January 27, 2015

Slavery Today

If you've visited any of my other Hearts Should Be Free posts, you've read that though slavery is illegal in every country, there are still millions of people enslaved today.  If slavery is illegal around the world, than how does it still exist?  How does someone become a slave TODAY?  The short answer to that is usually poverty, disenfranchisement, government corruption, or a failure of the criminal justice system.  But the longer answer to that question is laid out below...

How People are Enslaved Today

Threatened with Violence
Violence or threats of violence to individuals and their families keep people working for little to no pay. This is usually an aspect of the forms of enslavement mentioned below as well.

Born a Slave
While descent based slavery is more rare than other forms of slavery today, it still exists.  Mauritania was the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery, and though they publicly insists it does not exist there, it is estimated by anti-slavery groups that at least 4% of the population is enslaved.  In this culture slavery is accepted as a part of life.  Not only has the government done next to nothing to enforce their own laws about slavery, but they have actively opposed efforts to help enslaved people in their country.  Only one arrest has been made since holding slaves became a crime in 2007, and, for their efforts, 6 of the activists who pressured the government to prosecute that crime spent the same time in jail as the man convicted of slave-holding.

Descent based slavery also exists in parts of Niger and Mali.  Some forms of bonded labor (discussed under "Indebted") are also is multi-generational, and take place in various places.

Countries Where Descent-Based Slavery Persist

Made with a map from D-maps.com.

This map does not include inherited debt-bondage.  Though
the whole country is highlighted, only areas of the country contain
descent based slavery.

The first article I ever read about modern slavery was about children being kidnapped and enslaved.  This was primarily done for profit--profit through their slave labor or by getting ransom from the children's families.  Recently, kidnapping and enslavement has become a tool of terrorists, such as ISIS and Boco Haran.

Sold by Their Parents
Tragically, sometimes parents will knowingly sell their children to others to use for labor or prostitution.  In many places around the world this is the result of extreme poverty--a horrid choice between selling off your children or watching them starve.  But even in the developed world, in places where such extreme conditions are not a a factor, this happens.  It is not uncommon for a young women to enter prostitution by being "turned out" by a family member, and even more disturbing are the cases of children being rented out by their parents to pedophiles.

A common tactic among slave traffickers is to promise a person a job in another country--and once the person is in that country, take their passports and other immigration documents, cut off their communication with family, and tell them they will be arrested or deported if they stop working.  Not knowing the language or being familiar with the country's laws, they feel trapped in their situation.  This is one of the most common ways laborers are enslaved in the US.  This is not just illegal immigrants--a recent study found that 71% of victims of labor trafficking came here legally.  But when a greencard is tied to employment, employers can withhold rightful wages and threaten deportation if workers speak up or leave.

This desperate mother traveled from her village in Nepal to Mumbai, India, hoping to find and rescue her teenage daughter who was trafficked into an Indian brothel. Nepalese girls are prized for their fair skin and are lured with promises of a "good" job and the chance to improve their lives. "I will stay in Mumbai," said the mother, "Until I find my daughter or die. I am not leaving here without her."

In impoverished areas around the world, parents have been tricked into into handing over their children to people promising to provide them with a better life (education, a home with a good family, reasonable payed work)...only to never see them again.

Deception is also used by pimps to "turn out" prostitutes right here in the US and Canada.  Pimps will often start a romantic relationship with a young woman, convince her to run away with him, and then once she is away manipulate or force her into prostitution.  Initially, a Pimp may convince a women to sell herself willingly.   For example, after running away together a pimp may create a false financial crisis, and convince the woman to prostitute herself "only for a little while, so we can get by," and because she loves him, she does it.   But while Pimps may not often use force to start someone in prostitution, violence and threats of violence are common ways to keep them working...and this is where it crosses the line into slavery.

Debt bondage is the most common form of slavery today.  Simply working to pay off a debt does not make someone a slave--but when the debt is structured so that it can never be payed off, this can be a form of slavery.  Debt bondage can involve the deceptive practices described above...a person is loaned money and promised a job to pay it off, but then are charged room and board equal or greater to their "earnings", so that they are always working without ever paying off their debt to their employers.  In other instances the wages are kept so low and interest is at such high a rate that paying off the debt is impossible.  Debtors are usually not allowed to leave or work somewhere else.  In some area, whole generations are working off family debts--debts of parents or grandparents which they did not even accrue.

Blackmail is powerful in cases where someone is enslaved doing an illegal activity, such as prostitution.  A pimp can threaten with violence, and then follow it up by telling his victim that if she tells the police, she'll be arrested.  Similarly, an employer of an illegal immigrant may threaten handing him over to be deported if he doesn't continue working.  Sadly, the threat of criminal conviction can by used by traffickers to keep victims from getting help even when they entered into the illegal activities under coercion. 

In cultures where family honor has a high premium, threat of exposing a dishonorable activity can be enough to keep someone enslaved.  In areas of the world where honor killings are common, a women is in danger of being murdered by her own family for her sexual activities (in some cases even if she was the victim of rape).  It isn't hard to imagine the power this gives traffickers over their victims.

Forcibly Recruited
In various conflicts around the world today, children have been forcibly recruited as soldiers.  In addition to the psychological ramifications of experiencing warfare, child soldiers have often been subjected unspeakable violence, rape, and abuse

Kevin Bales, co-founder of "Free the Slaves" in his 2010 Ted Talk "How to Combat Slavery," he emphasized that the slavery of today was "not about lousy marriages, this is not about jobs that suck. This is about people who can not walk away, people who are forced to work without pay, people who are operating 24/7 under a threat of violence and have no pay."  But some forms of "marriage" have long been recognized as thinly veiled form of slavery.   In 1924 the Council of the League of Nations adopted created a list of situations it defined as slavery, including "the acquisition of girls by purchase disguised as payment of dowry, when it is understood that this does not refer to normal marriage customs."    "Girls Not Brides" points out that a marriage, especially child marriage, can be a form of enslavement when the bride has not given reasonable consent, is exploited and subjected to control (especially through violence)  inside the marriage, and if the can not leave.  One example of marriage as slavery is the Wahaya, or "Fifth Wife" practice in areas of Niger, where girls from the ‘black Tuareg’ group are sold  to wealthy men, forced into both sexual relations and labor, and never allowed to leave the house except to work in their master’s fields or take livestock to pasture.  They are never legally married,  have none of the legal rights of an "official" wife,  and are altogether treated as property (even sometimes being forced to wear a special anklet designating their slave status).



Theresa Hoey of UnBound Style is providing a necklace and bracelet from her "Forever Summer Collection" for this giveaway (pictured above).  15% of all the profits at UnBound style, and and 100% of the profits from her "Hearts Should Be Free Collection," go to support Children of the Night, an organization which helps rescue youth from prostitution.   You can see items in the Hearts Should Be Free collection below...or read my review of them here.

You can also find Unbound Style on Facebook and Instagram.

This giveaway is open to residents over 18 of the United States, Canada (except Quebec), and the United Kingdom.  Enter on the Rafflecopter below.  Full rules here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I've included some of my sources in text links below.  Here is a complete list.  In stead of citing my sources in the text, I am organizing them under the topics below.

Threatened with Violence - 1
Born a Slave - 2a, 3, 4, 5a
Kidnapped - 2b, 6
Sold by Their Parents - 1c, 9
Tricked - 1d, 2c, 8, 9 , 10, 11
Indebted - 2e, 5b, 12
Blackmailed - 1a, 8, 13,14,15
Recruited - 1b, 5c, 16, 17
Married - 5d, 5e, 18, 19

(1) U.S. State Department 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report
1a. Introductory Material: The Use of Forced Criminality, pg 14
1b  Introductory Material: Child Soldiers, pages 38-39
1c  Country Narratives A - C, pages 91, 97, 98, 121 (Examples of Parent Involvement)
1d  Country Narratives A - C, pg 123 (Example of Parent's Deceived by Traffickers)

(2) CNN.com
2a  Mauritania:  Slavery's Last Stronghold - by John D. Sutter
2b 'Treated like cattle': Yazidi women sold, raped, enslaved by ISIS" by Ivan Watson, CNN
2c  Slave Labor in America Today  (Labor Trafficking Report Summary)
2e  Bonded Labor Stretches from First to Third World
2f  Inside the Underground Sex Economy

(3) Mauritania activists jailed as police quash resurgent anti-slavery - The Guardian

(4) Global Slavery Index - 2014 Report, pg 18,

(5) AntiSlavery.org
5a. Descent Based Slavery
5b  Bonded Labor
5c  Child Slavery
5d  Wahaya:  Young Girls Sold Into Slavery
5e  Wahaya Report:  Domestic and Sexual Slavery in Niger

(6) Missing Schoolgirls - NBC NEWS

(7) United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons - 2014
7a. pg 43

(8) Routes of Recruitment into Prostitution (originally published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, 2007, 15 (2), 1-19.

(9) Southern Poverty Law Center - Holding the Deportation Card

(10) From Victims to Victimizers:  Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago

(11) 5 Things I Learned As a Sex Slave In Modern America

(12) End Slavery Now - Bonded Labor

(13)  Human Trafficking Exploitation of Illegal Aliens - FAIR

(14)  The Role of Honor Related Violence in Sex Trafficking - USAID

(15)  Honor Killings - PBS

(16)  Child Soldiers International:  FAQ

(17)  Child Soldiers, Slavery, and the Trafficking of Children by Susan Tiefenbrun - 2007

(18)  How To Combat Modern Slavery:  Transcript of 2010 TED Talk by Kevin Bales

(19)  When Does Child Marriage Become Slavery - Girls Not Brides

Photo of Napalese Mother Used with permission - See the wikimedia commons page.

~  Last year, after the giveaway, Theresa sent me both bracelets from the Hearts Should Be Free Collection, which I reviewed here.  Apart from that I have received no other compensation for this post or the review (which was not even something she required...the bracelets were given as a thank you, and I was happy to review them since they are supporting such a good cause).  I am not affiliated with any of the wonderful non-profits mentioned in this post.

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  1. no - I would love to win this to share with others. I work with middle schoolers and we have talked about child labor and they were very interested. I think that they would be interested to hear about modern slavery.

    1. Hi Jennifer. I am so glad to hear you may share this with your middle schoolers. I actually just stumbled on some resources for teachers at Free the Slaves (free printables and lesson plans and such):





      And please feel free to use any of my writing you would like to use from this blog if you want to.

  2. I was aware in a broad sense, but didn't know details. Very shocking and sad.

  3. Replies
    1. Which link is this? On the Rafflecopter or on the post? Thanks!

  4. no i wasnt this has been a real eyeopener

  5. yes, I was aware of these things. Not percentage wise. It is a very scary thing. I try to pass along this information and to tell people to just be aware of your surrounding.

  6. I've read and seen docs on tv about...

  7. I was aware of some of these things, particularly, the sex slave trade but was not aware of the labor trafficking where they are working legally and tricked into slavery.

  8. I had a good idea previously of the types of slavery that are occurring, mostly because I took a class in college that discussed the topic. It is so incredibly important. I'm glad to see this post!

  9. Some of them I was aware of, some of them I wasn't. Either way, it's very sad.

  10. I was aware of some but not all of it. So very sad. Things shouldn't be that way anymore. People know better.

  11. I was aware of some of them, but not others. Very interesting and horrible.

  12. I was aware of some forms of slavery today, mainly the sex slaves and the people forced into the military, but the labor slavery I didnt know about.

  13. I was not at all..

  14. no I was not aware that this went on

  15. I did not know that this type of thing still happened to day. It is shocking!