THE EMERGENCE OF MODERN SLAVERY
“It is hard to believe that slavery still exists, it may be harder still to accept that hundreds
of millions of people face lives only a little more free, with only a few more choices. The poor
and powerless often find themselves sacrificing their dignity, their children, even their own bodies, piece by piece, to a global market with an appetite for human profit.”4
Poverty is indeed the major cause of child labour in the world today. We are presently living in a world where it has been estimated that about three billion people – nearly half the world’s population – struggle to live on less than two dollars a day.5 The dire need to survive may lead the impoverished to even go to the extent of selling all or part of their family assets: their bodies (in prostitution) or even their children. As a result, we are beginning to witness the resurfacing of the long abolished slave trade.
In 2007, the British government marked the abolition of slavery over 200 years ago, and apologized to Africa concerning the atrocities their fore fathers committed against the continent during the period of slave trading. But the question here is, have slave trade really ended? Of course it was abolished many years ago, but behold it is resurfacing again due to the devastating effects of poverty on some nations of the world especially in developing countries. When I talk about slavery here, I don’t mean children who live like slaves or who are used as child labourers for lousy pay or no pay at all. I am talking about children who are being bought and sold, held in captivity, brutalized, exploited for profit in the pursuit of wealth by the adult generation who suppose to protect these children.
According to the statistics of National geographic magazine, 50% of people used as slaves world wide are children. 6Millions of children world wide are being bought and sold, held captive, brutalised and exploited for profit. This is apparently a big threat to the provision of Article XXXV of the convention on the right of the child (CRC), which provides thus:
“States parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form”.
Slavery has to do with the strong exploiting the weak. It is an undignified act whereby a person takes advantage of the weakness of another and thus put him into servitude. Slavery is a human condition in which a person is owned by another. A slave is therefore considered as a property, or chartel, and is deprived of virtually all rights and freedom.
The victims of the modern slave trading like it had always been are mostly the children from poor nations who because of poverty are being sold to ready buyers from the rich nations. These children are being either sold by their own parents, relatives or through kidnapping by strangers. Millions of children being trafficked today are mostly for the purpose of child slavery. The males majorly work as slaves in factories and farms, while the females majorly work as sex slaves in brothels, attending to clients (most of which are older than their fathers) and making money for their masters. Most of these little girls are put in cages like wild animals, only to be brought out when there is a client to attend to. This kind of treatment is mostly applied when it is felt that the girl might run away. Should she refuse to attend to a client, she is either brutally beaten, tortured or starved.
Slave trading has become a very big global business which is estimated to be making about 13 billion dollars annually to the global economy.7 As a result, a lot of people especially in the developing countries see it as an easy and quick way to acquire wealth, hence the increase in slave trading in the 21st century. The finding of the National Geographic8 has it that some of the commercial production that involves the use of children in slave labour include:
In Brazil slaves make char cool used to manufacture steal for automobiles and other machinery.
- In Myanmar slaves harvest sugar cane and other agricultural products.
- In China child slaves manufacture fire works.
- In Sierra Leone, slaves mine diamonds.
- In Benin and Egypt, slaves produce cotton.
It was also noted that a 1999 Egyptian report estimated that one million children are forced to work in that country’s cotton sector “because they are cheaper and more obedient (than adults), and are the appropriate heights to inspect cotton plants”).
In Ivory Coast some 12,000 child slaves pick cacao beans exported for use in chocolate. Slave labour has been reported in the production of coffee, tea, and tobacco crops world wide.
In fact, it is obvious that people seen to have rediscovered the profitability of buying and selling human beings. If this is the case, then the world is at worst for it, and if something is not done fast, the future of the next generation is indeed pitiable.
This undignified, evil, inhuman, barbaric and satanic development is further enhanced by the fact that people living in the developing countries or places where there are no job opportunities and who want to move to countries or places where they can get job face more stringent restrictions on legal migration. Almost invariably, those who cannot migrate legally or pay fees up front to be smuggled across borders are up in the hands of trafficking mafias. And more likely, illegal immigrants end up in debt to the traffickers who have moved them, thus these people are forced to work off their obligation as slaves (debt slaves).
This is a common case in the Nigerian experience of modern slave trading. Many Nigerians children especially girls are presently working as sex slaves in various parts of the world under this form of slavery. These girls are being trafficked out of the country by child traffickers and the cost of traveling solely sponsored by the trafficker who they normally refer to as “Madam”. On getting outside the country, the girl child becomes a slave for this so called Madam, working as prostitute to settle her debt. In most cases, the amount is inflated by the “madam” making it so difficult for the girl to finish paying up, and until she finished paying up, she will remain in bondage. Any attempt to stop paying the debt or to run away will be met with threat of deportation since she did not legally migrate. This form of slavery is not only applicable to girls taken outside the country, but within the country, such form of slavery is rampant.
I was walking pass a brothel one evening in Ikeja Lagos Nigeria, where I saw a very small girl of about 15 years standing in front of the gate soliciting for clients. I was so much touched that a small girl of such age should be involved in prostitution. So I approached her to ask her some questions, but she told me she will not discuss anything with me outside as her Madam does not allow her discuss with men except for “business”. She told me that the only way she can talk with me is if I come to her room.
In answering my questions by the time we got to her cage-like room, she told me that she was from the south-southern part of Nigeria from where her madam took her from her poverty ridden parents in order that she (the little girl) might assist her in her business in Lagos after which she will be assisted to set up her own. On getting to Lagos, she discovered her madam works as a prostitute, and the business she talked about was prostitution. She initially refused to do the work, but she was threatened by her madam that she will die of hunger, especially as there was no money to take her back home. She was later given a room by her madam to begin work with certain conditions attached, which include not to discuss with men except on business matters, and never to attempt having a man friend. She was told to continue to work until she raised a certain amount of money (which she did not disclose), after which she would be given her freedom so as to begin to work on her own in order to provide for herself and her family. She said she had stayed in the brothel for about 3 years still working to off-set her debt. And her madam never allowed her to travel to see her parents since she was brought to Lagos. All the madam does is: whenever she travels home, she comes back with warm greetings from her parents, and a letter from her mother always reminding her of her background and the helplessness of her parents, hence encouraging her not to rebel against her madam, and the need to be honest, obedient and hardworking so that at the end of her years of humble service, her future and that of her family will be bright. When I finally wanted to take my leave, she requested that I give her a particular amount of money; that her madam knew that she went in with somebody and will definitely demand for the money.
This story is just a case among thousands in Nigeria, and most African countries. Many little girls are enslaved in this way in various brothels within the continent of Africa, and other parts of the world, and such children need to be discovered and rescued.
Most children are being recruited and trafficked to earn money for others through begging and selling goods on the streets, while they are forced to sell their bodies at night. There have also been cases where child beggars are married by their captors to engender sympathy and greater charity.
One of the strategies adopted by present day child traffickers is promising young children a profitable football career overseas. Many young children are being exploited by individual club owners and football academies on the pretext of helping them get lucrative jobs abroad. Most Nigerian children are trafficked to Saudi Arabia for begging and sex work. Every year, hundreds of children are separated from their parents, legal guardians or care givers and sold as mere commodities. Most of these children are willingly being given out by their parents, using poverty as an excuse. Some fall into the hands of child traffickers and are used as child labourers or sold into slavery, in their attempt to escape from an obligate environments or extreme poverty.
The menace of child trafficking, child labour/slavery has remained unabated despite efforts on the part of government and both local and international Non-Governmental Organisations to tackle it. Every day, children and even adults are trafficked across borders for servitude, exploitative labour, prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, and on daily basis, these traffickers are getting smarter and always a step ahead of law enforcement agents.
The United States government estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 children were trafficked in 2003. The figures also showed that 80 per cent of the estimates were females and 70 percent trafficked for sexual exploitation. Over 50,000 girls are believed to be working in the European/Italian sex industry.
Most of these girls are taken out of their countries through oaths and are made to work under barbaric conditions. As a result, when rescued, they are too scared to reveal all that they have passed through. This is one of the greatest challenges in the fight against trafficking in children, child labour/slavery.
Stopping this inhuman and ungodly development is a duty we all owe the future generation. It shouldn’t be left alone for the government or NGOs. Each and every individual must stand up in response to this call to duty – a duty to save lives, to protect the rights and welfare of the weak, helpless and most vulnerable group in the human specie. It is both moral and legal duty which every God fearing, responsible and compassionate adult must not shirk from. Let us do all we morally, physically, academically and legally can to break the jaws of the wicked and pluck the spoil out of their teeth. Some humanitarian organizations have taken bold steps towards this, like “Child rights Awareness Creation Organisation” (CRACO). There is urgent need for the government to take some legislative and administrative steps towards ensuring that owners of brothels do not allow children in their brothels, and any brothel owner that violates this should be severely sanctioned or sent to jail.
4 Lynne Warren of National Geographic, sept. 2003 edi page 26.
5 National geographic Sept 2003, page 27.
6 Sept 2003 edition.
7 National Geographic Sept 2003 page 28.
8 September 2003 edition page 20.