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The Facts

Human Rights

Click here to subscribe to the print edition. [image, unknown] New Internationalist 337[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] August 2001[image, unknown] Click here to search the mega index.

Slavery / FACTS

Slavery in the 21st century
An estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world.1
Forced to work through violence or the threat of it, they are under
the complete control of their 'employers'. They are treated
as property and sometimes bought and sold.

Job description

Sex: Male or female Age Any age; from 4 until death
Characteristics: Poor and vulnerable; minorities where applicable
Hours: Up to 20 a day, sometimes more
Days per week: Up to 7; 365 days a year
Holidays: None
Sick leave: None
Health and safety provision: None
Pay: Below the minimum wage, often nothing
Accommodation: Basic; often provided in lieu of pay or deducted from it

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bonded labour
Kinds of work
Farming, brick-making, carpet-weaving, domestic labour, stone quarrying, sex work...

Hard work in return for a loan, either of money or resources. Interest repayments may be hugely inflated. Workers may be tricked into taking the loans or may have had no other option. Contracts are rare.

Traditionally India, Pakistan and Nepal. But has expanded to global proportions. Includes children trafficked between West African countries, men forced to work on Brazilian estates, and Eastern European women bonded into Western Europe’s sex industry.

The UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956) prohibits bonded labour at an international level. Many countries have national legislation.

Kinds of work
Farming, child camel jockeys, domestic labour, fishing, mail-order brides, market stall labour, small repair shop work, restaurant labour, sex industry...

Transported far from their homes, people lured by the promise of a better life are forced through violence, threats and deception to work in conditions of slavery.

The trade in human beings affects every continent and most countries.

The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000). Some countries, such as Benin, have national legislation.

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child slaves
Kinds of work
Farming, camel jockeys, domestic labour, drug trafficking, fireworks manufacturing, fishing, brick-making, carpet-weaving, sex work, stone quarrying, soldiers...

Often more abject than for adult slaves as children are more vulnerable to abuse. Children taken out of familiar surroundings are completely at the mercy of the slavekeepers.

Extensive evidence of child slaves in the Gulf States, South Asia, West and Central Africa. Sexual exploitation of children is found throughout the world.

Under international law anyone under 18 is a child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999) provide legal prohibition. Most countries also have domestic legislation.

forced labour
Kinds of work
Construction, maintenance of roads, rails and bridges, farming, domestic labour...

When an individual is forced to work against their will, under threat of violence or other punishment, with restrictions on their freedom and a degree of ownership is exerted over them.

Burma, China, Sudan and elsewhere.

The ILO’s forced labour conventions (numbers 29 and 105) carry strong prohibitions. And the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work obliges all member states to promote core conventions, including the forced labour conventions, regardless of whether they have ratified them or not.

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marriage as slavery
Early marriage
Girls as young as 10 married without a choice and unable to give informed consent are forced into lives of domestic servitude and often physical violence.

Forced marriage
Women in parts of rural China and the Central Asian Republics are abducted and forced to marry men from neighbouring villages.

Servile marriage
Girls are pledged to priests in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria to atone for an offence committed by a family member. They are domestic and sexual slaves.
Women from the old slave caste in Niger may still be obliged to become second wives to a man from the owner caste and act as servants for the first wife.

There are numerous, including in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1999).

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traditional slavery
Kinds of work
Farming, domestic labour, haulage, anything demanded by the slavekeepers.

In Sudan, women and children from villages in the South are abducted by pro-Government militia and sold to households in the North. In Mauritania and Niger nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes have slave castes. Even among slaves who have managed to become free and earn money, a tribute must often be paid to their family’s former master who also maintains inheritance rights over any property the free slave may have accrued.

Mauritania, Niger and Sudan.

Proscribed by the UN under the Slavery, Servitude, Forced Labour and Similar Institutions and Practices Convention (1926), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956).

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1 All information, unless otherwise noted, from Anti-Slavery International. The facts about slavery are complex and difficult to measure - this is not an exhaustive account of existing slavery, nor does it cover all international laws that can be used to combat it. It's an introduction to the scale of this human-rights abuse.
Population Council, as cited in Early Marriage: Child Spouses, Innocenti Digest Number 7, March 2001, UNICEF.

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New Internationalist issue 337 magazine cover This article is from the August 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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