How to talk to your kids about modern-day slavery

How to talk to your kids about modern-day slavery

Sometimes when I write about modern-day slavery and our family’s personal mission to abolish it, I get emails from readers with questions like these:

“How much do your kids actually know about your husband’s work with Love146?”

“How do I talk to my children about an issue as dark and complex as this one?”

This post addresses those questions, providing ideas about how to approach this topic with your own family. I’ve categorized the thoughts below by age range, but please keep in mind that our kids vary drastically in their development.

Some will be ready for information at an early age, some late. I tend to veer toward the better late than early philosophy–especially when I’m giving advice to so many of you–but you are the expert in your home so adjust as needed.

Ages 3-5

3-5 Photo by Marilyn de Guehery, Love146

Young preschoolers understand three things well: children, home, and family. Use these concepts as the starting point of talking with them about this issue–or any injustice involving other children.

When they were this age, Trishna, Jonathan, and Elijah knew that Daddy went to work “to help children whose families aren’t able to take care of them and who need a safe home.” Adding any other details simply isn’t necessary.

Ages 6-8

manila2 Elijah looking out over Manila from our balcony apartment

During this stage of life our children slowly became aware of slavery and injustice in the past, as we read picture books about Abraham Lincoln and other figures involved in freedom and abolition.

I selected books on the topic carefully because I did not want to focus on the horrors of slavery at this age, but instead on the victories of heroes like Abraham Lincoln, the Underground Railroad, Martin Luther King, and so on.

At the same time Steve and I began to introduce the idea that there are still slaves in the world today–people, even children, forced to work in ways they would not choose who cannot quit even if they want to.

Here are a few popular picture books on the topic – preview first to determine what’s appropriate in your home:

Purchasing Choices

Young children are beautifully idealistic and may ask if they can help after learning that slavery still exists. Please let them know your family will take action and make a difference!

Much of the slavery in the world exists around the production of coffee, chocolate, and other goods. (You can find out how many slaves currently work for you by discovering your slavery footprint.)

I suggest buying and using The Better World Shopping Guide as a starting point to become aware of how your purchasing choices affect others on the planet. Though not exclusively about slavery, it rates popular companies based on justice and other criteria.

Making your own positivity jar also empowers young kids to see that their good choices at home can impact others far from home. Maybe you can start one as a family and donate the money to Love146 (or another charity) whenever it’s full.

Ages 9-11

9-11Photo by Marilyn de Guehery, Love146

During this age range you can begin to present the idea of sex trafficking and exploitation–depending on how much your children know about sex. Here’s how we handled it:

It surprised our kids to hear that some enslaved children receive payment. To our kids it seemed “quite nice” of the slave owners to pay them for their work.

I saw immediately that we needed to clarify a few things–they were ready to understand that some things are not for sale.

But since we haven’t had “the talk” yet, I needed to discuss it from an angle they could understand. We’ve spoken to them for years about their “private parts” and that others are not allowed to touch them.

So I approached the conversation like this:

What if someone offered you money if you would steal something for them?

What if someone offered to give you money if they could look at or touch your private parts?

What if nobody had ever told you that your private parts were private?

What if you thought that the only way you could eat that day, or get money for your sick mother or father, was by letting someone touch you in a bad way?

I told them that some things are just wrong–not for sale–and that anyone who offered you money for them would be trying to trick and control you.

It was a deep conversation, but at the end I could tell they really “got it” in a new way–one that allowed them to understand a bit more of the issue’s darkness and complexity without feeling completely overwhelmed.

Ages 12-15

12 Photo by Marilyn de Guehery, Love146

The first step in educating your teens about trafficking is to educate yourself.

Love146 has put together an extremely helpful overview to modern-day slavery.

It’s a must read for parents, no matter how old your kids are, that describes the difference between trafficking and exploitation, what slavery looks like in different countries (Yes, trafficking is also common in the United States and the rest of the Western world), the ways traffickers target vulnerable children–girls AND boys–and what modern-day freedom looks like.

Young teens can comprehend more of these complex details. I suggest reading the overview first yourself, then determining whether your child can go through it with you, or what information from it you can extract to share with them.

Ages 16-18

older Photo by Marilyn de Guehery, Love146

At the right time older teens can handle the depth of information that would not be appropriate for other ages.

How we talk to our kids about trafficking matters, so I suggest reading about the common myths regarding this issue as well as the best language and terms to use when discussing it.

There’s even an anti-trafficking curriculum that can be used by families or small groups to understand modern-day slavery and develop a personal response as a task force or individual. It could make an excellent addition to a high school curriculum at home or with a co-op.


Don’t lose hope

“Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.”
~ Mark Twain

Far from a distant story on the headline news, child survivors of trafficking are living, breathing giggly kids. I have watched some of them dance, sing, and tell silly jokes until they’re asked to calm down.

In short, they’re just like our own children. And though they’ve been through the valley of the shadow, they’ve come out on the other side. With our help, even more of them can find their way to freedom.

“My idea of a safe home is where we nurse the bird’s broken wing. If we do well with our nursing, then the bird should be able to fly again, out of the safe home, and soar to the heights it was meant to reach.”
~ Dr. Gundelina Velazco, Love146 Director of Aftercare

Originally published on August 19, 2013.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. What an insightful and beautifully written post. Thanks very much for these helpful suggestions.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for what you and Love146 are doing.
    kimberly’s latest post: In the Garden

  3. It’s such a delicate balance trying to raise children to be aware of what’s going on in the world whilst still protecting their own childhood. This is a great guide for talking to kids about modern day slavery and I like how you approached the conversation about how some things should not be for sale. Great idea to really get them thinking about. This post is a very useful tool, thank you!
    Jessica’s latest post: Weekend Reads #2

  4. Thank you so much for this beautifully written post and all the links. Thank you for the work you are doing. I am grateful to you.
    Ellie’s latest post: more homeschooling nattering

  5. Why do we go overseas? We have so many hurting and troubled people here in the STATES!!!! Americans are great at looking over the ocean but somehow we forget our “neighbors” right here next to us!! Do we have a ROUND HOUSE HERE????Do we take an interest here in the inner city, suburbs and rural??

    • Everyone is called in different ways to help. I think it’s important to keep one’s heart open. While I have never felt personally called to take my family overseas to help with a cause, I admire those who are.
      I read Tsh’s inspiration today on Simple Mom, and thought, YES! That is how I’m changing the world. I love that others are going out to make a difference to help others. I’m making my difference from home.
      I admire your will and passion to help people in our country, Sally. I admire and appreciate what Jamie is doing just as much.
      Now, I’m off to make my donation for the books for the children. I can find nothing wrong with helping hurting children, no matter where they live.

    • Hi Sally – thanks for sharing your comment. Your passion for helping hurting neighbors is evident. To answer your question, yes there are plenty of safehomes in the United States too. Love146 specifically has programs in Texas, Maryland, and Connecticut and are always looking to go wherever there is a need, near or far. But I disagree with the thought that the only people we should help are those from the same country as us. I agree with Lori’s comment above: “I can find nothing wrong with helping hurting children, no matter where they live.”

  6. Thank you, Jamie, for the work you and your husband do. This post offers some great lead in questions, and I really appreciate how you separated your ideas for age-appropriateness.
    Kelly Wiggains’s latest post: Getting Kids to Help in the Kitchen

  7. LOVE THIS! I hope you dont mind me re-posting it on my site… i am always specifically looking for creative ways to engage moms and families in this fight for justice! thank you for blogging about it all!
    chelsea’s latest post: Know a teenage girl? This is for you. And her.

  8. Thanks Jamie! This is so so good. It’s something I’ve been wishing existed for a while, and you gave wonderful perspective.

  9. Thanks for this post and raising my awareness of this issue. I’m wondering if there are activities my family and I could do to help participate outside of fundraising and donations. Is there work that we could perform that would be beneficial?

  10. Life is sometimes difficult to talk about. The problem with becoming aware is that you can never, ever go back. Struggling for and loving the least of these requires that we, at times, make deep choices for our children. Life will be different for them if their eyes are open to injustice and hurt, but I pray that it will be worth it. Jesus\’s embrace of children forces us to esteem them as paragons of his kingdom, so I think they should know…as gently as possible.

  11. Thank you for this inspiring and informative read, Jamie. Thank you both for the work that you do, both in your community and around the world.

  12. Thank you Jamie,
    This is such a helpful guide. This is a topic that I am often overwhelmed myself – there is so much to learn and the learning causes such internal angst – so it’s challenging to figure out what elements are appropriate to share with my kids. I have one who has such an inquisitive mind and will keep asking question after question. I need these reminders of how much to share, as he is still young and it’s my job to be the filter.

  13. Oh, what a wonderful post! Thank you for putting this together and for all of the helpful lists and links. I’m sharing it with my HSing friends and on my FB pages and groups, as well as pinning it.

    I’d also suggest that everybody check out the amazing Vivienne and her lemonade stand that has raised over $100,000 to help end child slavery! This little girl shows how much any of us is capable of helping if we commit. 🙂 Here’s her FB page.
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: 5 Unusual Things We’re Doing Today

  14. I found the online quiz/survey helpful except, it didn’t provide any suggestions. As an American it seems like everything I purchase is made by someone being exploited. It’s overwhelming. It can make shopping a paralyzing experience. I look around at my living room and see my children playing and I am overwhelmed to think of the children that should be outside playing but instead are manufacturing the toys my children play with or worse. It’s such a powerless feeling.
    Bethany V.’s latest post: You Control the Weather: Mindset for Moms

    • I know what you mean, Bethany. I have certainly been through that helpless/overwhelmed feeling. I like the Better World Shopping Guide for that reason – I remember a friend saying that even if all she could do was avoid the “F” companies, that was a start! We have to do what we can that fits reasonably into the season we’re in. We can’t do it perfectly, but we CAN do it imperfectly – and that’s what we need to be doing! Just trying…when we’re able.

      BTW, I’m so blessed by your Mindset for Moms series. Thank you!

  15. Thank you for this well written article, I am yet to read Henry’s Freedom Box, but it seems like a good read. Trying to explain slavery to kids is harder than it seems. I hope to read more from you on this topic.
    Fritz Chery’s latest post: Slavery

  16. Melissa Price says:

    This was everything I could have hoped for in researching the education of my kids on this matter. I am currently about to begin a ministry as a volunteer working in a safe house one-on-one with minors who have survived being trafficked. I also homeschool my 2 kids. We are very close and open, and I very much want them to be aware of this tragic part of the world we live in. The question was, how do I begin to explain basics to a 4.5 year old? How in depth should I get without damaging her? This was an awesome outline. Thank you so much for taking the time and having enough care & compassion to share this publicly. There are plenty of people out there who want to be part of the war on modern day slavery– we can always appreciate the knowledge and guidance from those who have been part of it already. Thank you!

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