My name is Ishaan Shah and I am a 17-year-old student from the UK. I am also an award-winning, international human rights activist, conservationist, feminist, blogger and writer.
Towards the end of 2016, I watched a documentary about slavery and human trafficking, focusing on the exploitation of children for labour, and sex. I was shocked, outraged and puzzled about how slavery still exists today. I had learnt about the ‘Atlantic Slave Trade’ and the heroic abolition led by William Wilberforce here in the UK, however, I was unaware this crime still continued to persist, hidden in the shadows of society.
After watching this documentary, I went into school the following week and I asked each student in my year group (around 156 students) if they knew that slavery still exists today; not one of them knew. This concerned me because slavery and human trafficking are not just issues that are occurring in faraway countries and communities, but it is happening right here in the UK (estimated 136,000 slaves in the UK today (ILO)). Slavery is existing in the clothes we wear, foods we eat, the hotels we visit and potentially even on your high street; we are encountering it, directly and indirectly, every day. Globally, there are 45.8 million people trapped in slavery with the true figure likely to be higher due to the hidden nature of the crime. Every hour, 130 people are trafficked and the average price for a child is £70.
I was curious to learn more about the issue and how I could help be a part of the solution and so, I turned to the internet. The internet provided a large amount of complex and harrowing information that was not suitable for children to digest. At the time, I was 13 and I was struggling to understand the information that was being presented to me. That is when I decided to create Stolen Dreams; a website and communications organization that acts as a bridge between young people and the greatest human rights issues of our time.
Since Stolen Dreams launched in 2017, the focus, whilst primarily addressing modern slavery, also seeks to engage young people with other global issues including gender inequality, lack of access to education and climate change; all based around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to spread my messages widely across the world through social media, podcasts, blogs, interviews, government and teaching at schools.
The issue of modern slavery and human trafficking is a very harrowing topic and so, I like to introduce as much hope and compassion to the topic as possible, especially when speaking to younger children. Despite the fact that we are all at risk of being trafficked, especially us as children through social media, it is crucial to understand that we can all play a part in the fight against this crime; there are four ways I suggest that we as global citizens can get involved:
1. Educate yourself about the issue. Raise awareness and spread the word that slavery still exists today and that we are encountering it on a day-to-day basis.
2. Write to your local government representatives and urge them to adopt a robust strategy that seeks to prevent slavery through public awareness, train emergency services on how to respond, prosecute culprits correctly, protect survivors and provide survivors with the best rehabilitation support possible.
3. Stay safe online. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, traffickers have adapted to exploit people, especially children, online. Stay safe on the digital world by knowing how to identify the signs of an online predator and only talking to people you know well.
4. Consume consciously. The products we use every day were most likely made by people and are at risk of being made using slavery or child labour. If you can buy ethical clothing, I urge you to buy it. However, ethical clothing nowadays is expensive so, if you cannot buy ethical clothing, buying second hand and cherishing every product you buy can help tackle slavery and counter the fast fashion industry.
The fight to end slavery is a challenging one but we, especially as young people, need to be disruptive to get government and businesses to put people before profits. We can work towards a world free from slavery together!