CNN's annual #MyFreedomDay event at HKIS helps students understand the many facets of human trafficking

By Zaara Bhatia and Mark Gikas, both 14, Hong Kong International School
By Zaara Bhatia and Mark Gikas, both 14, Hong Kong International School |

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CNN anchor Kristie Lu Stout asks students what freedom means to them.

Freedom is an ideal that transcends religion, race, and culture. Unfortunately, it is still a right that’s denied to tens of millions of people worldwide.

It’s a common misconception that slavery was abolished a long time ago. There’s actually more slavery today than at any other time in human history: more than 40 million men, women, and children are living lives full of pain, hunger, and coercion. Today, slavery is found in every single country on Earth; reports have been filed in countries including the US, Russia, and even Hong Kong.

Slavery is a US$152 billion (HK$1.2 trillion) industry, making it the third largest criminal enterprise in the world behind counterfeiting and drug smuggling; and it’s continuing to grow, and right under our noses. Of the victims, 25 per cent of those exploited are children who are pushed into prostitution, the military, or forced labour. Of those children, 70 per cent are girls who are forced to work as prostitutes to pay off a never-ending debt, or as mistreated domestic helpers who work impossibly long hours. Despite constant efforts by NGOs, 99 per cent of victims are never rescued.

Your Voice, Hong Kong: stories of freedom from Hong Kong

#MyFreedomDay is a annual event held on March 14 by CNN. Students from more than 100 international schools from around the world plan activities that help to raise awareness about modern-day slavery. For this year’s event, students at Hong Kong International School (HKIS) discussed what freedom means to them, and learned about the millions of people for whom freedom is unachievable. 

At HKIS, students took part in a human trafficking simulation, during which students played the role of a poor child living in Libya, where human trafficking is exceptionally prevalent and unavoidable. This simulation highlighted the fact that modern-day slavery is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and that for those affected, there is very little hope of escape.

HKIS' Student Leadership Team, comprised of middle and high school students, also made 700 Freedom Day pins by hand, and distributed them throughout the school. The rest of the student body wrote down what freedom means to them and hung it on the Freedom Day wall.

Your Voice, Hong Kong: HKIS students raise awareness about modern day slavery for My Freedom Day

A panel of about 20 Eighth Graders also met in the school library to discuss issues and possible solutions for human trafficking, while the middle school choir sang Alma Llanera, a Venezuelan song about freedom. Both events were filmed and broadcast live by CNN. There was no mistaking the HKIS students’ interest in and passion for understanding the causes of the issue, and seeking a solution for the problem.

Something that was discussed was whether we should let the government handle human trafficking or take matters into our own hands. Unanimously, we decided that governments and companies are profiting too much from modern-day slavery to help change the system, and that more needs to be done at a local level. According to the SCMP article,  “Why Hong Kong’s reputation as a human trafficking black spot is justified”, Hong Kong is one of the most prominent locations for human trafficking. However, the government has only recently acknowledged that this is indeed a problem.

During our discussion we decided that we can help by raising awareness, supporting domestic helpers and choosing fair trade goods. Modern-day slavery has become a crucial part of our society without us even realising it. This needs to change and we, the next generation, need to stand up and fight for freedom. Only then we can make a difference.