In America, the term ”slavery” evokes images of the antebellum South. It’s now been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, but slavery is by no means gone from the landscape, it’s just gone underground.
According to United Nations estimates, there are 29.8 millon people living in slavery around the world today.
Known as “modern day slavery” or human trafficking, a majority of these people are sex workers – often minors – who are controlled by pimps or other individuals or criminal syndicates. But forced labor is another major form of enslavement, whereby employers prey on vulnerable populations – children, immigrants, the very poor, the indebted – and trap them into working for low or no wages.
Russia, South and East Asia, and parts of central Africa are the places where modern slavery is most common, but the developed world is not immune. As many as 17,500 people are estimated to be trafficked into the United States as slaves each year, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Saturday marks Human Traffic Awareness Day, which advocates are using to try to raise the profile of the problem around the globe.
The issue is getting plenty of press right now. Though the term “trafficking” itself has not always been used, the diplomatic firestorm over an Indian consular official in New York, Devyani Khobragade, centers on an alleged incident of forced labor (which has been a problem in the past with foreign diplomats in the United States). Khobragade, who just returned to India after the U.S. granted her diplomatic immunity, is accused of vastly underpaying her maid and submitting false visa documents. India has been outraged both by her arrest and her treatment in detention.
A much more profound outrage: roughly 14 million people in India are enslaved, according to the U.N.’s 2013 Global Slavery Index, the highest of any country in the world.
Why you should care
While it often occurs in the shadows, slavery remains a very real problem across the modern world, even in the United States.