When most people think of slavery, their mind goes straight to the Trans Atlantic slave trade where West Africans were kidnapped and captured from their homes and transported to the West Indies or America to work, mainly on the sugar plantations.
While this type of slavery was eradicated a long time ago, and slavery is now illegal all over the world, slavery still exists today, and for the people still caught up in it it’s a horrific and life shortening experience. The United Nations estimates that roughly 27 to 30 million people around the world are caught up in slavery, and the modern day slave trade generates $35 billion and upwards annually, and this is what is making it very difficult to fully eradicate. 10 Nations in the world account for 76% of the worlds enslaved, India is leading the world with the highest number of enslaved citizens at around 14 million, china is following behind with 2.9 million. But how do we define modern day slavery? There are several type of modern day slavery, but to define it simply, the enslaved are people who are forced to work through a threat of physical or mental violence, people who are owned or controlled by their employer and can be bought, sold or dehumanized.
Types of Modern Day Slavery
- Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation
This is probably the most well known type of modern day slavery, you’ve probably heard about it on the news, or maybe your introduction was from watching one of the countless Hollywood films on this pressing issue, it’s worth remembering that not every trafficked person has Liam Neeson as their dad ready to rescue them at any cost. Human trafficking is the trade of people, and usually involved transport of these people across borders. This is most commonly done for sexual slavery or exploitation but can also be for forced labor or in some cases for the harvesting of organs. Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest growing international criminal activities; Cambridge University’s report on the issue estimated in 2010 that human trafficking generated up to $31 billion that year. Human trafficking is a very complex international issue, for example in India, where the majority of girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation it is generally women who have been trafficked themselves whole build trust with young girls with the intention to trick them into being trafficked themselves. Generally how it’s done is like this; a women will approach a young girl and offer her a job in a different state, something which sounds very promising to the girl like working in a hotel, and the girl will leave thinking she’s going to work in a hotel and send money home to her family. To keep control over the trafficked sex workers drugs, violence or threats to their family is often used.
- Bonded Labor
This type of slavery occurs most in South East Asia and involves an employer tricking someone into taking a loan that they will never be able to play back. Interest is also put on the loans and no matter how hard they work they have no hope of paying it back, so in return they are forced to work for free indefinitely, often in fields or illegal factories. This type of slavery can be very long lasting not just for the person initially involved but also for their whole family as the debt can be passed onto their children.
- Descent Based Slavery
This type of slavery mainly occurs in West Africa. It involves people who are born into slavery because of extreme hierarchical structures within the society. It applies to people who are at the lowest rank on the caste system, and because of this are denied access to education, health care, employment and often marriage. Because of these restrictions they are forced to do jobs that no one else will do often in return for small amounts of food or shelter.
- Child Soldiers
There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today. Around 40% of these are girls, unlike they boy child soldiers they aren’t used in combat but as ‘wives’, a more accurate description would be sex slaves, for the male combatants. This isn’t only disturbing for the innate belief we hold that children are innocent beings that should be protected from the evil around us and have a right to enjoy their childhood, and should have the pleasure of suffering education, but also because they are often forced to do horrific, psychologically disturbing acts. These acts often include forcing them to kill or maim a family member as part of their recruitment, this it to cut the ties between them and their family so they find it very difficult to return home.
- Forced Labor
It’s estimated that 5.5 million children around the world are in forced labor, and the figure for adults in forced labor is much higher. Forced labor involves businesses or governments illegally recruiting people who are kept in employment threats of violence. While all types of slavery usually involve some element of forced labor, this type usually applies to labor intensive or under regulated industries. This can be anything from agriculture and fishing, mining, quarrying, market trading and other illegal activities, prostitution or domestic work. Forced labor of this type is more prevalent in North Korea and China, however it occurs all over the world since it’s simply private businesses looking to make a profit by exploiting other’s human rights.
- Forced marriage
As the name suggests, this is women and girls who are married without their consent, and often suffer great amounts of domestic violence and sexual abuse. This is particularly prevalent in central African countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali, where early and forced marriage rate is over 60%. Marriage is a binding contract between two consenting adults, however with forced marriage one party isn’t consenting, and it’s overwhelming the woman. Forced marriage happens for several reasons, such as religious practices, gender inequality and poverty.
What can be done?
As you might expect, for a complicated issue, you’re going to get a complicated answer. Law’s exist all over the world banning slavery; the bigger issue is the governments around the world where slavery is prevalent are turning a blind eye to it. This could be changing soon, the only way to get these governments to apply pressure to the links in the slavery chain is to apply pressure to the governments themselves, and this is being done. Rani Hong, a survivor of forced labor slavery explains “Back in 2000, when I would tell my story to somebody, people would say ‘what is trafficking? What do you mean human trafficking?’ They didn’t understand what it was. Now, today, 2011, I see progress… we have a long ways to go, but we are making a movement in this,” There is without a doubt a long way to go to eradicate slavery, it is a horrific institution that has no place in modern society, hopefully we can look to a future without slavery. In all likelihood you’re reading this whilst touching something that was the product of modern day slavery, this could be a thing of the past, an alien thought in years to come. There is hope, worldwide awareness of modern day slavery is growing, governments are feeling the pressure to act, and whilst 27 million is still an alarmingly high and unacceptable figure, it is the lowest percentage of the world’s population who have ever been enslaved.