North Park Alumna Works to End Human Trafficking

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (February 11, 2008) – North Park University alumna Alicia VerHage is working with international efforts to abolish the $10 billion-a-year industry in human trafficking.

VerHage, who received the North Park Outstanding Senior Award when she graduated in 2002, has been interning with Oasis International and STOP THE TRAFFIK. She is helping to collect one million signatures from around the world to present to the United Nations on Wednesday. People still can sign the petition at the STOP THE TRAFFIK web site.

"It is a just cause; it is our spiritual mandate to care for the poor and vulnerable," says VerHage.

Although slavery was officially abolished worldwide in 1927, the UN estimates that today there are 27 million individuals forced to work as slaves and domestic servants. The U.S. State Department estimates 17,500 new slaves are brought into the country each year, many of them as domestic help.

The Evangelical Covenant Church's Women Ministries, in collaboration with the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice, recently introduced the Break the Chains initiative to increase awareness and provide resources to local churches and individuals to join abolitionist movement.

"It was very impressive to be able to tell my colleagues about my denomination and that it was ready to get on board," VerHage says. "They were impressed at the quick response and hopeful that likeminded people really could engage in the efforts."

VerHage recently moved to South Africa, where she is working to promote the Chocolate Campaign to encourage people to buy Fair Trade chocolate. "This is connected to the issue of trafficking because many young children are currently being trafficked to and from places in West Africa to harvest cocoa beans," she says. "Although all of us love a good piece of chocolate, I don't think we would want to have a child suffer for our indulgence."

According to the Covenant web site, "nearly 43% of the world's cocoa farms are located in Côte D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) where thousands of children are slaves" working in the industry.