Students start petition to Congress against slavery

TUPPER LAKE – Slavery is not a thing of the past.

On Thursday, five students from Tupper Lake High School assembled at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library to announce they’ve started a petition to urge the United States to sign a United Nations treaty in opposition to slavery. In doing so, the U.S. would join almost 200 other countries who have also signed the treaty.

“There are 193 countries in the United Nations, and 190 have signed this declaration,” said Lee Kyler, special needs teacher at Tupper Lake High School. “There are three that have not. South Sudan, which just became a country, Somalia, which is kind of broken, and the third, which is kind of hard to understand why, is the United States. Both Somalia and South Sudan have made commitments last year to sign the treaty.”

President Barack Obama signed the treaty, but it still needs two-thirds majority approval from the Senate before returning to Obama to be ratified.

The goal of the petition is to collect 250 signatures and convince state Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer to push the Senate to approve the treaty.

For the Tupper Lake students, the focus of the treaty is child trafficking.

“There are 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today,” Kyler said. “The U.S. contributes almost almost 18,000 children a year that are trafficked. About 80 percent of them are for sexual exploitation. Sometimes they’re runaways that are taken up by pimps and sold into the sex trade. My wife and I like to think there are very few children who willfully enter the sex trade.”

The students began learning about human trafficking when they volunteered to take part in a video conference last fall with students in Croatia to discuss and compare children’s rights and trafficking rights between Croatia and the United States.

Kyler went to a conference on gender equality at the U.N. in New York City last week and the treaty came up. He soon realized that Croatia bases its human rights standards on that treaty.

“The U.N. has these conditions on the rights of the child, and we found that they go off of that treaty, and we do too, but we just haven’t signed it,” Kyler said. “Doing so would just show that the U.S. backs everything on the treaty.”

Kyler passed that information along to his students, and within a week they had done their research and put the petition together. He said it’s been a great way for the students to get involved in a global issue.

“I really hope we get a response from one of our congressional representatives, just saying, ‘We appreciate it, and here’s what we’re doing to push it,'” Kyler said.

The petition isn’t the first time Kyler has been involved in the fight to end human trafficking.

Last year Kyler and his wife volunteered to teach English at a school along the Mount Everest base camp trek in Nepal to inform local families and tourists about the signs of sex trafficking and how to steer clear of it.

“Many people didn’t realize Nepal is such a hub for human trafficking,” Kyler said.

The volunteer effort helped the Umbrella Foundation and Maiti Nepal. Both organizations provide resources, shelter and education for kids who are victims of illegal sex trafficking.

“My main goal is to educate high school students about this,” Kyler said. “I don’t think it’s willful ignorance; I just think students just don’t know it’s going on. It’s the second-most illegal trade in the world behind drugs.”

The petition will be at the front desk in the library for a month.