Every day, in every nation on the planet, children are sold and bonded into slavery. Thousands of children. I know, I was one of them.
When I was seven years old, a woman approached my family promising to give me a good education and a better life. My mother agreed because, she was told, she could visit me on a regular basis close to our home. But instead of giving me a better life, this well-respected woman in our community turned around and sold me to a man in a bordering state.
I was taken from my family in India to a place I didn't know. A place with strange people and a strange language. My trafficker, Paul, was in the business of children. He bought and sold us, exploiting our vulnerability and innocence, forcing us to work as maids, servants, and in brick and cement factories. He ran an "orphanage" that was registered with the government as a humanitarian charity, but which instead served as a barracks for children he trafficked, including me.
I remember crying for my mother. Paul told me that I never would see her again. "She is dead," he said.
My home, my identity, and, most importantly, my dreams and aspirations were lost. The world around me was shattered into pieces. My small body endured beatings and torture. Day in and day out, in that poverty stricken village in Southern India, I cried for someone to rescue me. Despite all of my tears, no one answered my cry.
By the time I was eight, my physical condition and emotional state were dire. I was near death. No longer of any value to Paul, he sold me into illegal adoption. I was adopted by an American woman who thought she was getting a legitimately orphaned girl. She brought me to live with her in Washington, where I had all the privileges of American life. Through her love, I began to find stability, healing, and a sense of personal freedom.
Today, at least 27 million men, women, and children are enslaved across the globe --m ore than at any time in history. Modern-day slavery and human trafficking manifest themselves in many forms, from forced labor to sex trafficking, but each is alike in that it strips a person of their fundamental and inalienable right to human freedom. Sometimes hidden in the dark corners of our globalized world and at other times occurring in plain sight, modern-day slavery and human trafficking are legal nowhere but present in every country across the globe.
Twenty-one years after being trafficked, I traveled back to India. There, I saw my birth mother in a hotel for the first time since we were forced apart. I listened to her tell the story of losing a child. I heard her pain and devastation. And I resolved to dedicate my life to stopping the modern-day slave trade.
President Barack Obama has proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It provides all of us with an opportunity to look within and beyond our own lives. But the issue of human trafficking is massive in scope and often overwhelming to consider. How can one person possibly impact such an immense, seemingly intractable global problem? You can start by becoming educated about the issue -- including in your own community. Next, be willing to say something. Ask Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Fight for anti-trafficking legislation in your state. And simply be willing to stand up and use your voice to say that slavery is wrong. If thousands of voices rise up the same way, they will surely be loud enough to end this tragedy in our time.