 my first born, my daughter, arrived in this world. I remember holding her for the first time as though it was yesterday. She was so unfamiliar, unlike anything I had imagined in my mind and it took us five days to name her. During the first week of her life, a challenging and exhausting week, I was bedridden and awaiting a blood transfusion, yet somehow finding enough in me to feed and care for her. I learned early on about the deep reserves of maternal strength. I was so utterly overwhelmed by the most powerful sense of love that I had ever experience. This is why I am one of the mums fighting against slavery alongside International Justice Mission (IJM).
Through my work at St Thomas Norwich Trust, I recently travelled to Kolkata to run a pilot project for our campaign to help raise awareness in rural communities of the risks of trafficking. During our time in Kolkata we met with IJM, our other partner organisations, and survivors of slavery and those who care for them. On our final morning I met Binita* and heard her story. When Binita was six months old, her mother was brutally killed. At 11 her father lured her away from the care of her grandparents and sold her into sex slavery - a heart-wrenching story of the abuse of a father’s position. I listened to her story struggling hard to mimic the composure that Binita displayed. At 15 Binita dreams of being a tailor or a beautician. However, the reality is that she is denied the opportunity to attend school, as under the care of her relatives who were granted guardianship after her rescue, as she is considered to be unclean.
There are so many reasons why I am called to fight for freedom. It is a thread that has been woven into my life. I have always felt called to use my voice, gifts and blessings to represent those women less able to represent themselves.
When I came across ‘The Locust Effect’ by Gary A. Haugen, my first encounter with International Justice Mission (IJM), I was utterly convinced that the fight for justice is not only at the core of the fight against slavery but also the root to abolish it altogether. By changing a country from within, by growing the justice system and fighting against corruption and abuse of power, we hit the core of the problem in modern day slavery. Haugen’s vision was huge. It blew my mind to think about how you make a vision like that a reality, but it is very much a reality, a reality in the work we see day after day across the world. How could I not engage with this organisation?
When I think back to my early days as a mother, to the challenges I faced - learning to feed, change, console, stimulate, love my daughter - and I then consider another mother, just like me, weighed down by the same new love of motherhood, only she has nothing.
No food to ensure her milk is nutritious. No rest to ensure she has enough energy to take care of her child. No peace to console her baby. No time to stimulate her infant. No freedom to see her child play. Not only is she enslaved in a daily nightmare of working unpaid, for long, long hours but as her child grows she will witness helplessly her own child too becoming a slave -working long, gruelling hours as she does in horrendous circumstances. How can I as a mum not be called to fight for her freedom? Why should I raise my children, give them every opportunity there is to give, take pleasure in watching them grow and play in complete innocence while other mothers just like me are tortured and abused to such an extent, so far beyond the reserves of their maternal strength. I raise my children secure in the knowledge that the police are people we trust, people I can and would run to. What would it be like to raise my children having to teach them to fear the police? To raise my children knowing that the people who should be protecting them may be the very same people who lure them into an existence of slavery?
Every day in some way, big or small, I am immersed in the joy of motherhood through the small childlike ways of my children. When I hear them giggle it leaves me unable to do anything but smile and laugh myself. I get to explore the world alongside them and to see things through their eyes, afresh and new. As I watch them grow and explore the world with unending questions I can’t even begin to answer, it stretches my mind to places it wouldn’t otherwise go. These simple daily treasures are something we take for granted, but even these small things a mother in slavery is denied.
Binita’s mother would have held her baby girl in her arms in much the same way that I did. She would probably have had similarly overwhelming emotions and sense of responsibility that comes with motherhood. Binita’s mother was a victim of violence, a victim of a society with a lack of justice. Her life was taken away from her. Binita’s mother wasn’t able to see her daughter grow, to hear her laughter, to protect her against the atrocities she endured. She isn’t able to hold her daughter today and to feel her pain and make sure her aftercare is overflowing with love. My encounter with Binita so profoundly hit me because of the layers of injustice within this beautiful girl’s 15 years of life. The utter injustice that out of poverty vulnerability is borne. Vulnerability to become a profitable commodity, a thing to be sold over and over again and even when rescue comes, it comes with such limited understanding and a stigma. Injustice breeding injustice. The reality is that Binita’s story isn’t uncommon. Don’t we all have a duty to stand as parents for girls like Binita?
Imagine if every mum in the western world who is able to, stood up for and supported a mum in slavery. IJM gives us the opportunity to do that. They are our hands and feet bringing about justice. I do the work that I do and support the work of organisations like IJM because it is a powerful opportunity for me to fight for freedom. The ripples we are able to create together can bring about the tsunami needed to end slavery.
Imagine how impenetrable the barrier would be if we mums across the globe stood shoulder to shoulder against slavery.