Former child trafficking victim: Awareness needs to produce action

Rami Hong at a Press Conference on Assisting Victims in Human Trafficking at the Holy See Press Office on Nov 6 2017 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA Rani Hong speaks at a press conference on assisting victims of human trafficking at the Holy See press office, Nov. 6, 2017. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Former trafficking victim Rani Hong, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery at seven years old, is speaking out, saying we've raised awareness, but now it's time to put our knowledge into action to help victims.

"As we all learn together, we need to move forward, beyond just raising awareness," she said. "Now it's time to act on behalf of children around the world."

Kidnapped from her village in southern India, she said that when she first started telling her story as an adult, people didn't always believe her, "because they couldn't believe that the issue of slavery still exists today."

But now, several years later, she said people have become much more educated on the issue, and after education should come action. "I want people all around the world to be able to take concrete action to make a difference in a child's life."

Hong's story begins in India when she was a young child. A well-respected woman in the community approached her mother offering to clothe, feed, shelter, and educate her daughter during a difficult time. So she went down the street to live with the woman, her mother and family visiting every day.

But one day, Hong said, she was gone. The woman was in fact recruiting children in the streets of India and had sold her across the border into another state.

Held in a cage to teach her submission, she said in a Vatican press conference Nov. 6: "I did not know the language, I did not know anybody. I was disoriented and afraid and alone. I was crying for my mother and nobody came to rescue me."

"We're talking about a human being, myself, being captive. This is what the industry of human trafficking does," she told journalists. By the time she was eight years old she had become sick and near death from the beatings and starvation she had endured to get her to submit to her trafficker.

Since she was no longer considered valuable for forced labor and her trafficker wanted "one more profit," Hong was sold into illegal international adoption.

Statistics tell us that today human slavery is a 150-billion-dollar industry, Hong said, with around 40 million people enslaved around the world. And "no country is exempt."

"We're talking about buying and selling people," she emphasized.

From there she was adopted by a woman in the United States and this is where she was able to start to heal and slowly start building her life again, she said. Amazingly, through what she terms "a miracle of God," she was also able to find her birth mother and family in India in 1999.

It was finding her birth family, she noted, that inspired her to do something to help, with her faith in God giving her the strength to heal and to be able to share her story.

"My faith helped me to get stronger. And every day it's a challenge. Every day I have to make a choice to do something and to have faith" that we can make a change, she said.

Now she and her husband, also a survivor of child slavery, have a non-profit organization called the Tronie Foundation, which works with business partners to help ensure supply chains do not use slavery and forced labor.

One practical initiative they've developed is the "Freedom Seal," which helps consumers identify products from manufacturers independently audited to ensure fair labor practices.

Hong also speaks to lawmakers about creating and implementing laws to protect victims, help survivors, and prosecute traffickers. In 2011 she was appointed UN special advisor to the global initiative to fight human trafficking.

More in Vatican

She was also invited to the Vatican to participate in a Nov. 5-6 workshop centered on helping former victims and run by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. She said being at the Vatican was a "huge step forward," and hopefully inspired the academy and others to take on the issue with even more force.

"Because today, I speak for those without a voice," she underlined. "The millions of children around the world who are not here and able to tell their story."

Material from EWTN News Nightly and Vaticano was used in this article.

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