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Slavery in the modern world: a story of cruelty and greed

According to the Global Slavery Index, 14.2 million of the 35.8 million people enslaved throughout the world are in India. However, India is not the only country trapped in this social evil.

Slavery is found in all the continents in different forms.

Children, men or women none is safe from this. Poverty and illiteracy are the basic causes everywhere that lead to slavery.

“Today’s global slave trade is so lucrative that it nets traffickers more than $150 billion each year,” 

wrote Catherine Armstrong, a lecturer at American History, Loughborough University, in her article India is home to the world’s largest slave population (Yes, slavery still exists).

Debt bondage

“We do not stop even if we are ill – what if our debt is increasing? So we don’t dare to stop… [Other workers] tried to leave, but two got caught. They locked them up and started beating them. They told the workers, ‘if you want to go from here, you must pay 60,000 rupees, that is your debt’,” Puspal, (a former brick kiln worker in Punjab, India) told Anti-slavery International. Debt bondage or debt slavery, is the most common form of modern slavery.

“Bonded labour is the main form of forced labour in the region, affecting mainly the South Asian countries of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It usually begins when poor people have no option but to take a loan or wage advance from their employer to cover emergency or major social expenditures.”

They subsequently find it impossible to repay for a combination of reasons… [it] is increasingly found in other sectors such as domestic service, brick-kilns, rice-mills, mining and quarrying, and carpet-weaving.”

Bonded labour is then transferred from generation to generation. Children inherit it from their parents or other relatives. Life after life is consumed by this slavery.

Illiteracy plays a devastating role in this vicious cycle. Poor people have no idea of interest on loans and do not even keep a record of their payments.

In Brazil, a report published by Free the Slaves pointed out: “Slave brokers called gatos, posing as legitimate labour recruiters, lure people with false promises into travelling far from home. Once they arrive, workers are saddled with “debts” for food, transportation, and tools to do the job—debts they can never realistically repay. By the time they realise it’s a cruel trick, they are already trapped.”

Modern slavery in the UK

“Nobody knows the true scale and cost of the crime, but based on a new police data analysis tool we believe there could be at least 100,000 victims in the UK, with the actual number likely to be even greater,” reported iTV News in an article (Modern slavery: At least 100,000 victims in the UK include British citizens). It also warned of a “serious risk” that coronavirus could “lead to a rise in modern slavery and human trafficking.

“A Vietnamese modern slavery survivor, referred to as ‘N’ to protect her identity, told iTV News “At one time, they beat me up and hit me hard on my chin [which] was broken and got torn off…I had to have stitches on but they didn’t numb my chin so it was very painful…All the money paid to N was taken from her by her controllers…She managed to escape….When police found her, she did not even know the date.”

Christian Guy, chief executive of Rescue and Support Network Justice and Care (UK) says: “We’ve got to train our police officers and our judges and we’ve got to see our prosecutors go after this crime with real energy and vigour.”

Anti-slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton told iTV News that victims need to be treated as such by police. “I think sometimes it ends up in a sort of immigration-like bureaucratic system and I think that’s not ideal.”

Global consumption-based slavery

“In the past, the desire for sugar drove the growth in slavery. Today, the global consumption of electronic goods is the primary culprit,” wrote Catherine Armstrong, a lecturer in American History at Loughborough University.

“The demand for certain types of goods has propelled slavery’s numbers. Now, the global consumption of electronic goods has exacerbated slavery in the Coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Save the Children, 5,000 to 6,000 young children work in the Coltan mining industry, surrounded by armed guards to prevent their escape. Much of the profit from this trade goes to fund ongoing militia warfare in Central Africa.”

Descent-based slavery

“I grew up working as a slave for a family. My mother worked for them before me and my children also worked for the family once they were old enough. I didn’t always get enough to eat and was beaten regularly. When I had my fourth child, a baby girl, the family wouldn’t let me take her out to the fields with me. When I came back I found that the baby was left out in the sun all day. She died and her body was being eaten by ants. I had to bury her myself, with my hands; it felt like I was burying an animal instead of my child,” Moulkheir, a former victim of slavery from Mauritania, narrated her ordeal to an anti-slavery organisation. This is a very common experience shared by many descent-based slaves in Africa.

Anti-Slavery International’s partner SOS-Esclaves helped Moulkheir to escape and supported her to build her new life in freedom.

Mauritania is one of the countries in the world where people are still born into slavery and owned by masters.

Using wrong interpretation from Islam, slaves are told that “their paradise is bound to their master”. Most of the slaves believe that it is God’s wish for them to stay in this life forever. In reality, Islam dictates that a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim.

Slavery is deep-rooted in West African countries including Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso among others. Even those who escaped slavery are still taken as ‘slave caste’ and are never able to mix in society.

Child slaves

Children from underprivileged families are either kidnapped for child trafficking or even sold by parents to become domestic workers, beggars, drug sellers or for commercial sexual exploitation.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world. Every fourth victim of modern slavery is a child.

“[She] grew up in a foster family in a typical British town. Aged just 12, she was groomed into sexual exploitation – trafficked all around the region and exploited, even while on a school trip. Her ordeal went undetected for seven years,” Anti-slavery International reported the ordeal of a girl.

Anti-slavery International reports further revealed: “Across Senegal, boys known as ‘talibés’ are sent out to beg on the streets by their teachers at Quranic schools called ‘daaras’. Most daaras do not charge the students for their studies, food or accommodation. Instead, the teachers force the children to beg for their keep. They must work for long hours and hand over their income.” 

A UNICEF revealed that data from Census 2011 showed that the number of child labourers in India is 10.1 million of which 5.6 million are boys and 4.5 million are girls.

Measures taken by the international community and government

With the measures taken by the government and international organisations, many local communities support children and provide funds to “daaras” to stop the exploitation of young children in Senegal.

Former domestic child workers in Tanzania, who were able to win their freedom joined hands with government or international organisations and trying to bring a change at the local level.

A report published by ILO highlighted that around 18,000 “Kamaiyas” in Nepal have received some rehabilitation, including land and housing materials…other support such as vocational skills training and access to microcredit.

In India, the government’s “centrally sponsored scheme” provides financial or in-kind grants to released bonded labourers and their family members; over 285,000 people have benefited.

Pakistan adopted, in 2001, its National Policy and Plan of Action for the Abolition of Bonded Labour, which provides the framework for attacking the problem, mostly in agriculture and brick-kilns in Sindh and Punjab provinces.

Despite many international, national laws millions of innocent but helpless children, men and women are still bounded in slavery for a lifetime. When would the greed of humans give way to the freedom of these miserable souls? Would there ever be an end to it? Communities are working but not hard enough to know for sure.