The buying and selling of human beings is a thriving business in many parts of the  world.

The buying and selling of human beings is a thriving business in many parts of the  world.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, at least 2.5 million people are victims of trafficking at any one time. Sex trafficking accounts for 79 percent of these cases, with more than 90 percent of the victims being women and girls. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children will be trafficked this year.

Lauren Baugher, a direct support associate at Mosaic in Pittsburg, went on a mission trip in June to Cambodia to help some of these victims.

“Christ in Youth facilitated the trip, partnered with Rapha House in Joplin,” Baugher said. “I was with a group of 19 women, including my mother, Barbara Baugher, Fort Scott, and we went to a group home Rapha House has in Cambodia and spent time with the girls there.”

She said that an important part of the trip was helping the women become aware of the huge problem of human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, so they could return home and make others aware.

“There are more slaves in the world today than there have been before in history,” Baugher said. “The more people are aware, the more we are passionate to do something about it, that number will diminish.”

She and the other women visited with the home’s residents.

“Despite the abuse they had suffered, they were open and loving,” Baugher said. “They would run up to us, hug us and say, ‘I love you, sister.’ At one home I went to, the youngest girl was 4, and some had intellectual disabilities.”

All have been rescued from sex trafficking situations. The home provides the girls with health care and counseling, and are taught a skill so they will be able to support themselves after they  leave the home.

“They taught a lot of sewing, and we went to the Freedom Salon, which was opened by some girls who had been trafficked,” Baugher said.  “A lot of the girls speak quite a bit of English. They want to learn English because it will help them have a better life.”

She also took part in distributing rice to poor families.

“This is on the prevention side,” Baugher said. “If you provide the families with food and other needs, the girls are less likely to be trafficked.”

She explained that the traffickers often approach poor families and claim that they will get the girls well-paying jobs as house workers.

“A lot of times the family is ignorant and feel that they have no other choice,” Baugher said. “They may feel it is a great opportunity for their child, and the trafficker gives them some money that they can use to feed their other children.”

Other prevention efforts include Kids Club, a place for children who don’t go to school. There they can learn and have activities.

“They also have a program now to help some families become mushroom farmers, and they can learn other trades and schools to help prevent the trafficking of children,” Baugher said.

Sex trafficking is illegal in Cambodia, but she said that there are only about 600 lawyers in a country of 14 million residents.

“Almost none of the judges have legal educations,” Baugher said. “Even if the girls do try to prosecute the people who trafficked them, it doesn’t always happen.”

Part of the problem, she said, is that Cambodia had a horrible civil war. During the time the Khmer Rouge ruled the nation, from 1975 to 1979, around 1.7 million people were killed. Educated people and those considered to be intellectuals were targeted out for execution. As a result, the educational level of the nation is still low.

“But they are a beautiful people with lots of history,” Baugher said. “We visited some ancient ruins and saw some traditional dances.”

She added that sex trafficking is not just a problem in foreign countries. She has learned that between 100,000 to 300,000 girls and women who are U.S. citizens are victims of sex trafficking in this country.

“That number does not include the girls and women who are here illegally,” Baugher said. “People don’t realize this happens in their own backyard. A lot of people see these girls and women as prostitutes, but for many of them it was not a choice they made.”

She hopes that more people will become involved in the fight  against human trafficking.

“You can’t make a difference until you make relationships,” Baugher said. “We went to Cambodia and made relationships, and now we need to make relationships here. We need to encourage people to become involved in this  or in whatever other injustice they’re passionate about.”