Child slavery, forced labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, debt bondage…these abominable practices all fit under the umbrella label ‘modern slavery’ that is so popular in the media and government statements of late.
But labels mean nothing to children who are forced into horrifying exploitation by predators and by circumstances. For them, it is an all too real nightmare which can leave them with painful physical and emotional scars, and hinders their education and development well into adulthood.
Children like Angelique*, who I met in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo last year. She had been pushed into a local militia at the age of 11 to defend her community and finally made a brave escape when she saw the army kill her parents. When I met her, she had walked for days to reach what she heard was a safe haven taking in kids like her.
She had only the clothes on her back and was just surviving – certainly not thriving. She was afraid to go outside because the army and policy were hunting down children who had been associated with the militia. All she wanted was a home, food to eat and the opportunity to go to school.
Before the fighting broke out, she had been at the top of her class and was hoping to become a lawyer…just as I am. When I asked Angelique what made her happy, she said having enough to eat and learning. When I asked what made her afraid, she said the army and “corpses”. It is not unusual for children to have fears – of real or imaginary things. But no child should have seen enough dead bodies to put these at the top of their fear list.