The Growing Problem of Slavery

Future Foreign Policy


Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2011. Photo Source: Wtmitchell via Wikimedia Commons.

To many, slavery is perceived as a problem of the past. Unfortunately this could not be further from the truth, as the Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 29.8 million people currently in modern slavery around the world, which amounts to the highest number of individuals enslaved than at any point in our history. Hence, it is a growing issue that requires greater attention at international, national and local levels alike. It is also a practice that has been exacerbated by the phenomenon of Globalisation. This is because it is now easier (and cheaper) than ever to transport labour and capital across borders. Thus, with economic advancement and greater migration comes the desire for cheap labour and profit, and therefore slaves. Furthermore, in attempt to attract multinational corporations and investment, governments of poor states have been fighting to provide the cheapest workers and resources. Consequently, globalisation has also intensified poverty, which has made citizens more vulnerable to the slave trade.

Modern day slavery occurs in numerous different forms throughout the developing and developed world. Hence, it is a term that encompasses a wide range of different practices. Legally defined as ‘the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised’ by the League of Nations in 1926, and broadened in 1956 to include debt bondage and serfdom in the UN Treaty on the Abolition of Slavery: today international law tends to focus on the forced labour and human trafficking aspects of slavery.

Some examples of slavery in society today include:

Child Slaves: An example of child slavery in the West is the growing problem of Asian child slaves working on cannabis farms in the UK. Many were born into poor families who could no longer afford to look after them, and many more are orphans who were drawn away from their home countries by the promise of a better paid job in Europe. It is thought that these individuals owe up to £20,000 to the traffickers who smuggle them in to the country; a sum that they are expected to repay through labour. Many live in dire conditions, and have described being beaten by their owners when they dared to question their treatment or the work that they were carrying out. It is extremely concerning to learn that many of these young people are facing incarceration and deportation, which ‘often [puts them] right back into the hands of their traffickers:’ instead of being recognised as victims of child abuse and human trafficking.

Enslavement through marriage: Forced marriage is another form of enslavement. In India, (the country that holds the highest number of slaves in the world according to the index), the practice of selling girls and woman into marriage against their will is becoming increasingly common as a result of the decrease in the number of women available for marriage. If they do not agree to leave their homes when told, women are often threatened with violence, and victims have recalled being drugged to prevent them from escaping when they were being transported. Once designated a ‘paros’ (purchased women), these females loose their social status, as they have no property or valuables that they can call their own, and nobody wants to employ them. As well as undertaking sexual activities against their will, females subjected to a forced marriage are also expected to participate in agricultural labor for their husbands.

Human rights charities and NGO’s in India are struggling to prevent the problem. Firstly, because it is difficult to prove a marriage was forced when arranged marriages are still legal in the country: and secondly because victims are commonly from rural areas, and are sold on to men in distant villages that are hard to access; which makes such transactions and activities hard to track.Labour Slaves: There was an international outcry in September when it was announced that almost one Nepalese migrant worker was dying everyday in Qatar, and that thousands more were withstanding despicable conditions whilst carrying out excessive labour whilst helping the nation prepare for the 2022 World Cup. Work place accidents, heart attacks and heart failure were recited as cause of death of the 44 men who had died: and it is unsurprising that there were such tragedies after the Nepalese embassy learnt that many were denied free drinking water and were having to beg for food. Furthermore, workers explained that they had not been paid for months, and that their passports or identification documents were taken from them in attempt to keep them working in the country. Such factors prove that their plight can be identified as modern day slavery, and that rich nations are continuing to exploit poor nations for their own benefit.

What can be done?
Although an illegal activity, those involved in the trafficking of people are rarely prosecuted, and if they are punished it is often with minimal sentences. Therefore, more needs to be done by governments and the judiciary system to produce clearer legislation on issues such as human trafficking to allow for an increase in prosecutions of those soliciting such activities.  In addition, the international community needs to crack down on the problem of modern day slavery through tougher law enforcement and greater sentences to prove that they are taking the issue seriously, and to discourage others from getting involved. Lastly, public ignorance to the problem needs to be halted. Governments need to work with charities to help raise awareness of the epidemic of slavery in the 21st century. Whether through one of the examples described above; or sex slavery, bonded labour, prison slavery, and food chain slavery (to name just a few forms):

Every nation is involved. Both genders are affected. All generations are suffering.


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