Michael Jackson plans to travel to Africa later this year to study the plight of children sold into slavery. "The existence of child slavery shakes me to my very core," the pop star, a father of two,

Michael Jackson plans to travel to Africa later this year to study the plight of children sold into slavery. "The existence of child slavery shakes me to my very core," the pop star, a father of two, said in a statement.

Jackson will be joined on the tri p by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, co-founder of Jackson's Heal the Kids organization, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. "The other night, Michael called me crying like a baby when he heard about the child slave ship lost off the coast of Africa," Boteach said.

Earlier this week, a frantic search was launched for a ship believed to be carrying child slaves along the coast of western Africa. Police have detained the ship's captain and some of the crew but, so far, no evidence has emerged to prove the ferry was trafficki ng child slaves.

Jackson insisted he will take time off from his music schedule to spearhead the African mission. A date for the trip had not yet been set. "Children need a childhood," Jackson said. "They can't be forced to work."

Jackson is to soon rel ease a new album and, as previously reported, plans a star-studded Sept. 7 concert at Madison Square Garden, his first U.S. show in more than a decade.

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