Lest We Forget…
A few excerpts from an archived 2004 BBC WorldService special (link here) that I listened to last week. Unbelievable on one level sitting at your kitchen table with your family. Once again, I thank God that I was born in Barbados…
This year the United Nations is commemorating the abolition of the slave trade. But as this new series Slavery Today uncovers, slavery continues in different forms in almost every country in the world.
Public perception of modern slavery is often confused with reports of workers in low-wage jobs or inhumane working conditions. However, modern-day slaves differ from these workers because they are forced to work under the threat of extreme violence.
Slavery Today explores some of the places where slavery is still common and takes a look at the fastest growing problem in modern slavery: trafficking people into the West.
The UN commemorations are linked to the 200th anniversary of the slave revolt in Haiti in 1804. However, that did not end slavery in the country and, today, there are 200,000 children kept as restavecs (domestic slaves), mainly in the capital Port au Prince.
Restavecs belong to the worldwide tradition of placement, where poorer families send their children to richer relatives in order to improve their chances in life. But Maryse Guimond, working for Save the Children in Haiti, says these children are given false hopes of education and then lose their family links, which often leads to abuse.
Jean Robert Cadet talks about how he suffered terrible abuse as a restavec. Despite a successful later life in the United States, he remains haunted by nightmares from his childhood.
In Niger, slavery was only criminalised in 2003 – and the local human rights organisation Timidria estimates 870,000 people are still held in bondage there.
The masters control the slaves totally, exploiting their labour, abusing them sexually and physically, and often forcing them to mate with other slaves so that their children are born into slavery.
We meet Azagar, a former slave who managed to escape his master. “I was considered an animal,” he says.
Slavery Today examines the traditional form of slavery and the relationship between slave and master.
Bonded labour in South Asia is considered the problem in modern slavery affecting the most people. The UN believes 20 million people are enslaved worldwide, the majority of whom are in South Asia.
Gerry Northam visits Pakistan where he meets Laxmi, a woman who was told that she and her husband were bonded to their master until they paid off a supposed debt of 200,000 rupees. When she asked to see proof of that debt, she was beaten.
Another woman, Shanti, tells how her master raped after she threatened to run away, even though she was pregnant.
Twelve years after the government made bonded labour illegal, it is estimated that there are still five million labourers in Pakistan bonded to their employees by debt. There is a central fund to rehabilitate workers like Laxmi but, so far, not one rupee has been spent.
Modern day slavery is not usually associated with the West – but tens of thousands of women are trafficked there every year as sex workers and forced labourers.
The problem received worldwide attention earlier this year when nineteen Chinese labourers were drowned in the rising waters as they picked cockles in Morecambe Bay in the northwest of England. They were being paid the equivalent of less than $2 a day.
Others come from Eastern Europe. Ivana, a Ukrainian woman in her early 20s, talks about how a job she took as a waitress in Greece turned into something more sinister – and she found herself forced into prostitution in Birmingham, in the English Midlands.
And one trafficker, now in hiding, reveals how he used to kidnap babies as young as 18 months and transport them through Europe.
LISTEN to the entire BBC series (link here)
Free the Slaves
Unesco.org – Slavery Archive
BBC Global Crime Report – The Body Trade
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center