First published on 29 Feb 2012. Updated on 4 Mar 2012.
'Numbers often go over people’s heads. Too big and they become insignificant, hard to relate to. Too many of them and people lose track. Five hundred, 9.5 billion, 27 million, three, one in 40, 2-4 million, 7,500.
'Five hundred is the number of kilometres I will cycle in ten days around Cambodia. I’ll be taking part in the challenge organised by Project Futures global to raise funds for the Somaly Mam Foundation, which aims to end slavery in the world. There are 20 of us who will start in Phnom Penh and finish in Siem Reap nine days later, visiting victims’ shelters on the way and coinciding with International Women's Day.
'Nestlé's profit in 2011 was US$9.5 billion [S$11.8bn]. It’s also how much was earned from the trafficking of humans, now the third largest source of profits for organised crime, behind drugs and arms. Human trafficking is a global problem and of those trafficked, around 80 per cent are female and 50 per cent are children. Most people think of slavery as something that was abolished 200 years ago. It comes as a surprise to most that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today.
'Where do you imagine a 3-year-old? In a playground? At kindergarten? Not in a brothel, I assume. But in Cambodia, a poor, corrupt nation still reeling from the horrific genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime, one in 40 girls will be sold into sexual slavery – from as young as three – to ensure that they are still virgins. They are sold for as little as US$10.
'Now imagine 2.4 million people being sold into sexual slavery, raped up to 20 times a day, electrocuted, kept in basements with insects and snakes. This is the number of girls that will be sold into sexual slavery in the next 12 months. Half of those will be children.
'US$7,500 [S$9,330] is how much I aim to raise for the Somaly Mam Foundation, which is dedicated to the eradication of sex trafficking and modern-day slavery, and the empowerment of its survivors. Girls are not choosing to become prostitutes; they are not free to leave. Somaly Mam, a CNN hero and Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2008, endured torture and rapes. Now recognised as a global leader in anti-trafficking, she has rescued over 6,000 victims.
'I had thought that cycling 500km and raising US$7,500 would be impossible. I’m not that fit and I can’t ask people for money. After initially turning down the idea however, I could not stop thinking about it. I couldn't help thinking about the girls Somaly rescues; girls who don't have the luxury of choice, who suffer every night and day mentally and physically, with no one to care for them and no way out. I’ve been at the East Coast Park every weekend since then and through my fundraising page (www.crowdrise.com/claretan) have raised almost 50 per cent of my target. How can I not do this?'
The author is a half-Malaysian, half-Scottish British national who lives in Singapore.