NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Modern Slavery

September 12, 2000

Slavery is illegal everywhere, but it thrives because of the corruption of police and government authorities, according to the New York Times. By a conservative estimate, there are 27 million people working under various forms of slavery in the world today, and the number is growing. Modern slaveholders mainly exploit people of their own race. They use violence and threats to force people to labor for no pay.

  • People held in some form of bondage pick sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, make the charcoal used in Brazil's steel industry and work as prostitutes in Thailand.
  • In Mauritania and Sudan blacks are forced into domestic and agricultural slavery in Muslim households.
  • Even in the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency estimates 45,000 women and children smuggled in each year are forced to work as prostitutes or maids, on farms or in sweatshops.

But the majority of people who are treated like slaves, perhaps 20 million, according to the United Nations, are South Asians in debt bondage. The system is described in "Disposable People," by Kevin Bales, who teaches at the University of Surrey in England.

  • Whole families, including children, are trapped into peonage to pay debts incurred for medical expenses, a funeral, or due to crop failure.
  • Their debts are inflated by outrageous prices for food and usurious interest rates.
  • Families can essentially be enslaved for generations.

A girl in a northern Thai village can be sold into prostitution for $2,000. A Thai survey found that many families knowingly sold daughters into prostitution because they felt pressure to buy consumer goods such as televisions. Girls stay until they contract AIDS, and are then sent back to their villages to die in disgrace.

Source: Editorial, "Modern-Day Slavery," New York Times, September 10, 2000.


Browse more articles on International Issues