This past February, 40 organizations met for a brainstorming workshop near London to discuss a new development goal adopted by the United Nations– the eradication of forced labor, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labor by 2030. In attendance were members of the UN’s Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking, UN special rapporteurs, representatives of workers’, employers’ and business organizations, and nongovernmental organizations committed to this work.
I [Timothy Ryan] was there representing the Global March Against Child Labor, a worldwide network of more than 300 organizations founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and dedicated, since its founding in 1998, to the elimination of child labor in all its forms.
The workshop was convened under the banner “Alliance 8.7,” a new initiative founded on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last fall. It featured three days of discussions, policy recommendations and priority setting to address the issue with an emphasis on topics such as rule of law, supply chains, migration, conflict areas, sexual exploitation and education. If it sounds highly technical and somewhat dry, detailed and theoretical, that’s because it was. The issues, of course, are anything but, and a matter of life and death for millions.
Also there, was Emi Mahmoud who embodied the real heart and soul, the true voice and meaning of the meeting. She was a young Muslim American poet (and also UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative). She shared some of her work, her poetry and experience. It animated the discourse and provided a pointed illustration of how the challenge of forced labor, child slavery and trafficking is also bound up in the fate of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict. She and her family fled conflict in Darfur, Sudan, when she was just a toddler. They went first to Yemen, then when she was four-years-old to the United States. She won the Individual World Poetry Slam competition for 2015, and she has become a U.S. citizen, and is a recent graduate of Yale University with a double major in molecular biology and anthropology.
She might not be alive, having been engulfed in the Sudan conflict, and if her family had not emigrated when it did from Yemen. Her experiences permeate her poetry:
“Memories of my childhood live between the rings of sand around my ankles and the desert heat in my lungs. I still believe that nothing washes worry from tired skin better than the Nile and my grandma’s hands. Every day I go to school with the weight of dead neighbors on my shoulders. The first time I saw bomb smoke, it didn’t wind and billow like the heat from our kitchen hearth. It forced itself on the Darfur sky, smothering the sun with tears that it stole from our bodies. The worst thing about genocide isn’t the murder, the politics, the hunger, the government paid soldiers that chase you across borders and into camps, It’s the silence.” — From People Like Us*