Thousands of churches around the world took a stand against modern day slavery on Sunday as part of International Justice Mission (IJM)'s Freedom Sunday.
The global anti-slavery organisation said this year's annual event comes at a critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased poverty and vulnerability, making more people at risk of trafficking and exploitation.
IJM said the aim for as many churches as possible to pray for an end to slavery in our lifetime and that freedom will become the "new normal". Freedom Sunday usually takes place in church buildings, but this year, lockdown restrictions mean many churches are meeting to pray online. A call to end slavery will be read out in multiple languages, across many countries from Canada to Ghana to the Philippines.
IJM said in a statement: "This year as all of us are navigating the pandemic, the movement to end slavery is even more urgent. Many people have been made more vulnerable in this period of financial hardship and prolonged isolation.
"The World Bank estimates that 49 million more people will be forced into extreme poverty this year. Economies crashing, people losing jobs, migrant workers being left stranded and family members dying means that millions of vulnerable people are now at increased risk of violence and exploitation, with traffickers likely to take advantage with false job offers."
IJM teams and partners have helped free over 3,000 people from slavery and oppression since March. In South Asia, one IJM-led rescue operation saw 360 people free. The charity said that then inspired local government to demand the release of a further 6,750 migrant labourers.
David Westlake, CEO of IJM UK said: "Increased poverty and vulnerability means that a pandemic of slavery and violence is set to follow the COVID-19 crisis if we don't take action now. The good news is, it doesn't have to be this way - we know that change is possible. IJM has seen slavery decrease by up to 86 per cent in places where we work."
IJM said it's seen the power of the Church. It said pastors in Ghana are preaching about justice to the traffickers in their congregations, and a church in Guatemala was trained to recognise the signs of abuse who prevented a young girl from being sold into child marriage during lockdown. It has also helped churches in the Philippines running rehabilitation centres for young children sexually exploited online.