Zee News , 2 Dec 2006
The International Day for Abolition of Slavery falls on December 2. The very fact that such a day is still acknowledged implies that the modern era is also afflicted by the same. A slave is treated less than a human being and in many cases less than an animal as well. Slavery has existed in the global society for a long time. It is a few centuries old. In the contemporary scenario, it exists in the form of forced labour, forced prostitution, forced mutilation and so on.
What is slavery?
Slavery is the forced suppression of human individuality in any form whatsoever. Whether it is forcing someone to work against one’s wishes or take advantage of someone’s weakness and exploit the same like making poor children work in dangerous occupations like in the glass-bangle industry in India.
Some forms of contemporary slavery
Forced prostitution and sale of children: Statistics shockingly reveal that there are more than a million children under 18 who are affected annually by sexual trafficking. This is mainly in South Asia and South-East Asia. An estimated 300,000 Bangladeshi children work in brothels in India, which is a major destination country in South Asia. Young girls are more in demand in Eastern European and South-East Asian countries. This is due to the notion that sex with a virgin prevents and even cures AIDS. Africa and Western Europe are also not free of this malaise.
Servile Marriage: This practice exists in Ethiopia. This is also a form of forced prostitution wherein a girl is forced to marry against her wishes and treated like a sex slave. At times she is used and sold to someone else or inherited by someone else in case her husband dies. There have been incidents in certain African countries when the girl has been given to priests. This is because of a sin that her family member might have committed. Man is still victimised by superstitions. The belief that this is a certain form of atonement is a horrendous manner of torture.
Sexual mutilation of female children: This is a highly painful procedure. Female circumcision has both short-term as well as long-term repercussions. It causes grievous injury. Even a superpower like USA recently reported its first case of female genital mutilation. The father of the victim was sentenced to 10 years for mutilating his 2-year-old daughter. Quite a few African nations practice this custom. More than a 100 million African women have been forced to undergo the same. The notion attached to this is that this helps in maintaining their dignity. This abhorred practice is also found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA, mainly among African and Asian immigrants.
Exploitation of Child Labour: Many underdeveloped and developing countries are afflicted with the problem of child labour. International Labour Organisation estimates suggest that a whopping 250 million children below 14 years work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In poverty-afflicted regions of countries such as India, children are often sold for food or a meagre amount of money. These children are then forced to work for their buyers. Sometimes when the family is unable to pay off the debt then the burden falls on the child to pay it off. This leads to their entrapment in the bonded labour industry.
The use of children in armed conflicts: The childhood of young children gets ruined when they are compelled to work as soldiers in armed conflicts. It is appalling to note that in Sierra Leone children are trained for 2-3 months for the same. The LTTE is also known to recruit child soldiers in Sri Lanka. What is more alarming is the fact that even the Lankan government has started to employ children to counter the LTTE’s renegade Karuna’s rebel group. Several young Palestinians are also used as suicide bombers and taught violence through text-books. This world comprises around 300,000 child soldiers. Exposed to violence these children grow up with criminal tendencies as their childhood is nipped in the bud.
Debt bondage: The system of taking debt and repaying it often results in the enslavement of poor farmers in countries like India. They get trapped by money lenders who charge them exorbitant interest rates on loans. The interest rate is often so high that the poor farmer is unable to meet the burden. This has resulted in suicides of several farmers in states like Maharashtra. The cycle does not end with the farmer’s death. The load is then borne by his children and the vicious circle knows no end.
Mental slavery: Mental slavery is a subtle form of slavery, but slavery nevertheless. It includes physical and mental torture by husbands on their wives. This practice is still prevalent in certain parts of countries such as India. Wife-beating is not looked down upon in certain regions of the country where it is considered a matter of right to do so. This is enslavement of women. In some areas, for a woman to raise voice against injustice is met with her ostracism from the village community.
The ancient and the medieval form of slavery might have ended but modern slavery still exists. The gravity of the situation is just as bad as it was before. The difference is that earlier it was more institutionalised than it is today. Earlier slave trade had a certain form of sanction. In the modern era, unfortunately in certain developing and under-developed societies it still carries the force of social sanction. It is for the society to sit up and take notice of the same else contemporary slavery will continue to persist down the line and lend credence today to what noted French philosopher Rousseau’s once stated, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”.