Friday, February 29, 2008

The Modern Slave Trade

If anyone is looking for some happy, uplifting news to perk them up in time for the weekend, I'd suggest checking out E Benjamin Skinner's article in Foreign Policy (subscription required) titled "A World Enslaved," based on four years of research into the modern slave trade. This is an issue that has finally gained some popular currency in recent years, but I imagine that even well-informed people would be shocked by the scale of modern slavery. I certainly was. Here are just a few gems from Skinner's piece:

There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history...

Standing in New York City, you are five hours away from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl... for 50 bucks...

In South Asia, which has the highest concentration of slaves on the planet, nearly 10 million languish in bondage...

300,000 children are in domestic bondage in Haiti...

In a Bucharest brothel... I was offered a mentally handicapped suicidal girl in exchange for a used car. But for every one woman or child enslaved in commercial sex, there are at least 15 men, women, and children enslaved in other fields, such as domestic work or agricultural labor...

You really have to read the article to get the full effect. The section in which Skinner negotiates the purchase of a 12 year old girl in Haiti, complete with adoption papers so that she can be taken back stateside, is particularly charming. I'm still digesting this, and I plan on picking up Skinner's forthcoming book, but to say the least this is an issue about which world governments need to get far more serious. India, evidently, is one of the principal centers of global slavery. I continue to be a huge proponent of improving American relations with India, but if we're going to berate the Chinese government for locking up journalists, we might at least mention to the Indians that cleaning up their act with regard to slavery would pay diplomatic dividends.

The (theoretical) ban on the global slave trade was supposed to have been one of the lasting achievements of the nineteenth century. We're well overdue in making that achievement mean something to millions in bondage around the world.

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