A United Nations fund that aids victims of modern-day slavery is seriously depleted, and the world body issued an urgent plea for nations to donate to the U.N. Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.
According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, donations have decreased sharply in recent years. This year the fund received a record 436 grant applications, totaling more than $6 million. However, the fund has less than $400,000 available.
“With the present funds, only 6 percent of the projects requested will receive support,” spokesperson Rupert Colville said in a statement.
The General Assembly established the fund 20 years ago to support human rights and humanitarian organizations that provide help to slavery victims. These organizations provide housing, food and medical care, psychological and social support and more to those freed from slavery.
Modern slavery commonly involves forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking and child labor.
According to State Department figures reported in the New York Times, as many as 100,000 people are in bondage in the United States and about 27 million people worldwide. “These victims of human trafficking are vulnerable men, women or children coerced into servitude for sex or labor,” the Times stated. “They might be transported from Russia to Europe, from the Philippines to Dubai, or held in their hometown.”
Gulnara Shahinian, a U.N. expert on contemporary forms of slavery, said the fund has supported more than 400 projects and changed thousands of lives.
“I have visited projects funded through grants provided to local actors and seen the tangible results,” Shahinian said in a statement. “I have met survivors, heard their terrible stories and hopes and witnessed real change.”
Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, said slavery was widespread and eradication required a global focus on root causes, including poverty, exclusion, marginalization, racism and discrimination.
“The Voluntary Fund has helped thousands break free from slavery and recover their lives – not through expensive projects, but through small grants to grass-roots initiatives,” she said. Relatively small contributions of $10,000 can go a long way toward advancing the cause of eliminating slavery, Pillay added.
The urgent call for donations comes as the global community celebrates the International Year for People of African Descent, to recognize the estimated 200 million descendents of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
August 23 marked the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. According to some estimates, about 12.5 million Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean for enslavement.