NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 20, 2008

Most people imagine that slavery died in the 19th century, yet there are more slaves today than at any time in human history, says author Benjamin Skinner.

Human rights activists may call $1 an hour sweatshop laborers slaves, regardless of the fact that they are paid and can often walk away form the job.  But the reality of slavery is far different.  Slavery exists today on an unprecedented scale, says Skinner:

  • In Africa, tens of thousands are chattel slaves, seized in war or tucked away for generation.
  • Across Europe, Asia and the Americas, traffickers have forced as many as 2 million into prostitution or labor.
  • In South Asia, which has the highest concentration of slaves on the planet, nearly 10 million languish in bondage, unable to leave their captors until they pay off "debts," legal fictions that in many cases are generations old.

Few in the developed world have a grasp of the enormity of modern day slavery and fewer still are doing anything to combat it, says Skinner:

  • The U.S. State Department has secured more than 100 anti-trafficking laws and more than 10,000 convictions worldwide, but enforcement has resulted in no measurable decline in the number of slaves worldwide.
  • Between 2000 and 2006, the U.S. Justice Department increased human trafficking prosecutions from 3 to 32, and convictions from 10 to 98.
  • Yet during the same period the United States liberated less than 2 percent of its own modern day slaves.

In the United States, there is a warped view of slavery as only including the commercial sex trade.  And though eradicating prostitution may be a just cause, Western policies based on the idea that all prostitutes are slaves and all slaves are prostitutes belittles the suffering of all its victims.  Skinner warns that it is an approach that threatens to put most governments of the wrong side of history.

Source: E. Benjamin Skinner, "A World Enslaved," Foreign Policy, March/Spring 2008.


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