Did you know, that about 29.8 million people live in modern slavery today? Astonishingly, children under 18 constitute about 26% of present-day slavery victims. Imagine being snatched from your home, or school, one day, forced into an oppressive life of servitude by traffickers scheming to attain a profit from your labor. Yet somehow, we often neglect to address the reality of such an inhumane institution at large in our world.
Statistics show that Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, and India possess the highest per-capita number of slaves, with India alone amassing a total of 14 million slaves. Think that modern slavery only exists in third-world countries? You would be wrong. A 2013 study by the Walk Free Global Slavery Index indicated that 60,000 victims of modern slavery live in the United States alone.
The US State Department breaks modern slavery down into several fundamental tracts: forced labor, trafficking, child soldiers, and debt bondage, among others. In many impoverished countries, such as Brazil and Pakistan, debt bondage constitutes the most prevalent form of contemporary slavery. In Pakistan alone, approximately 1.8 million people toil as bonded laborers. Yet due to the lack of federal laws addressing internal trafficking, as well as widespread corruption and weak law enforcement efforts to prosecute perpetrators, few face arraignment and even fewer face actual prison sentences.
In Qatar, thousands of migrant workers toil in detestable conditions- stripped of their passports, they work in “ferocious desert heat” often 30 days a month, earning little over £4.90 (about $5.50 US dollars) a day. A Kenyan migrant worker testified to the poor work conditions, remarking that he works all day, beginning at 4am, with only hot water to quench his thirst. Speaking about the unsatisfactory and unsafe work environment, he described getting an electric shock once from being instructed to do an electrician’s job with no prior training. Hundreds have died from heart failure, construction accidents, and suicide. Another African migrant worker spoke of the unbearable climate; the average temperature in Qatar during the summer is 106*F, although temperatures frequently surpass 113*F in more arid regions. The workers have no air-conditioning. And we complain about Californian heat waves.
Not too differently, thousands of migrants enter America with work-visas, permitting them to remain legally in the US as long as they continue work with their employer. Thus, workers remain utterly dependent on employers for housing, legal status, and wages. Fear of deportation often prevents exploited or even abused workers from contacting law enforcement or running away. A Bolivian woman, called “CB” to protect her identity, is just one of the many immigrant workers who endured “isolated servitude”-another form of modern slavery- in the US.
She first began working as a domestic servant when she was 16, brought to America by employers who used fake immigration documents to ensure her dependence on them. They took her passport and forbade her to leave the house or to contact her family under any circumstances. In the 13 years she spent as a captive, she earned about $2500, amounting to less than a nickel an hour. She also faced terrible physical abuse- she recounts being “slapped, scratched, and having her hair pulled,” one time even falling down the basement stairs- all in a small suburban town in Massachusetts.
As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel poignantly stated, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”. Thus, as human beings, as children of God and citizens of a nation that celebrates humanity’s natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must take action against the injustices within our modern world. And, the first step towards action is eschewing ignorance, educating ourselves on the world around us. For, without awareness of this daunting and critical issue, how can we ever expect to combat it?