Unfortunately, slavery has become a buzzword to describe many things other than actual instances of forced servitude. People understand the history and weight behind the word, so it is used as an attack. However, little is said of the literal, modern-day embodiments of the word. Instead of chattel slavery, Jim crow, Apartheid and black codes, we have Human Trafficking, sex slavery, child soldiers, slave maids, forced labor, and forced marriages.
According to the global slavery index, there are 45.8 million enslaved peoples around the world, with 5 countries accounting for over 50% of the world’s enslaved population. India comes in first with over eighteen million people living in bondage. That is six times more than the next highest country, China, with over three million of their population living in slavery. 7 of the top 10 countries with the highest totals are in Asia. Russia, Nigeria and DRC are the outliers.
A few similarities tie these countries together. Weak governments and corrupt institutions contribute to the problem rather than address it. Adding to the situation is armed conflict in the region, censorship of the press, and oppressive traditions— especially as they pertain to women.
Immigration policy also plays an extensive role in Human Trafficking and sex slavery, particularly in the U.S. Many victims enter the trade on the promise of transport to the U.S. where they are told they can work as models, maids or restaurant staff. They are then forced into slavery and eventually forced to recruit others like themselves into the same acts.
71% of victims overall, as well as 99% of sex trafficking victims, of modern day slavery are female. Forced marriages and sex trafficking account for 35% of all victims of modern slavery— and those are just the victims we’re able to quantify.
Many more victims go unnoticed and unaccounted for. As is often the case in places with a poor rule of law, the most vulnerable are exploited as replaceable commodities. Thus, children are made into child soldiers and forced to work as servants to support their family. Daughters are sold off to pay their fathers debts. Women are sold for sex.
Ironically, while slavery is illegal in almost all the countries listed on the global slavery index, it remains an active part of their economies. Consider that in Mauritania slavery has been illegal for almost 40 years, yet 20% of their population remains enslaved. In Libya, they hold open slave markets where West African migrants, refugees fleeing crisis, are bought and sold. Criminals pose as aid groups and kidnap migrants for ransom while smugglers sell their customers as cargo. All together, they are operating in a $150 billion industry.
Even when action is taken against those perpetrating this evil, they can rely on the silence and trauma of their victims. Traffickers use immigration and prostitution laws to threaten and coerce victims into continued exploitation, taking advantage of the very institutions that should be rescuing victims to further enslave them. Victims suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues stemming from their PTSD, depression, anxiety, disease, and malnutrition. The severity of their circumstances also leads to high suicide rates, even post trafficking.
While many organizations cover the atrocity of modern day slavery, many proposals and campaigns against Human Trafficking and sex slavery are counterproductive. Advocates for open borders and lax immigration laws benefit the traffickers who trick the vulnerable into moving. Growing public sentiment in favor of sex workers legitimize their “businesses,” laying the ground for pimps and traffickers to operate under the guise of legitimacy.
Slavery is a moral blot upon the world that daily squabbles in the media overshadow. A large percentage of the world population is enslaved and politicians are passing policies that only worsen the situation. We need an overhaul on immigration policies and an emphasis placed on educating immigrant populations and advocacy groups on current USCIS policies that help protect victims.