Christian Solidarity International “Slave Rescue” Efforts Face Scrutiny
Earlier this month, talk show host Eric Metaxas and the US-based non-profit Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a startling press release.
The press release said they had “partnered together” with a goal of freeing at least 350 Sudan slaves before Christmas. The statement went on: “The campaign surpassed their expectations, as they raised enough money to free 1600 Christian and non-Muslim people from slavery in Sudan.”
Metaxas added, “CSI is doing amazing work in countries all over the world, but they have especially been effective in freeing Christians who are enslaved in Sudan. They are true freedom fighters combating modern-day slavery.”
How did they accomplish this goal? By offering slaveholders cattle vaccines as an exchange, the ministry says they were able to unite these forced laborers — mostly South Sudanese Christians — with their families.
But some slave rescue groups say CSI’s slave redemption approach remains controversial and raises ethical concerns.
Ministry Watch reached out to two other ministries that work on the human trafficking issue and neither would comment on CSI’s efforts but said exchanging money or goods with slave captors is something they would neither do nor recommend.
Doing so might become an incentive for slavers, says Sheryl Watkins, spokesperson for World Vision International.
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“We feel the risk of stimulating a market is too great,” says Watkins. “We prefer to tackle the root causes of poverty which might lead people into this kind of degradation.”
Watkins added that since some human traffickers may have been armed actors in a conflict, exchanging goods or money with them would breach their commitment to humanitarian political neutrality. World Vision led rehabilitation efforts for child soldiers in Uganda many years ago, and more recently, has been providing psycho-social support for formerly abducted children in South Sudan.
Terry FitzPatrick from the US-based charity Free the Slaves says human trafficking is still profitable in many parts of the world, so taking away every incentive and punishing captors should always be part of the solution.
“It’s still a low-risk, high-reward industry,” FitzPatrick says. “Rescue is necessary but not enough.”
Free the Slaves has participated in slave rescues in Haiti, India and Ghana among other places, and relies on communities and local police to rescue children and others in forced labor situations. Since raids are often conducted with authorities in tow, FitzPatrick says traffickers are more likely to get handcuffs than anything else.
“We don’t pay. We use the leverage of the law to rescue these children,” he said.
Slave rescues are often widely announced in the media and heralded as a win for everyone, but what’s rarely mentioned is that preventing people from entering the industry is just as important. This often involves long-term cooperation to build financial systems in poor communities, educate families and strengthen laws on human trafficking. Without many of these measures, anti-slavery groups say it’s all too easy for traffickers to fall back on forced labor.
In the end, making human trafficking unprofitable may be the most powerful solution.
In its latest federal report, the DC-based think tank Human Trafficking Institute states, “Many traffickers are only willing to enslave others if there is no meaningful cost to them. Traffickers begin to leave the vulnerable alone when the alternative is losing their business, forfeiting their profits, and sacrificing their own freedom.”
Ministry Watch reached out to CSI for comment but did not receive a response. In the press release announcing the rescue, the group says that for a cost of about $250, traffickers’ animals get much-needed vaccines and freed slaves are given a survival kit and safe passage. The group claims its slave redemption rescues have been instrumental in the lives of thousands of Christians in Sudan, securing the release for 100,000 slaves since 1995.
According to the latest MinistryWatch report on CSI, the group had 2019 revenue of about $1.6-million. That number represents growth of about 50 percent in the past five years.