Contemporary Slavery In Haiti… And Around The World


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…

Slavery Today

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)

Anti-Slavery Resources

Anti-Slavery International

Free the Slaves – Slavery Archive

BBC Global Crime Report – The Body Trade


National Underground Railroad Freedom Center


Filed under Africa, Barbados, Crime & Law, Culture & Race Issues, History, Island Life, Politics & Corruption, Religion

16 responses to “Contemporary Slavery In Haiti… And Around The World

  1. bp

    WoW! No comment? After a whole day? I thought this was a BIG issue, white slavemaster and all.

  2. Wry Mongoose

    The absence of comments on this post speaks loudly. Many of the respondents to this site ‘air their mout’ about slavery past – but what about slavery present?

    Where are ‘Adrian’ et al when you provide an opportunity to debate an issue that is affecting people NOW – issues that should resonate given what our forefathers (and foremothers) endured?

    Hypocrisy is not scarce on this site … especially when relevence and scope for real action is presented.

  3. Kathy

    Slavery is a big issue, and has been for thousands of years. It is sad that many of us do not want to talk about any type of slavery except for one element of our direct past, one which provides an opportunity to complain about the so-called white race.

    Many ethnic groups have suffered slavery, notably the Jews, who have also experienced the worst and longest-running racism of all. I even see anti-semitism on this site, and I can read about it in the Old Testament, and many history books in between then and now.

    The ugliest element of contemporary slavery is the fact of brother enslaving brother. This has always happened, but is more obvious when it is actually going on before our eyes, as in Haiti.

    Perhaps one reason for our avoidance of the issue is that it reminds us painfully that the Europeans were not the only slave traders and masters in our history – our own forefathers sold each other into slavery, for the love of money and power. And at least one of our own heroes, Sarah Ann Gill, almost certainly owned slaves herself.

  4. Jerome Hinds

    Slavery or slave – like conditions being practiced any part of the world is a very emotive issue – precisely because its perpetrators seek to remove all freedom of expression and choice from the enslaved.

    The various scenarios above, highlights the level of sophistication now being practiced by perpetrators of these odious acts.

    The statement,

    ” And one trafficker, now in hiding, reveals how he used to kidnap babies as young as 18 months and transport them through Europe ”

    should demonstrate to us that globalisation and all its attendants and drive towards a ” New Economic ” order will produce ” other ” forms of slavery.

    Given all that was reported a few weeks ago about the VILLA Nova Clinic…..that statement about babies should STIR the people of developing countries like Barbados to become more vigilant…..!!!

    Therefore our reporting, detection and legal systems must be enhanced to keep abreast..if not ahead… of these distasteful global trends..!!

  5. Kathy

    Hear-you, Mr. Hinds – you are right on target. The sophisticated techniques available to modern-day slave traders should be frightening ot us, especially when coupled with the world’s increasing disregard for the suffering of our most vulnerable, children. Barbados has already been used as a pawn in several games (drugs, gun-running, money-laundering, stem-cell sales). It would be the worst shame of all to be used as a slave-trading facility, or to see any of our own children enslaved.

  6. Walker

    One would have thought that usually vocal and outspoken people like Itel Tafari, Trevor Prescod & David Commicsong would have posted comments on this.
    It is rather ironical and sad that as we celebrate the Abolition of Slavery there are 27 million slaves in the world today, ( some of whom are in the Caribbean)and that we black people are still enslaving our own, sad.

  7. John


    …. You mean Ikael, not Itel.

  8. Walker

    John, thanks for the correction, old age is a b….

  9. John

    .. and Walker, you probably have omitted referring to him correctly as a Ras.

  10. Walker

    John again you are correct, that he is….

  11. John

    “The Kingdom of this World” by Alejo Carpentier is worth reading.

    It is about Haiti.

    Could be fiction, could be fact, I don’t know.

  12. I hate when articles connect the past (1804 year of independence Haiti) as a mistake when talking about Haiti. Keep in mind, Haiti is the way it is for a reason. To be look on as an example, but still feared on all terms if ever overcoming its present situation. We need to know a little about history, the second independent country in the
    western hemisphere and the first and black
    republic in modern history, the land of Toussaint
    Louverture “le premier des noirs”, Its birth had put in jeopardy the slavery system in which many countries relied on the free labor.Its naissance had divided America that had wanted a “new Europe” in this continent. No wonder why the first black nation was not invited in the first conference of this continent despite helping many to get their freedom. Yes my friends, my brothers had fought for the freedom of the United States of America, had fought for the freedom of various countries in America Latin. Go to Savannah, Ga; go to Caracas, Venezuela; we had abolished slavery into the Dominican Republic but unfortunately they remembered only that we had
    occupied them for 21 years that I dispute. Go to
    Venezuela and try to talk about Haiti in a negative
    way in various colleges, with the average citizen,
    they will defend Haiti fiercely, so far it is the only
    country I know that respect us for helping them getting their freedom. It is unfortunate Venezuela had not become a great economic power, but I can tell you Haitians are well received in Venezuela. When speaking of troubles in Ethopia (poverty,famine), you dont hear people saying, ” you know this country was invaded by Italy in 1895 but was decisively defeated by Menelik’s forces at Adwa Adwa (ä`dwä), on Mar. 1, 1896. So, the focus is about how to help these young children, growing up with such hopelessness. Do your part i.e donate, research the right channels to assist and positively spread the word.

  13. Amber

    I would like to respond to the comment made by Kathy that Haiti supports modern day slavery. This is not correct. Restavec’s are children whose families are too poor to support them and so are sent off to live with a wealthier family. In exchange for the food, clothing, shelter and, if they are fortunate, education they would not receive otherwise the children work or do chores. It is a trading system whereby those who are less fortunate are given an opportunity to improve their circumstances. While I appreciate that some might be concerned for the safety of these children understand that this is a far better arrangement that what one might see Asia and Eastern Europe where child prostitution and drug use run rampant. And while I support discussions such as this one it can be harmful if you propagate incorrect information Kathy because this impedes our progress as much as any of the ill-educated white men who spread negative images/stereotypes of our race. The greatest crime Haiti has committed is its poverty; we must seek to heal the wounded nation that bleeds before us; be proud of all it has accomplished as the first independent black nation; refuse to lend our voices to those who outwardly pity us because they refuse to acknowledge their concealed awe. Look at our history: no one can deny that we are strong.

  14. lexicon

    The question was asked, did we acheived as a people the kind of social respectability, economic independence, that we as black people has been anticipating since we gain oour emancipation and civil rights?

    When we look at the state of the black world the picture looks gruesome, our young people do not have any directioality, born in to a system the donot provided the right conditionality, so most of them end up in criminality.

  15. nevermind kurt

    lexicon, it was not always so that young black men were disproportionately involved in crime. Poverty has little to do with crime.

    In the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s the black family was strong in the UK and the United States. We married. We went to church. We were determined to be the best we could be. We studied. The Detroit ghettos until the 1960’s were not the violent places that you might imagine. We as a people were poor but we knew the next generation would prosper. We were on the cusp of an unannounced and unplanned revolution until something happened.

    Some influential people weren’t happy with that. They did not share the “work hard, save and prosper” values. MLK shared those values. Stokely Carmichael and his band did not. Robert L. Johnson did not.

    When we lost the black societal memory of the two parent family, we fell back. We worshiped leaders who said “Blacks cannot because…” instead of those who said “Blacks can.”

    We as a community have raised a generation of lost, unguided young men and we reap the consequences of our carelessness.

  16. Pingback: “Cumba” – the story of one slave woman owned by Captain John Burch, Christ Church. From Africa to Barbados to England | Barbados Free Press