The Issue

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“They told me they could help me to find a job, and my family was poor and needed food. The job turned out to be in a brothel. I was forced to take 20 to 30 clients a day, and was denied food or tortured if I refused or asked for a break. The money went straight back to the brothel owner, to pay off my ‘debt’ for room and board. They threatened to find me and kill me if I left.”

This is slavery.

Human trafficking is considered the world’s second largest, fastest growing organized crime. The International Labor Organization estimates up to 20.9 million people toiling as modern slaves around the globe, and UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are sold every year. The ILO estimates that 55 percent of forced labor victims are women and girls, as are 98 percent of sex trafficking victims.

The human trafficking business is a multi-billion dollar industry. Sex trafficking alone is estimated to generate $7 billion per year, but INTERPOL believes the number to be closer to $19 billion.  

The Asia Pacific region (which includes South Asia) has the largest number of victims in forced labor – 11.7 million.  Additionally, 55 percent of forced labor victims are estimated to be women and girls, as are 98 percent of sex trafficking victims. Virgins are sold for an average of $482 (and as little as $200). The average client pays $5 for services.

These numbers are startling, and this global crisis necessitates a global response.

The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) is working to end these atrocities through direct services for victims, survivor-driven advocacy, strategic multidisciplinary partnerships, and mass media and online platforms. Somaly Mam, a survivor and present-day activist, speaks at conferences, summits, and universities worldwide to share her story and address her solution: empowering survivors as the next generation of change-makers.

Together, we are committed to building a world free from slavery: a reality that we truly believe is possible in our lifetime.

Click here to learn more about our approach.


Statistics from UN, ILO, TIP Report (page 45), and fieldwork observation.

photo by Eva Turek.