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August 10th, 2009
03:50 PM ET

The fight to end global slavery

E. Benjamin Skinner
World Policy Journal

Human trafficking may be just the latest topic du jour among U.S. foreign policy elites and UN humanitarian types, but mention the underlying crime—slavery—to foreign officials and the reaction is often
confused and explosive.

“For God’s sake, don’t go talking about brutal slavery here,” says Jay Kumar, the Social Secretary of Araria, one of the poorest districts in Bihar, the poorest state in India. Waving his finger, speaking from his one-room office building, Kumar, whose position required him to respond to allegations of child labor, is instead categorically denying that the two dozen recently freed child slaves that I had met in his district were ever in bondage. Kumar explains: “You see, poor people are not rational, so I compare them to monkeys.”

He then told me a story. On a sweltering day, a mother monkey left her baby on the hot earth in order to climb a tree and keep from scalding her own feet. This, he said, is why parents give their children to human traffickers.

Since 2001, when I began investigating modern-day slavery worldwide, I found that while public officials always condemned slavery as an abomination, few acknowledged that it actually existed in their jurisdictions.

Instead, “traditional caste relationships” were omnipresent, as were “intertribal abductions,” “underage sex workers,” mere “child laborers” or “backward poor people.” But slavery, universally-recognized as a crime against humanity, was a chimera, a relic of a bygone era.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Human Rights
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    No one wants to think slavery exists in their area but unfortunately it does at times – whether it be from economics, the caste system, or some other reason. Rather than deny it exists they ought to be looking for ways to end the cycle of slavery and help those families who have to resort to it now.

    August 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm |
  2. Jean F Colin

    Re: CNN report on Restavek as Slavery in Haiti.

    Haiti is an international crime scene – 300 years of slavery and 200 years of isolation and inhumane misery as an” independent nation” because we dare to free our people– dislocated Africans enslaved in the Americas.

    Haiti wan the battle against slavery in 1804.

    The domestic abuses unjustly suffered by the kids and the extreme level of poverty that most of Haitian families have to cope with are the by products of a dysfunctional society of maroons created by the slave trade and very similar to the black ghettoes that the white societies created in their own nations.

    Now that CNN has visited Haiti, the western societies “lost slave ship” and its old, disfigured and disoriented “citizens, I look forward to your follow up story as we look and search for a port where we can end this miserable journey that started so long ago from Goree Island in West Africa - that President Obama visited recently with his innocent daughters.

    I sincerely hope that we show as much humanity, fairness and justice for the whole nation of Haiti as our kids, the restaveks, deserve.
    What Dr Gupta witnessed in Haiti was poverty, inhuman misery not slavery. The slave owners in Haiti were sent to "hell" a long time ago during our proud struggle for independence.

    Domestic abuse is a very serious crime ... and so is abortion, by the way, in the mind of some human rights advocates. So, let us not rationalize concept such as "modern-day slavery" as a way to diminush the diabolic crimes against humanity that took place during the Atlantic slave trade and that continue to affect its victims' life today or a way to discount the Haitian Revolution's accomplishments in ending slavery in the territories that it reached in the Americas.

    Words matter!

    August 10, 2009 at 6:13 pm |