by Emma Elshaw
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This quotation by Nelson Mandela identifies what good education can really do. When it comes to fighting and preventing sex trafficking, education is key, and the Ontario government has recognized this importance.
In July 2021, the Ontario government announced that it would require school boards to develop anti-trafficking strategies in order to help schools “identify, respond to and prevent trafficking of children.” One of the best ways to combat trafficking is to start early with prevention measures, rather than solely creating more resources and programs for survivors. Yes, those resources and programs are vital, but imagine reallocating those resources to programs that create fewer cases of trafficking in the first place. This could happen if we start and continue to combat trafficking at an early age, focusing on prevention rather than solely on recovery.
This new requirement for boards to have and implement anti-trafficking plans and protocols to protect students will be a part of the Health and Education Curriculum, to be implemented by January 2022. This is the first of its kind in Canada, and is “informed by the Ministry of Education’s Anti-Human Trafficking Working Group, which includes persons with lived experience of being trafficked,” as well as students. Survivors and students alike are recognizing the need to address the issue of human trafficking at a prevention level, rather than only healing and rehabilitation once they are free from their trafficking experience.
Schools exist to educate students and prepare them for the world. This is not only for career preparation, but for life preparation as well. This mandate to incorporate an anti-human trafficking protocol into the Health and Education Curriculum fits well into that goal of preparing students for life after (and even before) graduation. “We need to do a better job of protecting our most vulnerable because the sad reality is [that] trafficking impacts our children and students the most...No child deserves to feel unsafe in their schools or in their communities” Stephen Lecce, Education Minister said.
This new education requirement will “train educators to identify or spot early warning signs of trafficking in youth and help raise awareness about sex trafficking in the province.” When students and teachers alike are aware of the signs of trafficking, they can help identify and stop possible decades of exploitation. They can be agents of change who want to see an end to sex trafficking in the province, the country, and even the world.
As students across Canada are returning to school, they can take part in prevention and be agents of change. Learn more about sex trafficking and recognize the signs. Talk to your friends about their new friend or boyfriend, or their change in appearance. Call the trafficking hotline (1-833-900-1010) if you suspect that you or someone you know might be caught in sex trafficking.
With this new education requirement, the province is taking a stand to see an end to sex trafficking. Nelson Mandela also said that “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Recognizing that trafficking can begin as early as 12 years of age, education will be the key to prevention. We are saying that our children matter, and we want to keep them safe from all forms of harm.