Mentoring Girls and Boys for Sustainable Communities

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Source: DPI NGO Relations

On March 24, NGO Advocacy Public Information Officer Hawa Diallo led a panel on Mentoring Girls and Boys for Sustainable Communities. It marked the end of a week-long series of events commemorating the 60th Commission on the Status of Women. The panel consisted of guest speakers Paige Propper-Sanborn (Zariki Nursery and Primary School in Tanzania), Brenda Smith (World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women), Dena Mekawi (Women’s National Book Association/ DPI-NGO Youth Representative Programme), Mary Olushoga (African Women Power), Diallo Shabazz (One Hundred Black Men) and Wendy Foster (Big Brothers Big Sisters). The esteemed speakers were able to discuss the importance of mentoring as a part of educational programs through an SDG lens, considering its impact on gender issues, racial issues, faith and intergenerational interactions.

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Source: DPI NGO Relations

Brenda Smith led her presentation with a very significant quote by Marian Wright Edelman which encapsulated the messages of all the speakers. “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child – it is whether we can afford not to. Investing in children is not a world luxury or a world choice. It is a world necessity. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don’t say you can’t afford to fix it while you are building astronomically expensive fences to protect it from outside enemies. The question is not ‘Are we going to pay?’ – it’s ‘Are we going to pay now, or we going to pay a whole lot more later on?”

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Source: DPI NGO Relations

Mentoring is investing in people. On the United Nation’s part, UNICEF launched its Techno Girl program in South Africa, an initiative to boost confidence in girls to continue secondary school and encourage their interest in careers in engineering, medicine and the sciences. Mentorship programs have been proven to decrease dropout rates, reduce anxiety and boost confidence in school children.  For Paige Propper-Sanborn and the Zariki Nursery and Primary School in Tanzania, mentorship means leaving behind sustainable communities. Their mentorship programs provide consistency in classrooms, providing services to communities and providing role models to children of all ages. A big part of mentoring is listening, which creates a space in which both mentor and mentee are sharing. Peer-to-peer learning and mentorship keeps students interested, teachers innovative and communities engaged. Mary Olushga advocated the importance of more aggressive and active mentorships and sponsorships to push young people forward and to engage mentors with their mentees. Unlike their male counterparts, girls in Lagos, Nigeria were not being encouraged to aim for the stars and were often not as competitive, which Olushga feared would lead to them being left behind. Dialo Shabazz and Wendy Foster highlighted the importance of giving back to the communities, describing the requirements their mentees have to community service and paying what they have learned forward to continue this process of nurturing the generations to come.

The Refugee Crisis: Rethinking and Strengthening Response

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The Syrian conflict has been unfolding since the Spring of 2011. Since then, about 4.6 million Syrians have become refugees and 7.4 million have been displaced within the country. Beyond humanitarian aid, the immediate concern of the United Nations and member states is how best to provide long term assistance and protection to these refugees. The February 18th briefing considered how the United Nations, its agencies, governments and civil society can address and efficiently resolve the current refugee crises. The panel consisted of Ninette Kelly, Karen AbuZayd, Pedrag Avramović, Susana Sottoli, Gabriel Atem and Neil Grungras. They provided expertise on UN agency operation, analysis of the political climate in the European Union, refugee accounts and the treatment of children and LGBT persons as refugees. A message heavily emphasized by all panelists was that states have histories of providing safe havens for refugees and a current moral obligation to help.

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According to UNICEF, more than half of 4.7 million Syrian refugees are children. Almost two-thirds of more than half a million refugees in South Sudan are children. 39,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended in the US-Mexico border. These crises have traumatizing effects on children due to possible detention, risk of separation from families, loss of education and being sold into child labor. Susanna Sottoli, Associate Director of UNICEF’s Programme Division, outlined some of UNICEF’s support on the ground which comes in the form of technical assistance on coordination, capacity building and development of protocols. UNICEF also attempts to reunite children to families as a part of the Rapid Family Tracing (RFT) initiative. Psychosocial support, child friendly spaces and provision of basic resources are made readily available to refugees.

Despite the international application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CDC), migration remains a highly sensitive and politicized issue. This means that despite UNICEF’s best efforts, they must operate within states’ legal frameworks. UNICEF’s grasp of the situation and best efforts are slightly undercut by the lack of clear and reliable data due to the ongoing conflict. The constant movement of refugees also makes it difficult (but not impossible) to provide timely and relevant assistance to refugees who may only be in a country or locality for 48 hours or less. Ahead, UNICEF hopes to develop a global strategy program and advocate for strengthening the global implementation of Article 2 of the CDC. All future plans and initiatives hold three statements at their core:

  • It is the duty of all states to protect children before, during and after migration.
  • Children should be treated as children regardless of the status of their families.
  • The family unit is key. Children should not be separated from their families unless it is in their best interests.

LGBT Refugees
Neil Grungras, founder of the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM),  brought to light the plight of a group of refugees that is more often than not kept in the dark. LGBT refugees are at risk from external and internal factors – that is, threats most refugees have to face in migration, but also threats from within their communities. They are often persecuted based on their sexual identity by their community and officials in their host country. They often are barred from work, access to healthcare and education. The international community has since gotten better at recognizing the needs of LGBT refugees. However, more needs to be done by states, the United Nations and civil society. Grungras’ organization ORAM has worked to consult and train NGOs and UN agencies, as well as provide basic resources and programs for all refugees that it works with.

Personal Account: Gabriel Atem
Mr. Gabriel Atem was able to provide a personal and touching account of his own experience as a child refugee. Atem is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. His life was interrupted twice by civil war, first the South-North Sudan Civil War and then the Ethiopian Civil War. Though not initially a spiritual leader, he preached often and worked very hard at a refugee camp in Dinka. This led him to become a leading teacher at the church in a refugee camp in Kenya. In 2001, he was granted the opportunity to settle in the US. He has since obtained an Associate of Arts degree from Salt Lake Community College and is now the Deacon of the Sudanese Dinka language Congregation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.

European Union
The Syrian conflict and refugee crisis currently dominates the European Union’s political agenda. Pedrag Avramović, Head of the Humanitarian Section of the EU Delegation to the UN, emphasized that there is a legal and moral responsibility to provide protection for refugees. With regards to the EU’s internal response to the crisis, it should take several measures. The EU should rethink current legal and institutional arrangements to better address the crisis, such as creating executable migrant policies. However, the Schengen Agreement should not be dismantled in the process. Putting up strict borders and establishing taxes between state works against the concept of a united European Union. External frontiers should also be strengthened. Recently, about 1000 refugee processing centers were established at state borders, but this is only a short term solution. Migrants that do not have the right to remain legally as refugees should not be sent back to their host countries or countries or origin, but should be repatriated. Channels of dialogue must be open between countries of origin or transit (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon in the case of Syrians).

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The EU and the international community then must address the crisis as a whole. The only way to resolve humanitarian crises is to deal with the conflicts causing them. Humanitarian aid should never be a long term or permanent answer. Many are also of the opinion that a solution beyond assisting with humanitarian aid within EU borders and in the conflict zone is to assist refugee camps and settlements in host countries. It would cost 7-10 times less to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Assisting these countries establish and carry out education and employment opportunities ensures the comfort and dignity of these refugees.

Conclusion
In Mr. Avramović’s words, humanitarian aid is not a permanent solution. The conflict must be addressed and resolved on a diplomatic level. Preventing the further internal and external displacement of peoples must be the primary objective. Governments must work in cooperation and consultation with NGOs and UN agencies in order to ensure the dignified care and resettlement of current refugees. As shown in Mr. Atem’s account, refugees have so much to offer their transitory host and final destination countries. With education programs and job opportunities, their experiences and skills would be able to diversify and enrich any community.

This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

Promoting Peace and Reconciliation to Counter Violent Extremism

Every year, the Department of Public Information explores the mission of faith-based NGOs and interfaith and dialogue groups in its Focus on Faith Series. The principles of these groups — shared values, tolerance, and reconciliation — are those of the UN as well. Interfaith dialogue provides for mutual understanding and is the cornerstone of respect between different cultures.

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Source: DPI/NGO

 

The 2016 Focus on Faith briefing discussed the role of faith-based NGOs in promoting peace and preventing radicalism and violence. Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, is the UN’s counterterrorism mission — its focus is on prevention and treating the root causes of radicalism and extremism before it leads to violence. Successful CVE is contingent upon engagement with communities susceptible to extremism, and civil society and NGO involvement is critical. Faith-based groups are especially important; religious leaders offer spiritual guidance and foster dialogue in a way that governments cannot.

The briefing’s panelists were a diverse group, including those representing religious groups, such as Father Roger Landry, attache at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See; those representing the UN system, such as Matthew Hodes, Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations; and those representing interfaith groups, such as Reverend Chloe Breyer, of the Interfaith Center of New York.

The discussion centered around the role of civil society in the UN’s CVE mission — the goal of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism includes empowering youth, women, and religious leaders through partnerships with civil society. Traditional leadership and government initiatives tend to be unsuccessful at these efforts, but youth have lead grassroots prevention efforts on the ground from Yemen to Pakistan. Religious leaders have an important role to play in disseminating how faith should be practiced and positive lessons it imparts.

Countering violent extremism, as mission, is accomplished on a grassroots level, in villages, neighborhoods, and campuses. Faith-based organizations can access these levels of society in ways governments and the UN cannot; while UN is focused on the economic and social development of the world’s citizens, religious leaders are responsible for their spiritual development.
The briefing is available here.

Education for Global Citizenship & the Future of Holocaust Education

DPI’s briefing on January 28 was two-part. The first half covered the rapidly approaching DPI/NGO conference. The second half discussed the future of Holocaust education.

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Maher Nasser, Director of DPI’s Outreach Division, presented the findings of the first planning mission. Having just returned from Gyeongju, Nasser introduced Dr. Scott Carlin and Dr. Yukang Choi as the conference cochairs on the NGO community’s part. The theme of the conference has been announced as Education for Global Citizenship, a means of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together.  Jeff Brez will act as the DPI representative and cochair of the conference. Dr. Carlin is an associate professor of geography at Long Island University. His research and academic concentrations include Community Mapping, Environmental Interest Groups, Measuring Quality of Life and Sustainable Development. Dr Carlin has also been affiliated with ECOSOC for a number of years through the International Society of Doctors for the Environment.  Dr. Yukang Choi is the CEO and founder of Teach for All Korea, a nonprofit organization that manages and initiates various education programs to help low-income students.

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Nasser reported very solid participation from the NGO community in South Korea. The support and organization on the ground was in very good hands between Dr. Yukang and Mr. Yi, chair of the coalition of NGOs. Dr. Choi and Dr. Carlin have since then began drafting a concept note. The visual brand of the conference has already been created. As of now, the information required prior to and during the conference is still being collected and its distribution is being planned. Subcommittees are currently in the process of being formed, with the chairs accepting rolling nominations.

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This annual conference is a product of DPI but will require the cooperation of both the NGO community and the United Nations. Thanks to the considerable efforts of DPI and of Korean civil society, it’s planning and execution is well under way. However, the SDG’s are the priority of everybody’s agenda. As such, DPI plans to reach out to UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP in hopes of higher participation.

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The second briefing featured a panel comprising of politicians, researches and educators. Jane Jacobs-Kimmelman (Director of International Relations at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem), Zehavit Gros (Professor at Bar-Ilan University), Deborah Dwork (Professor of Holocaust History and Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University), Cecile Felicia Stokholm Banke (Senior Researcher at Danish Institute for International Studies) and Szabolcs Takács (Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) provided extensive thoughts and answers to the question of the future of Holocaust education. Moderated by Kimberly Ann, the discussion was a part of a week-long series of events to observe the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (January 27).

Many of the concerns that all of the panelists shared circled around the question of the preservation and presentation of Holocaust education. Jane Jacobs-Kimmelman highlighted that short attention spans in the classroom is an issue educators across fields have to face. An issue that was specific to schools in Israel and abroad providing Holocaust education was “Holocaust fatigue” – that is, the reluctance of students to participate and absorb lessons and experiences due to their distance from the event and the weight of the tragedy. Yad Vashem’s School for Holocaust Studies tailors and creates curricula for schools across the globe, including Latin America, China and Australia, which bridge this generational learning gap. Through resources such as their Holocaust video toolbox and bite sized bursts of information, lessons plans are able to be created and distributed in a comprehensive and approachable way. Out of the box initiatives such as design, writing and music competitions make lessons and information more dynamic and accessible to students across the globe.

Zehavit Gros highlighted the importance of preserving the uniqueness of the Holocaust narrative in Holocaust education. Though there was some debate from the audience and an alternative opinion presented by Deborah Dwork, Gros warned that the normalization of the Holocaust risks the spread of soft Holocaust denial (the denial of its core Jewish elements). It also risks the abuse of the term “Holocaust” in exchange for the word “genocide” or various other description of tragedies, which is highly inappropriate. In the absolutely necessary pursuit to educate future generations about tolerance, peace, and civility, the inherent Jewishness of the Holocaust narrative must be presented and must make the connection from the static picture of the past to the dynamic picture of the future.

Ms. Dwork presented the counterview that the purpose of Holocaust education should be as a means of moral instruction on present prejudices, human rights abuses, current genocides and bullying. Reflecting on the thoughts of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, she insisted that Holocaust education is meant to be transformative. As a result, stepping back and widening the lens to see the Holocaust as a genocide is crucial in understanding it through the intellectual scope of genocide studies.

Cecile Felicia Stockholm Banke linked the aftermath of the Holocaust to present day issues with the case of refugees from Syria and Iraq. As a historian and researcher, Ms. Banke raised concerns about the current treatment of refugees by European countries, especially in light of Kosovo in the 1990’s. With the majority of Syrians, minority groups such as Yazidis and Armenians are under attack and threatened by IS members in the region. Despite this, much like in the case with Jewish refugees after World War Two, many European countries bar or restrict refugees from entering or travelling through countries.

Mr. Takács provided the panel with political expertise and experience as both the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Minister of State for European Affairs at the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office. Szabolcs asserted the responsibility of educators, civil society and politicians in maintaining and invigorating Holocaust education. With the likes of laws such as the Right to Forget very narrowly being passed save for IHRA’s intervention, the active participation of educators in fostering tolerance and politicians in crushing hatred is crucial. IHRA, in partnership with centers such as Yad Vashem’s School for Holocaust Studies, is able to provide teaching programs across the globe. Takács called for a revision of current Holocaust education and the tailoring of teaching programs to each specific country’s history and culture in line with the Holocaust narrative. Projects that preserve and share survivor testimony’s and stories long after they are with us must be created in order to make tangible the magnitude and reality of the tragedy. Finally, educational guidelines must be drafted in order to address current and future challenges and reach out to generations.

The United Nations’ definition of a culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflict by tackling root causes in order to solve problems through dialogue and negotiations among individuals, groups and nations. Through programs such as those provided by Yad Vashem, IHRA and the United Nations, the importance of Holocaust education and the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust may continue to flourish, inspire and warn about the dangers of indifference and intolerance and the incredible and hopeful stories of survivors. One hopes it will help us understand and prevent other tragedies and respect human dignity and life.

These briefings are available on UN Web TV.

Combating Racism in the 21st Century

The International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) sought to commit its signatories to promote and encourage universal respect without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. It was established to promote universal respect and dignity among all human beings and aimed to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations by requesting that Member States establish and enact appropriate mechanisms to combat forms of discrimination.

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The UN DPI briefing titled “Combating Racism in the 21st Century” commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Convention and celebrated the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The panel was moderated by Corann Okorodudu, NGO Representative and Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies at Rowan University, and included Stephanie Franklin, William Garcia, Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, Manbo Dòwòti Désir and Onaje Muid. The panel discussed issues of space, identity and exclusion.

Stephanie Franklin, founder, president and CEO of the Franklin Law Group, discussed the importance of the Convention and ensuring the United Nations remains a space safe and open for discussion. It has sometimes alienated and marginalized grassroots organizations and activists against racial discrimination in an effort to include actors seen as more relevant or influential in discussions and initiatives. Due to her professional background in social justice work, Franklin was able to share extensive data on the prevalence of racial discrimination in foster care systems and the horrific reality of the medication of African American children in such systems.

Onaje Muid, Lecturer at the School of Social Work in Columbia, discussed the importance of the collective in the worldview shared by many African communities, where the notion that “I am because we are” was held highly as opposed to the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am”. This philosophy helped and continues to encourage the fostering of creativity and spirituality among communities. In order to safeguard all peoples and communities of African descent, it is necessary to ensure that international treaties and conventions such as ICERD are effective and making an impact by advocating for them and creating institutions and legal mechanisms on behalf of the disenfranchised.

William Garcia, a M.A. candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at the Columbia University Teachers College, extended the geographical scope of the conversation beyond the African-American experience to include racial discrimination peoples of African descent face globally, specifically in South America and the Caribbean. He highlighted the exclusion of “Afro-latinxs” from both the Latino and black identity when they immigrate, especially to the United States. They become an “other”, in between blackness and their Latinx identity. Garcia emphasized the importance of bridging that identity gap in discourse, especially when considering the significant and powerful advocacy and work that the Black Lives Matter movements are doing in the Caribbean and South America. Garcia posed policy suggestions and safety measures to ensure the full and safe participation of peoples of African descent in South America and the Caribbean, concluding with the statement, “If black lives have to matter in the United States, they have to matter everywhere.”

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Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, President of the International Commission for Dalit Rights, likened the caste system to racial discrimination, describing racism as cultural caste discrimination. The prevalence of this international cultural caste discrimination sets up systems which propagate the violations of basic human rights and dignity. Sagar firmly emphasized that to deconstruct these systems, marginalized and oppressed groups would have to cooperate and eliminate racial discrimination of all forms.

Manbo Dòwòti Désir, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Human Rights Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism, addressed the necessity of spatial justice – that is, creating mental and physical spaces that support discussion and respect the history and cultural of peoples of African descent. She also highlighted the necessity of safeguarding virtual spaces, which she described as the new frontiers for racial discrimination, and using technology to combat that.

The briefing closed on master kora player Salieu Suso’s musical piece, Kaira.

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This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

Bridging the Gap between Climate Change and Climate Awareness

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The youth-led briefing held on November 12th presented a panel consisting of Jada Monica Drew, Kelly Matheson and Dave Gonzalez. Among the guest speakers were sixteen-year old plaintiff Victoria Barrett and filmmaker Lisa Russell. The panelists and guests discussed the issues of climate change and the gap between climate awareness and climate action.

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Are people aware of climate change? I would argue yes, more so than several years ago due to the involvement of political leaders, activists and artists. Even people that outwardly deny climate change are involved in some sort of dialogue that keeps the issue relevant. I think that what is crucial is informative climate change education in schools, as Victoria Barrett discussed. The work of organizations like Jada Monica Drew’s Social Designs, Kelly Matheson’s WITNESS and Our Children’s Trust and responsible corporations like Google is very important. The combination of both civil society and corporations, along with political platforms, is what will really affect some sort of change. I think continued activism is necessary, especially that of the younger generations who will have new and innovative ways of presenting information and engaging in dialogues with people across age, gender, race and religion.

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I think Francois Gave, Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of France to the UN present at the lunch Q&A session following the briefing, made a very important point to be considered amongst this debate – that is, while this is a very dire and important issue that affects all of us, it is not a political priority. It requires unwavering dedication and patience, despite the longevity of environmental projects and awareness initiatives. The work of the briefing’s panelists is proof that individual effort helps promoting awareness, educating and taking action on a communal and international level.

This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

Understanding Human Trafficking through the Lens of Civil Society: Awareness, Advocacy and Action

DPI/NGO presented a briefing discussing the approach that NGOs are taking to combat human trafficking; some are increasing awareness, such as the End Trafficking Project of UNICEF USA. Some NGOs, like the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, advocate on behalf of victims of trafficking and prostitution. Others still take take action against traffickers themselves, such as Operation Underground Railroad.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is the primary UN organization in its effort to end international crime, including human trafficking, by coordinating efforts between member states, and Simone Monasebian, Director of the NY office, discussed basic facts about human trafficking; it is an almost $30 billion industry, and it continues to grow, thanks to the horrible refugee crisis in Syria.

The UN has established the Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, which goes directly towards rehabilitation and support.

 

Awareness is a surprising concern in the fight against trafficking; while human trafficking is recognized as a problem, increasing awareness of its significance continues to be an issue. Ian Urbina stumbled upon forced labor on fishing ships when he was writing his Outlaw Ocean Series for the New York Times; he had previously been exposed to “mag crews” in the states, which he wrote about in 2007. Other groups have more direct approaches; the End Trafficking Project at UNICEF-USA makes resources available to help end trafficking, including info sheets and toolkits.

The End Trafficking Project also advocates on behalf of victims, and is pressing the US Congress to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women advocates on behalf of sex workers, in the US and abroad. Taina Bien-Aime, the Executive Director, discussed how more often than not, sex workers are victims of trafficking.

Other groups take action directly. Tim Ballard, a former Special Agent with the Department of Homeland Security, formed Operation Underground Railroad when he became frustrated by his inability to deal with trafficking out of the US’s jurisdiction; his group trains local law enforcement with regards to trafficking issues, but members of his group also go undercover on sting operations. Girl Be Heard, on the other hand, works domestically, empowering young women to tell their own stories, and introduces girls to global women’s’ issues. By sharing the stories of women worldwide, Girl Be Heard hopes to end violence against women.

One important suggestion brought up was using the term ‘modern slavery’ instead of ‘human trafficking’. ‘Modern slavery’ carries with it a certain historical meaning and seriousness that is lost with the legal term ‘human trafficking’; society would be more willing to act against modern slavery because of the connotation. However, Taina Bien-Aime brought up an important point; while ‘modern slavery’ is a powerful phrase, human trafficking is an issue that encompasses more than forced labor, and its abolition will not resolve the violations of women’s and children’s rights that occur when they are trafficked.

A consistent problem faced by these NGOs were inaction by governments when facing situations where people were being trafficked — not necessarily out of malice, but because of a lack of awareness, training, or resources. NGOs can help fill these gaps where they exist, from pressing on lawmakers to pass legislation or assisting local law enforcement in a sting operation.
The briefing can be watched here.