Modern Slavery: The loss of innocence

Posted on | augustus 30, 2011 | No Comments

The life of a child is often equated to that of mere dollars…over all people are comparatively cheaper than they were in the 1600-1800s, when slaves were purchased for life. Prices for these modern day slaves are at an all time low, while profits remain high, leading some to believe the problem is worse now than during the days of legalized slavery. Now ownership tends to last only a few months to a few years, making slaves cheaper to purchase and more easily disposable. In 1850 the purchase price of a slave in the southern US averaged the equivalent of $40,000 today. According to Free the Slaves, a slave today costs an average of $90. People have become a disposable commodity, cheap and easy labor one can just toss out when no longer needed. Globalization and the post-World War II population boom have increased access to, and lowered the cost of, transportation, which has in turn contributed to the increased levels of global slavery. Victims are often driven into slavery by severe poverty or acute need for economic gain. Additionally, the ethnicity of today’s slave is rarely important, however age and gender all too often are and thus women and children equate to the majority of modern slavery victims.

What is Modern Slavery

While human trafficking is often associated with poor countries, no state is immune – with every country across the globe categorized as a source, transit or destination for human trafficking. Modern slavery comes in various forms: sex trafficking and slavery; debt bondage/bonded labor; domestic servitude; involuntary servitude; child labor and child soldiering. In the case of sex trafficking, the victim is acquired for the purpose of sexual exploitation and/or commercial sex acts. Debt bondage, legally termed bonded labor, occurs when an unwarranted bond or debt, often inherited, is used to enslave an individual. Domestic servitude occurs when a person is enslaved in a private home and used for household chores and other violations. Involuntary servitude involves a situation in which laborers work under some form of physical or psychological force that prevents them from leaving. Chattel slavery is the long-term ownership of a slave and is most often racially based.

Staggering numbers

Estimates vary as to the number of modern-day slaves. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are 12.3 million adults and children who are trafficked around the globe for the purpose of forced prostitution, bonded labor and forced labor. Of these victims, the ILO estimates that at least 1.39 million are victims of commercial sexual servitude, both transnationally and within countries.  The average age of entry into commercial sexual exploitation in the United States is 11-14 years-old.

Those most victimized by human trafficking are women and children, with 56 percent of all forced labor victims women and girls. Kevin Bales, modern slavery expert and president of Free the Slaves, estimates the number to be 27 million, a figure widely accepted by NGOs. UNICEF estimates there are some 250,000 child soldiers globally, while Human Rights Watch puts the number at 300,000, with the majority, some 200,000, in Africa. Child soldiers are actively fighting in at least 30 countries around the world, according to both Amnesty International and UNICEF, and PW Singer estimates in his book, Children at War, that 43 percent of all armed organizations in the world use child soldiers, 90 percent of whom see combat.

The entire global economy is impacted by the use of slavery in the production of goods, such as cotton, tea, silk, coca, sugar, steal, carpets, diamonds, etc. The ILO report, Combating Child Labor in Cocoa Growing , estimates that 200,000 children work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast alone.

The sale of humans for profit is growing steadily around the globe, and is estimated to be a $31.7 billion industry, according to the ILO – making it the second largest criminal industry in the world, larger than the drug trade and soon to surpass the arms trade.

How to win the battle and save our children

While many NGOs and governments have made strides to combat trafficking, there is a great deal of room for improvement in the global fight against child trafficking. Victims of trafficking need to first be seen as just that, victims, as opposed to criminals.  Children are placed in juvenile detention centers, and are sometimes violated instead of protected. There are very few rehabilitation services for victims where trafficking remains high, and though there are some shelters, little effort is placed on the mental health of former victims. Many victims have not only endured sexual and physical abuse, but also drug addiction and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

As poverty is the main contributor to sex tourism and trafficking, organizations and governments must work from the bottom up, putting resources on the ground in the areas most affected. If there are no economic alternatives for families and individuals, it will be near impossible to win the fight. Therefore organizations must educate communities about the realities of trafficking, as well as offer alternative solutions and economic opportunities, such as sustainable trade skills. Both children and adults in affected communities need to be part of the process of finding alternative solutions and prevention programs. In order to end the cycle of human trafficking, better, enforceable laws must be passed to prosecute those involved on every level of this heinous industry. Victims of trafficking need to be given the skills and knowledge that will keep them from being reintegrated into the trafficking market. But perhaps most importantly, victims need to have a place they can feel safe, where they can heal, and if they are lucky, learn how to be a child again.

To sustainably bring an end to modern slavery, four main areas of focus must be addressed. First is the demand for inexpensively manufactured goods and sex services, since this demand is met by the cheap – or free – labor of those who are acutely economically vulnerable. Second, gender inequality and bias must be addressed in all countries to reduce the stigma and abuse of sexual exploitation. Third, there must be a unified international response to strategies of prevention and awareness, and, fourth, impunity must end, for victims will continue to remain silent and not seek medical, psychological or legal attention if they feel there is no available retribution or safe care. History has clearly illustrated that impunity for traffickers only serves to exacerbate its use.

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
URL: and
E-MAIL: Cassandra [at]


Leave a Reply

  • agriculture (29)
    book (3)
    briefing (16)
    business & trade (21)
    child (92)
    consumption (3)
    corruption (20)
    crime (152)
    culture (30)
    defence (15)
    deforestation (6)
    democratization (54)
    demography (6)
    Discovery (5)
    drugs (73)
    Dutch foreign policy (3)
    economic (105)
    education (28)
    effectiveness (3)
    election (64)
    embassy news (1)
    emergency (8)
    energy (42)
    environment (144)
    Eurasia (36)
    Europe (36)
    fair trade (5)
    flora & fauna (24)
    foreign aid (28)
    foreign embassy in the Netherlands (2)
    foreign policy (56)
    gender (17)
    global (270)
    globalization (5)
    health (95)
    history (19)
    homosexuality (4)
    human rights (309)
    hunger & food (20)
    immigration (3)
    infrastructure (28)
    intelligence (7)
    interview (26)
    Latin America (214)
    list (5)
    media (64)
    Middle East (358)
    Millennium Development Goals (21)
    minorities (41)
    movement (38)
    multilateral organizations (40)
    narration (5)
    natural disasters (9)
    Netherlands (31)
    NGO (20)
    NL-Aid (8)
    Northern Africa (187)
    Northern America (130)
    nuclear (4)
    opinion (37)
    Pacific (2)
    peacekeeping (1)
    politics (129)
    poverty (27)
    racism (2)
    raw material (30)
    reconstruction (1)
    refugees (20)
    religion (23)
    remembrance (3)
    research (11)
    revolt (186)
    Royal Dutch Embassy (1)
    sanitation (16)
    slums (2)
    South Asia (451)
    South-east Asia (112)
    study (19)
    Sub-Saharan Africa (446)
    technology (14)
    terrorism (90)
    tourism (6)
    trade (11)
    transport (6)
    Updaid (1)
    war & conflicts (145)
    war crimes (36)
    water (40)
    whistleblower (8)
    women (54)

    WP Cumulus Flash tag cloud by Roy Tanck requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Page 1 of 11