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Hakim's Story: Child Survivor
Each year, more than 1 million children around the globe become victims of a nightmare – the nightmare of modern-day slavery. Vulnerable children are exploited by individuals who promise a chance at a better life, only to subject them to horrific forms of enslavement that include forced labor and sex trafficking. Children are cut off from their families, trapped for weeks, months, or even years by their enslavers with little hope of escape.
This was what Hakim faced. A war in his home country had separated the 11-year-old boy from his family and so another family generously offered to take him in and help him continue his education. Soon, Hakim realized the family had lied to him, when they instead forced him to work in their family business, with no pay and no chance of ever returning to school.
A year later, the family announced they were moving to the United States. They forced Hakim to accompany them, where they continued to threaten him and make him work in their business. Although they took him to community events, they warned him to not speak to anyone unless he wanted to be sent home without any help, and they threatened him if he did not work hard enough.
One day, the family took Hakim to a community center, where they abandoned him. Hakim was shocked – but he was also happy to be free of his enslavers. Yet he was frightened, alone, and lost in a country he knew nothing about.
Fortunately, the community center staff took Hakim in and took care of him. When he told them how much he missed his family and wanted to live in a home again, they helped him contact the local child welfare agency, which helped him find a group home and then find a foster family to care for him. Then, the agency took another step to help Hakim: They contacted Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program.
Since 2001, Safe Horizon has been a source of help and hope for victims of trafficking. Safe Horizon provides direct services for victims that include finding shelter, counseling, and referrals for educational and job training, as well as legal and social service advocacy that provide more protection for victims.
Our staff quickly identified Hakim as a human trafficking victim. Due to Hakim’s age, we knew he could be eligible for special protective status that children under the age of 18 receive as victims. With that protection, we connected him to an immigration attorney who could help him find the freedom he deserved.
In the five years since we first met Hakim, his life has changed for the better, with several accomplishments that have helped him find the path towards freedom. He adapted to his new country quickly, and was able to earn a high school degree along with many awards because of his determination. We helped Hakim transition out of foster care and into becoming an independent adult, finding the educational and employment support he needed to care for himself. Hakim enrolled in community college and also in vocational training programs. With the skills he gained from both, he was able to find work quickly.
Hakim’s determination also helped him earn legal permanent residence status. With his interest in languages, he dreams about becoming an interpreter. Though Hakim never reunited with his family, with Safe Horizon’s help, he has found the encouragement and support he needs through his school, his co-workers, and his community. Most importantly, Hakim is no longer a slave. He has his freedom and safety, and he has a future filled with hope.