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Listening to trafficking survivors like Sir Mo Farah is just the first step.

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Listening to trafficking survivors like Sir Mo Farah is just the first step.

Sir Mo Farah has shown incredible courage by sharing his childhood experience of trafficking. His words should inspire us all to take action to support victims and survivors - and to stop trafficking for good.

July 2022

Listening to trafficking survivors like Sir Mo Farah is just the first step – we need to turn awareness into action

Many of us were shocked this week to learn of Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah’s traumatic childhood experience of trafficking. He was taken away from his family in Somalia, separated from his twin brother, and brought to the UK by a woman he’d never met. Mo was excited to go – but soon after arriving, he realised he had been lied to. Instead of living with relatives as he'd been promised, he was forced into domestic servitude in west London, doing housework and childcare for a family. Alone, and without any way to escape or access help, Mo was miserable – he remembers often locking himself in the bathroom to cry.

Mo’s story is a heartbreaking reminder of the realities faced by the estimated ten million children trapped in slavery around the world today, some of whom are right here in the UK. Domestic servitude is just one way in which children are being exploited: others are sexually exploited in brothels or online, or forced to work in factories or fishing boats, to give just a few examples. Many, like Mo, are trafficked across borders, which can make it even harder for them to access help. They find themselves in unfamiliar countries, without support networks, not knowing where to turn or who to trust. Traffickers are experts in coercion, using threats and lies to make sure children don’t try to escape.

Mo's story is a powerful insight into the intense cruelty of this crime, which is happening right now across many UK cities – a problem hidden in plain sight. In fact, it's entirely possible that child trafficking is taking place on your street, without your knowledge. Last year, police in the UK recorded over 3,000 modern slavery offences involving children (source: ONS) - and that’s only the offences which were detected. Sadly, the hidden nature of this crime means that the true scale of child slavery in the UK could be much bigger.

Sir Mo Farah wins gold (London 2012 Olympics)

We know that stopping child trafficking is possible. Raising awareness – as Sir Mo has done so powerfully – is the first step, but it needs to inspire real and urgent action.

First, children who are trapped in exploitative situations need to be brought to safety. International Justice Mission (IJM) works with authorities around the world to find trafficked children and bring them to freedom. Aftercare is a vital piece of the puzzle, too – our partners make sure that children have safe places to stay as they heal, supported by social workers and therapists who specialise in helping them overcome traumatic experiences. IJM's partners support children as they rebuild their lives, too – reintegrating into their communities, and re-entering education. We’ve seen the amazing healing that is possible when survivors are provided with the right care.

Helping children who have already been trafficked is essential, but we can’t stop there. We need to see governments listening to survivors like Sir Mo to create solutions which are truly effective. This is particularly important in the UK right now as the government prepares to review its modern slavery strategy. Survivors’ advice and expertise needs to be at the heart of solutions, to make sure that they are really fit for purpose.

Ultimately, we need to see systemic change: government, justice systems, law enforcement and NGOs working together across borders to keep children safe and hold criminals accountable. We’ve seen incredible impact when there is strong collaboration between authorities, communities and NGOs, with reductions in child trafficking of up to 86% in the places where we’ve worked.

We all have a part to play. As well as these ‘big picture’ changes, we need to see individuals raising their voices against trafficking. IJM's work is supported by individuals all over the world, who help with advocacy and fundraising. From cycling challenges to writing to your MP, there are so many ways to get involved.

Today, I want to encourage you that you can be part of the story of change. It will take a movement to end child trafficking – together, we can stop trafficking for good.

Want to learn more about stopping child trafficking?

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