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Slavery was abolished 150 years ago, right? While it is true that slavery is illegal almost everywhere on earth, the fact is there are more slaves today than there ever were - more than 27 million, by modest estimates. Most of the world's slaves are in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but slaves are everywhere. The CIA estimates that each year more than 50,000 men, women and children are smuggled into the United States against their will. This is called "human trafficking." People are tricked into coming with offers of good jobs or education, but instead are forced to work as domestic or sex slaves, or in agriculture fields or sweat shops. They are physically abused and terrorized into staying enslaved.

While some slaves are 'bought' in the way slaves had been in the past, most contemporary slaves are enslaved through "debt bondage" and may not even realize they are enslaved. A person borrows money and agrees to work until they can pay back the loan, but they never can, because the lender keeps increasing the interest rate and changes the books. A typical scenario is a mine worker who has to buy the tools for his job and takes out a loan to pay for them, but spends most of his money on food and the rest of his wages go to pay for the interest on his loan, so he has to keep working and can never pay back the original loan.

Collateral debt bondage is even worse - when a person borrows money their family and all the work they and their families do becomes 'collateral.' Generation after generation of an entire family continues to be indebted for the same original tiny loan. Many times people don't even realize they are being enslaved. Their sense of honesty and integrity for their family's name causes them to take on these debts. Many enslaved in these ways are illiterate. Through education they can see that their human rights are being violated and they no longer allow themselves to be tricked into slavery.

What is a slave?
A contemporary slave is a person held against their will, controlled by violence and paid nothing for their work -- the same definition as slaves 150 years ago.

Even after slaves have been freed, they continue to suffer psychological trauma - for many it is the only life they have known and feel no other sense of identity. Psychological counseling and therapy, education and job training can help many regain their sense of identity and help them to lead a better life.

Most people don't know that there are slaves but when they find out they are outraged and want to do something about it. Fortunately there are a number of international organizations working to end slavery and help the victims once they are freed.

One of the hurdles for ending slavery is that slavery is so profitable and slaves today are so cheap. In 1850 the average slave cost about $1000, which would be worth almost $40,000 by today's living standards. Slaves were an investment and slave owners typically saw about a 5% profit each year. Today, the average cost of a slave is $100 and slave labor typically reaps 800% profits! Because they are so cheap, slaves are "disposable." In the past, slave owners had incentive to provide a minimum level of care to make sure that the slaves were healthy enough to work; Contemporary slaves are so cheap, there isn't an interest in 'owning' and caring for them, only controlling and exploiting them for as long as they are profitable, and this is usually done through abusive violence.

In some countries, even though it is illegal, slavery is still generally accepted. Others nations lack the resources to stop slave trade. In countries like the US, where an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 are enslaved in the agriculture, clothing, domestic and sex industries, strong laws work to bring perpetrators to justice and free those enslaved. But often it is difficult to know that someone is being held against their will. With more public awareness, more of those enslaved will be able to be freed.

The United Nations has designated December 2 as The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery to commemorate the December 2, 1949 International Convention against human trafficking and to raise awareness about the continuing struggle to end slavery.


- March 25, 1807 - British Parliamentary Bill abolished slavery in the British Isles

- February 1, 1865 - 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the US

- 1927 Slavery Convention abolished slavery worldwide

- December 10, 1948 - United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4 states: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

- December 2, 1949 - United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of Others adopted

- October 2000 - The US Trafficking Victims Protection Act strengthened criminal penalties, and provided better protections to trafficking victims.



BetterWorld Issue - SLAVERY

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