Why there are still 27 million slaves in the world
By Caitlin McKay, Staff Writer
Slavery degrades the very essence of what it means to be a human being. A slave is often not considered to be a person, but merely a commodity. There are more slaves in the world now than there were at the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. A shocking statistic, considering the global society has established a standard of human rights that is theoretically universal.
Human trafficking reveals a considerable lapse in human rights and the notion of equality. Victims of human trafficking include some of the most vulnerable members of society. They are vulnerable because they are the most desperate.
… there are 27 million slaves today; 27 million stories of desperation, abuse, and exploitation.
“It’s often people who are desperate and who are looking for a promise of a better life… often these people are impoverished. Someone has capitalized on their eagerness or desperation,” says Petra Bosma, the communications coordinator for International Justice Mission (IJM) Canada. IJM works internationally to strengthen local law enforcement and prevent trafficking.
“Generally, slaves are distinguished by their vulnerability. A person can be made vulnerable by their gender, wealth, level of education, nationality, age, or other factors, depending on what country or society they are coming from,” says Karen Stauss, director of programs at Free the Slaves, in an email. “Poverty is one of the most common factors among victims. To put it into perspective, a poor, underage female in a foreign city is incredibly vulnerable to trafficking.”
There are two main forms of slavery: forced labour and sex slavery. According to the United Nations, forced labour makes up 18 percent of the industry and sex slavery makes up 79 percent.
Debt bondage is a common type of forced labour. It occurs when a victim needs a loan to pay off bills or buy food, and a slave owner lends them money in return for labour. In reality, victims are trapped. They will work for years and years but never be able to pay off the loan.
Sex slavery is forced prostitution. Women, girls, and sometimes boys will be locked in brothels to serve customers with their bodies. Needless to say, the physical and psychological repercussions of being forced to have sex repeatedly is unimaginable.
Slavery is not just ‘out there’ in some third world country. It is not someone else’s problem. Even in a developed nation like the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 slaves. According to Free the Slaves, there are 27 million slaves today; 27 million stories of desperation, abuse, and exploitation.
The international scope of this issue makes it all the more challenging to combat. It is a war – and a big one – for humanity and for real equality. Every slave is a reminder that the human race has not entirely progressed beyond the barbaric slave trades of the 18th century. William Wilberforce, the man responsible for abolishing the slave trade, would not look upon this world favourably.
The problem is, trafficking is an incredibly profitable business. In fact, it is the third most profitable venture for organized crime. Interpol estimates that it generates $32 billion a year. Traffickers make those profits off of the desperation and poverty of others.
“You sell drugs once but you can sell a person over and over. It’s horrible. So devastating, and you can break a person to the point where they can’t escape, so they resign to the fact that they will be sold over and over,” says Bosma.
Essentially, until a slave dies, they are an unlimited resource for their owner.
“It’s all about money. [Traffickers] talk to each other and …they get together and talk about how they want to make money. They teach each other techniques,” explains Joy Smith, M.P., who has been a champion of anti-trafficking legislation in Canada. “The technique is to get her away from her peers, get her away from the community. They want to isolate the victim.”
The average age of a girl in Canada who will enter prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old. Smith says traffickers will target young, pretty, virgin girls to get the highest price.
“Youth are easily manipulated and easily impressionable. They target the youth because they are beautiful and easy to control,” says Smith.
The number of convicted traffickers is increasing, but remains low. Thanks to new legislation in Canada, this $280,000 a year business has indeed shrunk, but lack of awareness is still a major obstacle to finding the solution.
“It’s been going on for years and years,” says Smith, “it’s been under the public radar screen because I think people don’t recognize it for what it is.”
Catching traffickers is difficult because they can move across borders while law officials cannot. But there is something that can be done. Education, awareness, cooperation and the enforcement of laws are all proven methods to reduce trafficking.
“You can educate the communities who are being preyed upon by traffickers. Outreach programs, education and then robust law enforcement and a response… a law enforcement that is adequately resourced and trained to respond. It needs to be holistic, everyone needs to be involved in this,” explains Bosma. ”If [traffickers] find out their crimes won’t pay, the likelihood that they would be deterred is higher. It’s the enforcement of the law that should contribute to determent of the traffickers.”
The very existence of slavery suggests that some people are more equal than others. Human rights should not be dependent on age, location or economic status. That’s why it is called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But seeing as how slavery is still a reality, are these rights truly universal?
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