Guest Post Wednesday: Human Trafficking, Part 1

This week’s Guest Post Wednesday is a two-parter, and it comes to us courtesy of my husband, Jonathan. Though he gets mentioned around these parts often enough that he probably doesn’t need an introduction, I want to mention a few things about him as a means of introducing this particular post. 1) As a philosophy professor, he teaches ethics, including the ethics of world poverty. 2) This last year, he was heavily involved in the ‘Modern Day Slavery Project’ at our local college. 3) As a result, knows a whole lot about human trafficking. 4) We just celebrated our 7-year anniversary! 5) And he’s awesome. Here, he writes about the modern-day slave trade. Today’s post, Part 1, summarizes the scope of the problem in concrete terms.

More than 30 million people live in slavery today; probably many, many more.  More than 30 million people.  There are more people in slavery today than were traded during all four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade.

And despite the unbelievable brutality of the original slave trade, in some ways, it is actually worse today.  For one thing, while the transatlantic slave trade focused mostly on men and almost entirely on adults, since they might actually manage to survive the brutal ‘middle passage’ from Africa on the slavers’ ships, the slave trade today is largely focused on women and children, who are easier to transport and easier to intimidate, brutalize, and drug into silence (80% of those trafficked from one country to another are estimated to be female; 50% are children).  Again, a healthy male African cost the equivalent of $40,000 during the transatlantic trade, and was therefore a significant investment to be cared for; the average slave today costs $90 and is thus as disposable as a used-up battery.

With the help of technology, we no longer need men to do the labor that makes our global economy possible, we just need hands, and the smaller those hands are, the easier they are to control and force without visible chains.  It is estimated that as many as 150 million children under the age of 14 work in the world today, often in brutal and dangerous jobs, and far too often against their will.  And none of this touches on forced prostitution, a huge segment of modern slavery that affects young girls (and boys) as young as 5 years old.

As many as 150 million children.

This problem is worst, of course, in other countries: from Eastern Europe where the Russian mob controls the ‘flesh’ trade with brutal efficiency, to Thailand where young children bring a premium due to a cultural belief in the power of sleeping with a virgin; from India where children make rugs and bricks to power the new economy, to Africa and South America where slaves, including many children, harvest coffee and cocoa for the international commodities markets and are poisoned by the fertilizers and pesticides they touch all day long; from Uganda where children are forced to be ‘soldiers,’ to the United States where our own children are forced into prostitution.

And yes, the US is not immune.  Best estimates indicate that there are more than 100,000 people in slavery in the US, with as many as 17,000 new victims added every year.  These slaves make clothes, work in the fields, clean houses, cook in restaurants, and are sold for sex on the streets of every major city in the United States.  They do not choose when to work or how, they are frequently bought and sold by one trafficker to another, and when their usefulness is at an end, they are sometimes just killed.  100,000 people in the United States alone.

When I try to define slavery to explain how it still occurs today, I list off the facts: slaves today are bought and sold, they receive no pay for their labor, they are forced, coerced, or threatened into remaining in work they do not want to do, and they are usually doing work that is dangerous, painful, deadly, and draining.  All of this can be put much more simply: slaves are people without love, without justice, without care, without peace – slaves are people without a community.

For more information on many of the statistics presented here, see David Batstone’s Not for Sale, UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report, Kevin Bales’s Disposable People, Siddarth Kara’s Sex Trafficking, the International Labor Organization 2010 Report on Child Labor, and the U.S. Dept. of State’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report.


If this summary of the global scope of human trafficking feels overwhelming to you, fear not. Tomorrow’s post, part 2, will offer some solutions and report on work that is being done to combat this widespread injustice. Stay tuned.


4 comments on “Guest Post Wednesday: Human Trafficking, Part 1

  1. Mom(bonnie) says:

    Just heard an ad on TV that on Sunday on CNN Demi Moore is in a feature “Nepal’s Stolen Chldren” on human trafficking. We all need to do all we can to bring this to society’s attention!!! Thanks, J, well written!

  2. Bruce Walker says:

    Just watched a doc on Thailand’s sex trade involving children. Tears ran down my face as I watched a beautiful 19 year old girl talk about her life in Bangkok. Working in a bar every night and forced to this life becasue of the abject poverty that pervades the countryside, she began at 13 to support her family and now is paying for her mother’s cancer treatments. She looks in the camera, smiles and says, “Nobody cares about me, true, but that’s alright” then a painful smile breaks across her face. The filmmaker says a few months later she was found dead. If we as humans and especially as Christians (I too was raised in a loosely Bapacoastal church) intend to be light and salt, we need to take these issues personally and support $$$$ those on the front lines of this evil and speak up against these atrocities here in the good ole USA and abroad!!!

    • elizabeth says:

      I’m glad you stopped by and shared these thoughts. There are quite a few moving documentaries that deal with the topic of human trafficking, and these are important messages to spread. We can read statistics, but it’s not until we look into the faces of those who’ve suffered and realize that these are people, too, that we will ever be inspired to do anything about it. There’s a line in a Sara Groves song that says, “I saw what I saw and I can’t deny it / I heard what I heard and I can’t go back…Your pain has changed me… your face a memory….” These documentaries really help us take the pain of others to heart.

      Organizations on “the front lines of this evil” as you said do need our support, and I think we are also all called to ask ourselves how we can use our own gifts, not just our money, to do something, too. In addition to giving money, I definitely think we should consider how even our daily purchasing habits, TV-viewing habits, modesty habits contribute to the human trafficking epidemic, but what about what we can actually do? What do you think? I try to write about it and talk about it to raise awareness. Maybe you can use your gift of storytelling to raise awareness.

      I really believe that we all have something to offer.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

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