Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon library speakers discuss modern slavery


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Slavery has been an ongoing issue in all parts of the world for centuries. It is not something that ended with the Civil War.

Matt Friedman, chairman of the Mekong Club, an organization that fights the business of modern slavery in Hong Kong, will be at two local libraries to inform that slavery and human trafficking still exist —  and exist in the United States.

Mr. Friedman, along with his son Brandon, will host “Breaking the Links: A Campaign against Human Trafficking” at 10 a.m. Aug. 2, at Peters Township Public Library.

At 2 p.m. the same day, the Friedmans will present the program again at Mt. Lebanon Public Library. The talks are sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

According to The Global Slavery Index, more than 29 million people are in modern slavery globally, about 76 percent of whom are in 10 countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The agency estimates that there are about 60,000 slaves in the United States.

Steven Sokol, CEO of the council, said when he heard the Friedmans were on a speaking tour, he “wanted to help connect to talk about this very important global and local challenge. Human trafficking, which is often described as modern-day slavery, is a hidden criminal activity that happens in plain sight.”

Mr. Friedman, who lives in Hong Kong, is originally from Newington, Conn. He has lived overseas since 1991, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Thailand.

“As a public health officer in Nepal working for the U.S. government, I came in contact with a lot of very young girls infected with HIV/AIDS — 12 to 15 years old,” Mr. Friedman said. “When I went to explore the situation, I learned how they were tricked and deceived into the brothels of India.”

Of those young girls, Mr. Friedman said the lucky ones made it back to Nepal after a few years, but “most others simply died in India.” He said from the first time he met a victim, he “felt compelled to help.”

“Slavery is alive and well. For it to be stopped, we all need to get involved,” he said.

Mr. Sokol said that many people think of human trafficking as an issue in faraway places or related to the sex trade.

“Sadly, human trafficking is far more pervasive,” Mr. Sokol explained. “It happens in plain sight and law enforcement resources are spread thin. People who attend this event will learn more about human trafficking — which is an example of the dark side of globalization — from someone who is dedicated to increasing awareness about this issue.”

He said of all the types of slaves, forced labor is the most prevalent.

“More than 75 percent of the people in slavery are in factories, on fishing boats, working on plantations and in mines,” Mr. Friedman said. About 60 percent of those victims are involved in the supply chains producing goods that many people in the United States eventually purchase, such as food, apparel and electronics.

“This is an important topic because it’s happening in our region, not just in faraway places,” Mr. Sokol said. “People are often surprised to learn that trafficking rings have been broken in the Pittsburgh region.‘‍’‍

In the United States, sex slavery and forced labor, such as agriculture and domestic work, are the most prevalent.

The presentations are geared toward a young-adult-and-older audience. Mr. Friedman said he recommends anyone age 15 and oler to attend.

The program hits close to home for Peters Township Library director Pier Lee.

“As I was brought up in Hong Kong, I am familiar with this issue and feel it is an important topic that the community should be aware of — especially our young adults,” Ms. Lee said. “The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh provides us with the opportunity to host excellent speakers such as Matt Friedman to share his experiences and viewpoint,” she added. 

To register, email programs@ptlibrary.org or call 724-941-9430.

Freelance writer Deana Carpenter: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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