Modern Slavery, and why it is such a big threat

What is modern-day slavery?

Modern Slavery, and why it is such a big threat; Slavery has existed in many shapes and forms for thousands of years on the planet. First instances of slavery date back to 3500 BCE in the Sumer Civilization of Southern Mesopotamia. Civilizations to follow practiced slavery to some extend but the menace took on international proportions with the Atlantic Slave Trade, when large number of men and women from Western African tribes were relocated to the Colonies of British, Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas and Caribbean Nations. And as these European Nations brought more land under their control, the population under slavery increased too. According to historian David P. Forsythe, “at the beginning of the nineteenth century, estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will, either in some form of slavery or serfdom”.

All of the historical developments with regard to slavery are well-documented and are taught in history lessons in schools and universities. However, what is often ignored and not brought into popular attention is that fact that to this day, despite slavery being made an illegal practice; a large number of poor people across the world are still working as slave laborers. In fact it is classified as the 3rd biggest criminal industry after drugs and arms trafficking. We now illuminate the forms it takes in the present day.

What is modern-day slavery?

Although around 150 years have passed since the last major international slave trade was made illegal by Brazil, millions of men, women and children are still enslaved. Slavery today takes many forms, such as women being forced into prostitution, childslavery in farms and factories, and entire families working for little or no pay to pay off generational debt.

How is slavery defined?

According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued in 1948, slavery is strictly prohibited. It states that no person can be held in “slavery or servitude”.

The 1930 Forced Labor Convention defines forced labor as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. The UN supplementary convention of 1956 further states that debt bondage, forced marriage, child slavery and serfdom are all abolished and any current practice of the aforementioned to be criminalized.

And as the practice of forced labor evolves with time, the definition too expands and new terms such as trafficking are developed to distinguish from other forms of slavery.

Some of the commonly experienced and contemporary forms of slavery are:

Bonded labor: people are forced into bonded labor when they are unable to clear off debts to local merchants and financiers. Bonded works involves working for free, or for very little pay and the laborers are often unable to work their debt off passing it down the generations.

Forced labor: this is when violence or intimidation is used to force people to work. It often takes place with workers from foreign countries that have either moved in illegally or their papers have been confiscated by the slave employer.

Descent-based slavery: this is one a person is born in a family or class of “slaves”. And therefore the status is passed down the family line.

Trafficking: this involves trade or transport of people from one region to another, often across national borders illegally; people are moved into conditions of slavery.

Child slavery: children are in slavery as domestic helpers or are forced to work on fields and farms such as cocoa and cotton and are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Early and forced marriage: women are married off without their consent, and are often forced into sexual and domestic servitude.

Where does slavery exist?

Slaver exists in some form in almost every country. The highest numbers of cases exist in Asia according to an estimate by ILO,this number is close to 21 million. In terms of percentage of population, eastern European regions have the highest propensity of slave labor, followed by Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Who is affected?

Although slavery in modern day is a world-wide phenomenon, certain groups are more vulnerable to be affected by it. It is not surprising that women and especially younger girls make up a majority of cases of slavery. They are forced into prostitution and trafficked for sexual exploitation and cheap labor.

Apart from gender related slavery, people who belong to minority ethnicities, poor social classes and socially excluded groups are also more prone to work as slaves. For instance, people belonging to the lower classes known as ‘untouchables’ in India are at a much higher risk of slavery.

Why is slavery such a big threat in our contemporary world?

As we ‘progress’ and move forward with time, slavery, which is already a big issue, is expected to go only worse. This is so because of the political turmoil in many countries and the instances of terrorist blocs operating in several regions. The civil war in Syria and political tensions and ISIS attacks on its border with Iraq has created a new class of highly vulnerable people who are willing to move out of their areas at any cost.

However, as European and American governments are closing down their borders citing threats to their economy and peace, these vulnerable people are forced to look for illegal means and are therefore prone to the being trapped in slavery by international trafficking gangs.

And as expected, incidences of slavery have only gone up in the last few years. According to National Crime Agency of UK, previous estimates of slave victims in the country were found to be only “tip of the iceberg“. And in December 2017, camera footage captured migrant slaves were being auctioned in Libyan slave market. Under such circumstances, both international and local human rights bodies need to take action and prevent slavery to cause more havoc in the world.

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