To say I was naive about this topic is a ridiculous understatement. How much of it did I truly not know and how much of it did I not want to know? Did I really think slavery was extinct? I honestly, just never thought about it at all.
In truth, there are more people in slavery right now than there has ever been in any point in history. It is rampant and world-wide. Though often thought of only in terms of sex-trafficking, slavery is the forcing of an individual "to work, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence." Even here in the U.S., slavery exists.
How does it happen? For some families, it starts with the promise of education. For a family with a bright child, living in a poor village without any education, they long for an opportunity for their children...a chance for something better. When a kind, well-dressed couple come and offer to have the child live with them and go to school in exchange for some light house-work, it is an irresistible temptation. These children are called restaveks, or "stay-withs". Sometimes, the arrangement works out as described. Generally, the child is sold and works hard, without the promised education. Many times the workload includes more than housework. Unspeakably more. It is a common occurrence in Haiti, and common here in the U.S. as well. The children are brought back to the U.S. where most people assume they are adopted children with a lot of chores.
In some places, especially India, slavery is generational. Families work off debt, nearly all begin at less than $11. These debts grow with 100% interest rates and are paid off through labor. In one story, a man and his family were working a debt that began with his grandfather who borrowed $0.60 to get married as a young man. He worked in a silica mine to pay off his debt that grew instead of shrinking. Generations later, his family still worked on a debt that had grown to $20,000 and would never be paid off. Families that argued their debt or attempted to escape were beaten, humiliated, and even forced to watch their children be tortured.
Sex trafficking is more commonly recognized, though little is done to prevent it. Sometimes it is a quick kidnapping. Sometimes a girl is wooed for 6 months by a boyfriend who counts his gifts of roses as a business expense before convincing her to take a roadtrip that ends in prostitution. Sometimes girls are desperate for a job and are too trusting when promised a waitressing position a few towns over. Not only are they beaten, but their families are threatened if they attempt to escape. They don't wait tables. Men (even some of our military) line up and wait for their 20 minute turn. Being illegal makes little difference. There's money to be made. Occasionally the prostitutes are arrested and then released, but little is done to stop the men who are forcing them into it. Even in countries where slavery is supposedly illegal, the law is not enforced. In fact, the law often turns a blind eye.
In this book, the author travels the globe and shares story after story of tragedy...and of overcoming. Though a very heart-heavy read, it is not without moments of hope and redemption. And we are not without the ability to help. Slavery isn't a popular topic, even in politics. It doesn't often affect re-elections. Some politicians fear offending slavery-tolerant countries. Contact your representatives. Tell them that this is important to you. Spread the word. After seeing many programs in action, the author of this book, strongly felt that Free The Slaves was a trusted and effective organization. They also have suggestions for making a difference on their website.
For a brief taste of the book, see Ben's article here. For a brief video, see Ben speak here.
*a warning: the book does contain strong language and disturbing material.