It's an easy lie to believe that slavery, that darkest of cruelties which has plagued us for as long as our species has existed, is now all but faded away. Undoubtedly, many people happily think that we live in a world where such abuse must be minuscule, hidden in the darkest corners of our civilisation, beyond the reach of government or law.
Sometimes I think that we are as blinded now to such atrocities, as any of those who came before us. In a world where I can sit, here in my room on a tiny cold island, able to communicate near instantaneously with billions of people across the globe. And yet for all this marvellous technology, I'll admit that I was entirely oblivious to just how vast and multifaceted slavery currently is.
It is speculated that there could be as many as 27 million people currently enslaved in one form or another. It's a number that I really feel needs repeated for emphasis. 27 MILLION PEOPLE CURRENTLY ENSLAVED. It's a figure which staggers the mind.
Modern slavery now falls under many forms which can differ somewhat from the traditional terms we know it as. Serfdom, debt bondage, human trafficking, prostitution and some forms of child marriage now all fall under the umbrella of modern slavery.
Slavery need no longer have chains or bars to fortify it. The method most used is the debt system, where workers accrue "debts" with employers or traffickers and are then told that they must work to pay this back. The amount owed is usually exorbitant and increases as they work, ballooning out with living, food and medical "costs" the employer provides. Workers find themselves trapped, unable to pay off the debt and frightened to find work elsewhere due to blacklisting and threats of violence. Debts are often passed down through generations, whole families pulled into inescapable bondage.
Forced labour is thought to generate up to $44 billion worldwide. The UN estimates that human trafficking is the third most profitable form of organised crime. Child slavery is rife. It is estimated that some 5.5 million children are currently held in some form of slavery. This ranges from sweatshop and manufacturing labour to child gangs, forced to beg as part of earning their "tuition", and girls married at young ages into what is often abusive, closeted lives with no access to education or freedom of movement.