News: North College Hill Student Slows Slave Trade

Dozens of African women and children wait and watch while an American man hands cash over to a slave trader. The trader counts his money -- 50,000 Sudanese pounds, or $50, for each slave. The wome

Jan 28, 1999 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Nicholas Lawson, North College Hill High School senior, has organized a benefit to raise funds to free African slaves.

Dozens of African women and children wait and watch while an American man hands cash over to a slave trader. The trader counts his money — 50,000 Sudanese pounds, or $50, for each slave. The women and children, once property of a Muslim slave owner in northern Sudan, are now free to return to their families in the south.

These people have been rescued by a representative of Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a human rights organization founded in 1977, and by students in the United States who collected money to right a wrong they had thought was ancient history.

Nicholas Lawson, a senior at North College Hill High School, wants to be one of those students. Lawson has organized a benefit concert for Feb. 20 that will raise money for CSI's STOP Campaign (Slavery That Oppresses People).

Lawson said he remembered learning about slavery in the United States in history class and thinking how terrible it was. So when he heard that slavery was still going on in other parts of the world, he decided to take action.

"I just felt a burden on myself to do something about it," he says.

CSI officials say that the civil war in Sudan for the last 16 years has fostered the slave trade.

Government troops called the National Islamic Front raid villages in the southern part of the country, primarily of the Dinka tribe, kill the men and take the women and children to northern Sudan where they are sold to Muslim slave owners, CSI Public Relations Director Theresa Perry-McNeil says.

These troops are not paid by the government, but are encouraged to engage in the slave trade as payment, Perry-McNeil says.

Many of the women and girls are forced to endure female circumcision and repeated sexual abuse and are given Muslim names. The slaves are told to renounce their religious beliefs and consider themselves Muslim, according to CSI documents.

CSI began making trips to Sudan to buy the freedom of slaves in 1995. In 17 trips, they have rescued 5,066 people, Perry-McNeil says.

There are tens of thousands of slaves in northern Sudan who are the property of individual masters and even more are held in state-run concentration camps, Perry-McNeil says.

After slave traders have purchased slaves from owners, a team from CSI finds out where these slave traders are going to be and literally buys slaves from the traders for $50 each. CSI says this amount is what families who could afford to recover their enslaved loved ones paid before CSI got involved. While some wonder if buying slaves' freedom only creates a market for slavery, CSI says they do not usually pay more than $50 so as not to contribute to inflated prices or encourage more slave raids.

In addition to buying back slaves, CSI also delivers food and medicine to recently rescued people and to the villages that have been devastated by the slave raids.

While the STOP Campaign has received national media coverage, CSI officials say they have not yet seen much action on the part of the United States government to do anything about slavery in Sudan.

Both the STOP Campaign and publicity about slavery has been helped by students of all ages across the United States who have sent money to CSI and written letters to celebrities and government officials, Perry-McNeil says.

A December 1998 Time magazine article about fourth- and fifth-graders in Colorado who raised funds to free almost 1,000 slaves sparked Lawson's interest in holding a local benefit for CSI.

"This is something I can do," he says.

Because of people like Lawson and the many school children who have raised both money for and awareness about the STOP Campaign, "We now have the largest movement of abolitionists in modern history," Perry-McNeil says.

She says President Clinton has not responded to requests for action, but some U.S. senators are becoming involved in this issue.

"Slowly things are being done," she says. "We know money will not solve this issue."

But until slavery is no longer happening in Sudan, the STOP Campaign will continue, she says.