On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln put the Emancipation Proclamation took effect where he freed the slaves forever. However, that day, no slaves were set free. It wasn’t until after the end of the Civil War that through Constitutional amendments, the practice of the slavery of African Americans was finally put into law. Though legally free, many of the struggles of freedom and equality continues to this day.
Unfortunately, slavery still exists to this day in one form or another. According to American professor Kevin Bales, co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves, modern slavery occurs “when a person is under control of another person, who applies violence and force to maintain that control, and the goal of that control is exploitation”. According to this definition, research from the Walk Free Foundation based on its Global Slavery Index 2016 estimated that there were about 45.8 million slaves around the world in 2016, with 58% of them live in India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Of these 45.8 million, it is estimated that around 10 million of these contemporary slaves are children. Bales warned that, because slavery is officially abolished everywhere, the practice is illegal, and thus hidden from public authorities, making it impossible to obtain exact figures.
Modern slavery is a multibillion-dollar industry with estimates of up to $35 billion generated annually. The United Nations estimates that roughly 27 to 30 million individuals are currently caught in the slave trade industry. According to Walk Free Foundation, there were 46 million people worldwide enslaved in 2016 in the form of “human trafficking, forced labor, bondage from indebtedness, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation”, with an estimated 18 million of those in India. China is second with 3.4 million, followed by Pakistan (2.1 million), Bangladesh (1.5 million), and Uzbekistan (1.2 million). By percentages of the population living in slavery Uzbekistan tops with 4% of its population living under slavery followed by Cambodia (1.6%), India, (1.4%) and Qatar (1.4%). 4.3% of the population of Mauritania remains enslaved.
Slavery also exists in advanced democratic nations, for example the UK suggested 10,000 to 13,000 victims in December 2015. This includes, forced work of various kinds, such as forced prostitution. The UK has recently made an attempt to combat modern slavery via the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Large commercial organizations are now required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement in regard to their supply chains for each financial year.
So why is there still slavery? Modern slavery is a by-product of poverty. Countries lacking sufficient public education, economic freedom, the rule of law, and societal structure create an environment that fosters the acceptance and propagation of slavery. Slave-owners only have to pay for sustenance and enforcement so slavery is an attractive investment because paid laborers demand more than just sustenance. Modern slavery can be quite profitable and corrupt governments tacitly allow it, despite it being outlawed by international treaties such as Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery and local laws. Total annual revenues of traffickers were estimated in 2004 to range from US $5 billion to US $9 billion. American slaves in 1809 were sold for around the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money. Today, a slave can be bought for $90.
Slavery in contemporary Africa
Slavery in contemporary Africa is the form most often associated with the word “slavery”. It stems historically from either conquest, where a conquered person is enslaved, as in the Roman Empire, or from slave raiding, as in the Atlantic slave trade or Arab slave trade.
Millions of people today work as bonded laborers. The cycle begins when people take extreme loans under the condition that they must work off the debt. The “loan” is designed so that it can never be paid off and is often passed down for generations. This form of slavery is prevalent in South Asia. People become trapped in this system working ostensibly towards repayment though they are often forced to work past the original amount they owe. They work under the force of threats and abuse. Their helplessness is reinforced due to the large power differential between the “creditor” and the “debtor”.
Forced migrant labor
Some people are enticed to migrate to a country with the promise of work, only to have their documents seized and are forced to work under the threat of violence to them or their families. Undocumented immigrants may also be taken advantage of. Without legal residency, they often have no recourse to the law. Along with sex slavery, this is the form of slavery most often encountered in wealthy countries such as the United States, in Western Europe, and in the Middle East.
Along with migrant slavery, forced prostitution is the form of slavery most often encountered in wealthy regions such as the United States, in Western Europe, and in the Middle East. It is the primary form of slavery in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Many child sex slaves are trafficked from these areas to the West and the Middle East. An estimated 22% of slaves to date are active in the sex industry.
Early or forced marriage
In the culture in certain regions, early or forced marriage is a form of slavery that affects millions of women and girls all over the world. When families cannot support their children, the daughters are often married off to the males of wealthier, more powerful families. These men are often significantly older than the girls. The females are forced into lives whose main purpose is to serve their husbands. This fosters the environment for physical, verbal and sexual abuse.
Children comprise about 26% of today’s slavery. Most are domestic workers or work in cocoa, cotton or fishing industries. Many are trafficked and sexually exploited. In war-torn countries, children have been kidnapped and sold to political parties to use as child soldiers. Forced child labor is the dominant form of slavery in Haiti.
Modern slaves are often forced to work in certain occupations. Common occupations included construction, laying driveways, car washing, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, cosmetic bars, and teenagers are trafficked from Vietnam to work on illegal cannabis farms.
Signs that someone may have been forced into slavery include a lack of identity documents, lack of personal possessions, clothing that is unsuitable or has seen much wear, poor living conditions, a reluctance to make eye contact, unwillingness to talk, and unwillingness to seek help.
Governmental efforts against slavery
The governments credited with the strongest response to modern slavery are the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Norway.
In contrast, the governments accused of taking the least action against it are North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
What can we do about slavery around the world?
Start with this website: End Slavery Now http://www.endslaverynow.org/connect
Become a Modern-day Abolitionist: http://www.freedomcenter.org/get-involved