Global Citizens - Make an Impact!

Modern Day Slavery

When you hear the word 'slavery' what do you think of? Do you think of slaves in the past being transported across the Atlantic in appalling conditions and forced to work on plantations in the West Indies? Or do you think of slaves who are transported across many different seas and land borders today, and forced to work in terrible conditions all over the world right now?


The image on the left is of an early 20th Century poster advertising slaves 'to be sold & let'. Notice the language used to describe the slaves. What does this tell us about slavery in the past? How does this compare with what we know about slavery in the present?


The abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807 marked the beginning of the end of the slave trade (slavery in the colonies was abolished in 1833). The numbers involved had been huge- over 12 million African men, women and children were forced into slavery. Yet today there are over twice that many people in enforced slavery!


It is estimated that there are some 27 million slaves across the globe today. Although slavery has not happened in the same magnitude, affecting one single continent since the abolition, as unimaginable as it seems, slavery still persists in the 21st Century.


What is a modern day 'slave'?

Slavery still exists today in many different forms and does not involve one particular country or culture. A 'slave' today is defined by Anti-Slavery International as someone who is:

  • Forced to work - through mental or physical threat
  • Owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse
  • Dehumanised, bought and sold as 'property'
  • Physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his or her freedom of movement

Slaves are under the complete control of another person and are often treated violently. They get very little pay for the work they do (or none at all) and get barely enough food and shelter to keep them alive. In fact the lives of slaves today are not very different from those of slaves 200 hundred years ago.


This is in spite of the fact that slavery is banned in most of the countries where it is practised, and that one of the articles in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:


No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery
and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

(Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Children in Slavery:

An estimated 179 million children are involved in what the International Labour Organisation calls the 'worst forms of child labour', with more still working full time at the expense of their education, leisure and personal and social development.  The 'worst forms of child labour' are defined as child bondage, trafficking or where children are forced to work as soldiers or domestic labourers, on plantations or in commercial sex work. Their physical vulnerability and lack of voice make children especially prone to danger in conditions which risk damaging their safety and psychological health.


Child Soldiers

In some parts of the world children are kidnapped, brutally abused and forced to commit atrocities. These 'Child Soldiers', some as young as eight years old, are trained and used on the front line. They are also used as labour, being forced to work in gruelling conditions. Once freed, these children are often rejected by society and are refused access to school. They often find it impossible to re-enter normal life after being immersed in violence for so long.


The International Save the Children Alliance reports that fighting forces are at present 'recruiting and using child soldiers' within Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

To find out more about the different types of slavery that exist today, download  the Anti-Slavery International Fact Sheets below to find out about trafficking and child labour.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Heritage Learning | 

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