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Stop human trafficking! - Pastor urges families to help prevent modern-day slavery

Published:Wednesday | August 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell Livingston

Eye to eye, face to face

Still we don't see them, we look away

Still they cry, but no one is listening

When will we open our eyes

- For Today's Fight The Silence

Human Trafficking gets its 15 minutes of fame during the month of January, when it is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States, but by the middle of the year, it is business as usual.

The average Jamaican family does not make it a priority to teach their children about the dangers of being caught in this vicious web of human trafficking.

Family and Religion reached out to Pastor Joan Gumbs of How Ya Livin' Now, who said the issue has been a burning one for her.

Mentioning the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report recommendations published by the US Department of State that Jamaica, then on the Tier 2 Watch List, "continues efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking of Jamaican citizens ...", she said at times she feels "like John the Baptist - the lonesome voice crying in the wilderness - advocating for persons to start taking human trafficking as a serious crime and do something about it.

"Over a year ago, I sent emails to persons I would consider stakeholders in the fight against human trafficking, including all the major high schools in Montego Bay, inviting them to participate in a writing competition among the students to bring awareness to this insidious crime," she said, pointing out that she did not receive a response.

Gumbs said the fight is relevant as the number of missing children keep increasing.

"Most - if not all - are caught up in the human-trafficking ring. The US Department of State seems to think so, as the report states, "Many children are reported missing in Jamaica; some of these children are subjected to forced labour or sex trafficking."

Gumbs warns that the Internet is a dangerous place for susceptible teens, who can be lured into danger by these predators.

She said it is time all Jamaicans see the issue as one of priority.

"Jamaicans are not aware of the seriousness of human trafficking, especially among fellow Jamaicans. Some just don't believe it is happening. And the ones who believe it is happening, think it is somebody else's problem - not theirs! This makes our young people even more vulnerable, because the adults who they would like to trust, are like the proverbial ostrich, with their heads in the sand," said Gumbs.

She said it is time for Jamaicans to take this seriously as many Jamaicans are caught up in it.

"To date, statistics show that there are over 30 million slaves in the world. I don't know how many are Jamaicans, but I guarantee you there are many Jamaicans in that number. At what point are we going to see this as a 'Jamaican' problem and get involved in the search for a solution?" she asked.

Gumbs said although the signs are there, it can be hard to pick up on some as even teenagers are now helping to recruit their friends to be cast into the net.

"How can you wrap your head around the fact that your 15-year-old daughter is a trafficker? After all, she's the one who 'recruited' her 15-year-old friend to a potential customer. Yet, truth is stranger than fiction," said Gumbs.

She added: "The solution is for everyone to go back to the days when the village cared for children and look out for not just your own children well-being, but that of others.

"If you over hear a conversation in which the child keeps speaking of a 'friend' no one has ever heard of, or going to places by him/herself, unexplained tattoos (traffickers usually brand their victims) or a conscious effort to hide tattoos," are just some of the 'red alerts' she said to look out for.

She also warns parents to guide their children on the friend requests they accept on Facebook as there is no way of telling who is on the other side of the fake photos.

Pointing out that human trafficking is everyone's business, she said the Church, youth organisations, schools - every entity should take up the baton and make it a priority by coming up with initiatives such as competitions, plays - whatever ways it will take to drive home the message.

Jamaica is also listed a "source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour," according to the US Department of State 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report and that's the reason she said we cannot be relaxed on the matter.