In 2006, I was in downtown Wenzhou, and I saw a child spinning around upside down, on an awful piece of metal that was covered by a dirty cloth. It was horrifying, but also entrancing. (It was exactly the same kind of device as the girl is using in the video below, and also this one here).

I didn’t know about human trafficking in 2006. But I was pretty sure that these boys were not there by their own free choice. And the man who was with them was not their father. I tried to talk with them in my broken Mandarin, but didn’t get very far. The man who was their overseer also seemed powerless.

Another time, I was walking on the same street, and saw a man with no arms. I sat down with him on the street, and asked him where he was from. I think he said he was from Anhui, which is quite far away. I asked him why he was in Wenzhou. He glanced at his arms and said, “我父母不要了我” (My mom and dad didn’t want me.) I used my very limited Chinese to chat with him for a while. And then I offered him money, but he didn’t want it. I think he wanted to talk with someone who cared about him.

Parents demonstrate against kidnapping in Dongguan in China’s southern
Guangdong province April 15, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Of course, I had no idea what his real story was. His arm stumps didn’t look congenital, and they didn’t look like a freak accident, so it’s possible they were cut off intentionally. But whether he was simply kicked out of his house by his parents–or perhaps a victim of a trafficking ring that maims beggars–he was a guy, maybe 20 years old, who was both rejected and abused by society. And I had no idea how to help him.

One night, on the same street in Wenzhou where I saw the spinning boy and the arm-less beggar, I saw a few old women beggars, sitting on a street curb. An expensive black Mercedes drove up to them. Someone opened the back passenger’s door, and took most of the money from the old women. The old women tried to argue, but the money was ripped from their hands, and the car sped away.

This trafficker was a businesswoman, dressed in a nice suit. She seemed rich, professional, and evil. I guess she was. But, perhaps she had also been coerced into this trafficking syndicate.


It’s not a secret that China has a serious problem with human trafficking, and needs to do more to educate and respond. But, they have also made a lot of progress in the past few years. As I’ve said before, my experiences in China have been good overall, so I don’t want to give the impression that I saw trafficking victims every day in China. And of course, every country has problems with human trafficking and organized crime. 

For example, the first time I visited Honduras (洪都拉斯), before we left the airport, I saw a girl with a t-shirt that said “SEX” in big letters. She was very small–she looked like she could have been 9 years old, but she was probably 11 or 12. A man was behind her, motioning her to come towards the group I was with.

I thought it was strange. But, I was so naive…I thought that it was a pity that she was wearing a dirty, immodest t-shirt like that, and that someone might get the wrong idea about her because of her shirt. I assumed that she didn’t understand what it said, because it was in English. And, certainly…it couldn’t be a child prostitute. Right?

The examples I’ve shared include children, disabled people, and elderly people. They are all on the edges of society. They are the people in the most danger of traffickers and scammers. And it’s people on the edges–the most vulnerable–that we should protect in a special way.

The pro-life movement is primarily a movement to protect the lives of innocent people. Basically, “pro-life” means “we shouldn’t kill human beings, even if their lives seem less valuable”. The focus of the pro-life movement is on the most obvious “life-and-death” situations. The focus is also on people who are on the “fringes of society” (young/unborn children, people with disabilities, and elderly people). This is why the pro-life movement focuses on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

But the same motivation that drives the pro-life movement to care about unborn children, also drives them to care about other members of society that most people ignore.

I know a lot of pro-life leaders, in many nations. They care passionately about ending abortion. But they also care passionately about EVERYBODY.

Most pro-life leaders express their compassion clearly and compellingly. Though there are exceptions, this is true for the great majority. They put their money where their mouth is. They give and volunteer generously. And even if their full-time job is to end abortion, they also care about and support other humanitarian causes.

So, in connection with the problem of human trafficking, it’s a no-brainer. Pro-life people will naturally support the anti-trafficking movement.

The pro-life movement deals with matters of life and death, and the typical trafficking victim isn’t normally in immediate danger of death. But it’s obvious that they are in danger. And they are suffering a horrific crime. And the vision for a humane, person-centered, “pro-life” society should overlap with the vision for a free, just, “anti-slavery” society.

This is my conclusion: The fight against human trafficking and the fight against abortion are both extremely important, and share some things in common–but they’re not the same thing.

We need to protect people from unjust killing, and we need to protect people from enslavement. Both issues are urgent! But they require separate strategies. For example, the 19th century fight against women’s foot-binding was not the same as the fight for women’s rights to work and study. But the impetus is the same: a desire for justice and equality, based on the recognition of a common dignity inherent to all human beings.

The destructive and sexist attitude that bound millions of women’s feet for centuries, is the same attitude that is telling millions of women every year that they won’t be successful or happy without abortion. And it’s the same attitude that is still aborting thousands of unborn girls every day–because they are girls, and not boys.

I’ve thought a lot about the connections between human trafficking and abortion. And I also care deeply about responding to both. But this article mainly gives a “philosophical” angle. There are other practical and historical angles to discuss, on the relationship between abortion and human trafficking. If you want to discuss these issues, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

This article originally appeared at