Southwestern Students Join International Justice Mission to Advocate for Victims of Human Trafficking
Southwestern students Omote Ekwotafia, Danielle DeRose, and Nicholas Garces (pictured from right to left) were among 100 people from 25 states who recently took part in a day of advocacy organized by the human rights agency International Justice Mission (IJM). They traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with several members of Congress, including Congresswoman Diane Watson, Congressman Henry Waxman, Congressman George Radanovich, and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard to build support for the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009. This new legislation aims to eliminate the trafficking of minors into forced prostitution and forced labor in target countries that have shown a demonstrated commitment to dealing with the problem but lack adequate resources. The trafficking of persons is the third largest criminal industry after drugs and weapons, and the fastest growing criminal activity in the world. According to UNICEF, there are nearly two million children in the commercial sex trade worldwide and, according to the U.S. Department of State, 80% of human trafficking victims are women and girls, while as many as 50% are minors.
"I thought I'd be learning how to hand flyers out and better talk about IJM," said Nicholas Garces, Vice President of IJM at Southwestern. "I didn't think I'd be a lobbyist for IJM meeting congressional representatives and asking them to co-sponsor a bill for efforts to stop human trafficking abroad. I felt so empowered and official. I was really doing something for IJM that could affect change."
The new legislation would double the annual budget of the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) for three years. The additional resources would be used to provide multiyear funding to facilitate the eradication of child trafficking in eligible "focus countries," thereby creating a model for other countries where this crime is often carried out with relative impunity. G/TIP's current budget for grant-making is approximately $18 million, given annually to organizations in over 43 countries.
Groups such as IJM are seeing big improvements over short periods of time. In just under two years of collaboration with local authorities in Cebu, Philippines, the number of child prostitutes reduced by 70 percent. "It's amazing to see how IJM uses law to truly change the lives of people all over the world," said Omote Ekwotafia, President of IJM at Southwestern. "It's more than just helping people out of a tough situation; it's making a serious impact on corrupt justice systems and enabling to make their own changes."
Students formed the Southwestern Chapter of IJM this year in hopes of raising awareness about serious human rights violations that have become commonplace in countries across the world. Among other events, IJM at Southwestern held human rights movie nights to encourage discussion every month and also held a panel on careers in human rights. They also plan to visit their local members of Congress again this fall. For more information on IJM at Southwestern, click here or contact Omote Ekwotafia.