Actor and producer Eduardo Verástegui is perhaps best known for his award-winning film “Bella.” Now, he says, he has another, new pro-life film — a film drawing attention to the plight of two million children trafficked worldwide each year.
“What if this is my son? What if it is my daughter?” the 49-year-old from Mexico remembered thinking about the issue. “What would I do, knowing that she’s in the hands of this [human trafficker] and she is going to be raped 10 to 15 times a day?”
When he first learned about the reality of child trafficking eight years ago, he could not look away, he told Our Sunday Visitor. Instead, he said, God called him to take action.
As part of his effort to end child trafficking, Verástegui serves as a producer and actor in the new film “Sound of Freedom” hitting theaters on July 4. Based on a true story, the film stars actor Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, a federal agent who fights child trafficking before quitting his job and risking his life to rescue one girl in particular.
Distributed by Angel Studios, which is responsible for the popular “The Chosen” series, the PG-13 film also stars Mira Sorvino, Kurt Fuller and Bill Camp. Alejandro Monteverde, who directed “Bella,” sits in the director’s seat again for “Sound of Freedom.”
Inspired by faith
For its opening week, the filmmakers hope that two million people will watch the film to represent the two million children trafficked worldwide each year. To meet this goal, Angel Studios invites moviegoers to participate in its #2MillionFor2Million campaign, where people can purchase tickets for those who cannot otherwise attend.
This film, along with everything else that Verástegui does, is inspired by his Catholic faith, he said.
“I made a promise almost 20 years ago to God and to my family and to myself that I will only use my talents to do projects that will have the potential to make this world a better place,” Verástegui explained.
And, he responded to his earlier question, he knew what he would do if his son or daughter disappeared.
“I would stop everything that I’m doing to find my child and I would hope that the entire world would stop everything they’re doing so they can help me to find my child,” he said. “That’s my motivation. That’s why I wake up every day in the morning: To look for that child that is missing.”
Verástegui pointed to “Bella” — which tells the story of a woman who chooses life for her baby after considering abortion — as an example of his earlier pro-life film work.
The 2006 movie that reached audiences around the world changed lives, including his own, he said. Most importantly, it saved lives.
“The best part of this movie is all the letters, all the emails, all the phone calls that I get till today, that I receive till today, from women who were pregnant and they [were] scheduled to have an abortion and after seeing the movie — by the grace of God — they changed their minds and kept their babies,” he said of the first film he ever produced. “We’re talking about thousands of babies.”
He identified himself as pro-life, before defining what that meant.
“Being pro-life doesn’t mean only to take care of the babies in the womb,” he said. “That’s the most important fundamental right — your right to be born — because if you’re not born, you cannot enjoy any rights, right? But we don’t stop there.”
He challenged the common accusation that pro-life people only care about babies before birth.
“Being pro-life means to take care of those kids who are living in the streets, being pro-life means to take care of those children who are victims of sexual exploitation, being pro-life means to take care of those teenagers who are suffering from addiction, being pro-life means to take care of those who are falsely accused and they’re in prison,” he described.
“We need to be there,” he urged, before adding that being pro-life means to also care for those who are sick and cannot afford medicine and to care for those abandoned in nursing homes with no one to visit them.
‘God’s children are not for sale’
Verástegui shared his hopes for “Sound of Freedom,” which he called a pro-life film.
“I hope this movie will raise awareness about this topic, about this terrible reality that is growing,” he said, before adding, “How can you become a solution if you don’t even know that this problem exists in the first place?”
Verástegui decided to produce the film after meeting Ballard, the founder of the non-profit Operation Underground Railroad that fights against child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, eight years ago.
“I hope that when people come and see the movie, they will leave the theater asking the same question that I asked myself eight years ago: ‘What can I do?'” Verástegui said.
“It’s not just about this film,” he stressed. “I’m going to dedicate my entire life to end child trafficking.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines human trafficking as “a crime of exploiting another person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts, typically through force, fraud, or coercion, or by inducing a minor under 18 into commercial sex.” Its latest annual report on countering human trafficking found that, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, human traffickers victimize an estimated 28 million people worldwide.
While estimates on child trafficking vary, a report released in 2022 by the International Labour Organization, Walk Free, and the International Organization for Migration revealed that 3.3 million children are subjected to forced labor worldwide. The “2021 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage” report also found that over half of all children in forced labor are in commercial sexual exploitation (approximately 1.69 million).
According to UNICEF USA, the U.S. is considered a top destination point for victims of child trafficking and exploitation.
“God’s children are not for sale,” Verástegui said, repeating a line that Caviezel’s character says in the trailer.
Making a difference
Every person can fight child trafficking using their own, unique talents, Verástegui said.
“I believe that we were all created for a mission that is very special, an important and beautiful mission that no one else could do but you,” he said.
“You have two options: Either you work with the talents that God gave you to change the world for the better or you work in a selfish mission, using the talents that God gave you to serve yourself,” he added. “Everyone has to answer that question. Am I a servant or am I serving myself? Am I turning the light on or off?”
He would answer to God if he did not take action, he said.
“If God allowed me to know about this horrible reality, it’s not for me to be depressed or to be sad only and do nothing,” he said. “When I met these [Ballard’s team]…it was like, okay, God is calling me to do something.”
And, now, he is.
“I’m doing this movie. I’m doing interviews. And I’m praying every day for the end of child trafficking, which, for me, that’s the most powerful thing we can do,” he said.
“I pray my Rosary every day as a devout Catholic, practicing Catholic — but still, not enough,” he added. “I want to do more. I want to do more.”