Slavery Still Exists (in case you forgot)

Millions of sex workers and bonded laborers are forced to work under the threat of violence and traded as property. There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in human history.

Working at the UN brings to mind a lot of the problems in the world – some are more obvious than others, and some receive more attention than others. Many people feel uncomfortable coming to terms with it, but there are still millions of slaves across the world – as many as 30 million – mostly in South and Southeast Asia. It seems that if we’re not talking about European ships roaming the West African coast to abduct the locals and ship them abroad, it’s not really slavery. This is, of course, wrong.

Anti-Slavery International defines a slave as someone who is:

  • forced to work — through mental or physical threat.
  • owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse.
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’.
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

By far, the most common forms of modern slaves are bonded laborers and sex workers. Bonded labor, or debt bondage, occurs when a person takes a loan and pays it back through labor. The terms of such agreements are often such that it is impossible to repay the loan in the borrowers lifetime. Such debts can be passed down from generation to generation, which means that a child can be born and have no other option but to pay off the debt of her parent(s). Bonded labor is illegal in India (home to the largest bonded labor population), but thrives under the radar of the law and public awareness/concern.

The sex trafficking industry exists all over the world. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across international borders every year, in an industry that is estimated to be worth $32 billion. These are not the sort of jobs from which you can walk away from. The threat of violence, against the victims and their families are more than enough to keep them where they are. Get the facts here.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing in this whole mess is that slaves today are worth much less than they were hundreds of years ago. In the 17th century, a human being as property was a long-term investment that required certain standards and care. The improvements in transportation, communication and trade that we call globalization have made human beings so cheap, so accessible, so replaceable.

HOPE: Kru Nam, an artist from Chiang Mai, Thailand, discovers that the children in her neighborhood are sex workers. That night itself, she marches into a brothel and without any announcement or explanation, grabs three children and runs out. She repeats these rescue operations until she has 27 children and a price on her head. She flees the city and hides with the children of whom there are eventually more than 125. With some help, she is now trying to set up a village for her and the children. This is just one story, but that’s often the source of hope I suppose.

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2 thoughts on “Slavery Still Exists (in case you forgot)

  1. So Cyriac now what do we do to reduce the slave situation and it’s more prevalent in the USA than you may realize.
    All the bestest. Joel

  2. Step one would be to admit that much of the prostitution that takes place in the world is, in fact, slavery, and to consider bonded labor in a similar light. Such a change in mentality would help. But beyond that, we need the same sort of policy push, from our government and from others to stop ignoring such problems. In that sense, advocacy has a place. And if one has the stomach to be chased down by armed pimps, I suppose it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of Kru Nam above – but that’s more anecdotal in any case. I think the NGOs listed above are a good start, but yeah, just a start.

    Also, like you said, this problem isn’t limited to just poor countries. The founder of the Not For Sale Campaign started his current career path after discovering that many of the restaurant workers he had encountered in San Francisco were essentially slaves. Part of changing our mentality is coming to terms with the fact that such problems exist right under our noses.

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