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18 October 2013

Unfinished business

Unfinished business

by Carla Prentice

Today is EU anti-slavery day and we think of the estimated 30 million men, women and children who are currently enslaved in our world. These people are exploited into our fishing and agricultural industries, some are forced to beg on our streets, others are working as domestic slaves or forced into prostitution. These people have become commodities to be bought and sold. This is reality even here in the UK and Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, there are approximately 30 victims rescued each year but the fact is, there are many more who have been unidentified. These cases of human trafficking and slavery are unacceptable.

The desire of many to respond to this injustice has grown rapidly as we have become increasingly aware of this crime. The anti-trafficking movement is becoming the most prominent social justice issue of our day. The question could be asked, are we just caught up in the latest moral panic
and trending issue of the moment?

As Christians, we recognise that each case of human trafficking represents the abuse of an image bearer of God.
Our hearts break for our brothers and sisters who are being exploited in our towns and city. Each one has value and worth in the eyes of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, this fight for freedom is core to our history and experience. Remember our story of the Exodus, moving from bondage to freedom? Remember the death to life power of Jesus bringing us freedom from the slavery of sin itself?

The fight against slavery is not a new cause for members of the Alliance; it is deeply rooted in our DNA. In 1846 we held our very first council meeting in the unusual setting of the Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, London. During this meeting, our connection and synergy between evangelical faith and life in society was forged. One of the first topics discussed at this meeting was the issue of slavery; still a contentious issue for some of the Americans at the meeting. It was to be a deal-breaker for British evangelicals who were united in support for the abolitionist movement.

Fast-forwarding 167 years, the Alliance has been working across the UK with the government as well as anti-trafficking networks of charities and churches to bring God's freedom and his kingdom to dark places.Here in Northern Ireland, we are part of an Engagement group on human trafficking which consists of NGOs and other organisations. We have also been actively engaging with our leaders at Stormont concerning the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill and have called for stronger measures to protect the vulnerable, tougher sentencing for the users who fuel demand and exit strategies for those caught up in prostitution.
In Scotland and Wales the Alliance has also been sucessfully working for the past few years with Government and NGOs on this vital issue.

While we are currently working hard to try and bring an end to modern day slavery, we recognise that there is still more to be done and perseverance and determination are required. We need more than a passion for this one issue, we need to become passionate about justice, full stop.

There is a challenge for us in the weeks and months ahead to continue to raise awareness, to be culture changers and to tackle the causes of this crime and others such as domestic violence and economic oppression.

The presenting issues will change but we continue our legacy of standing with and for the marginalised and vulnerable to fight any abuse against humanity who bear the very image of God.