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States must give generously to help victims of contemporary forms of slavery recover their lives

GENEVA (16 September 2011) – From providing education for child labourers found locked in the basements of carpet factories to assisting victims of sexual slavery, a UN fund for victims of contemporary forms of slavery has helped hundreds of projects in more than 90 countries come to fruition.

UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, and the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, on Friday appealed to all UN Member States to give generously to the UN Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to ensure such projects can continue to transform the lives of victims.

“Despite hundreds of years of effort to abolish slavery, its contemporary manifestations can still be found throughout the world,” Pillay said.

“Eradicating this scourge requires a focus on its root causes, including poverty, exclusion, marginalization, racism and discrimination, and a readiness to extend assistance to victims.”

“The Voluntary Fund has helped thousands break free from slavery and recover their lives – not through expensive projects, but through small grants to grassroots initiatives,” she added. “As little as USD10,000 can truly make a difference in advancing concrete efforts to combat slavery.”

Shahinian added that the Fund, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, has changed the lives of thousands by providing assistance to more than 400 projects.

“I have visited projects funded through grants provided to local actors and seen the tangible results – I have met survivors, heard their terrible stories and hopes and witnessed real change,” she said. “These organizations are dealing with various forms of slavery, including forced marriages, caste-based slavery, debt bondage, the use of child soldiers and many others.”

However, there has been a marked decrease in donations received by the Fund in recent years. Last year, the Fund was only able to provide 15 percent of the amount requested by NGOs. This year, the Fund has received a record number of 436 applications for grants amounting to about USD6.125 million, but the contributions received thus far amount to only USD365,000. With the present funds, only six percent of the projects requested will receive support.

Virginia Murillo, Vice Chairperson of the Fund’s Board of Trustees called on all UN Member States that do not contribute to the Voluntary Fund to give generously so that more victims can benefit from its work.

Pillay added that such solidarity was crucial to “eradicate an abhorrent practice that scars the conscience of humanity.”

To mark the Fund’s 20th anniversary, a photograph exhibition entitled “Breaking free from slavery: a visual journey through 20 years of assistance to victims of contemporary forms of slavery” is on display at the UN’s Geneva Headquarters until 28 September. The exhibition brings together 56 pieces of art from two renowned photographers and 17 organizations which received grants from the Fund. It presents a visual journey from slavery to freedom.

With the assistance of the Fund, the organizations featured in the exhibition have developed ground-breaking projects to combat contemporary forms of slavery. Projects include:

Assistance to former child soldiers and victims of sexual slavery in armed conflicts;
Legal assistance to forced labourers rescued from ranches and charcoal fields;
Education to children working in quarries or locked in the basements of carpet factories;
Emergency shelters, free hotlines, primary health care and legal assistance to women and children victims of forced marriages, domestic servitude and trafficking.

ENDS

To learn more about the Voluntary Fund, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Slavery/Pages/SlaveryFundMain.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya: (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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