Wed Dec 19, 2012, 04:51 PM
Redfairen (1,276 posts)
Slavery's Global Comeback
The leading demographic accounts of contemporary slavery project a global slave population of between 20 million and 30 million people. Most of these people have been unknowingly trafficked though the promise of opportunity by predators. Others are children literally sold by parents or relatives in order to pay off debt or to lessen their economic burden. The highest ratios of slaves worldwide are from South and Southeast Asia, along with China, Russia, Albania, Belarus, and Romania. There is a significant slave presence across North Africa and the Middle East, including Lebanon. There is also a major slave trade in Africa. Descent-based slavery persists in Mauritania, where children of slaves are passed on to their slave-holders' children. And the North Korean gulag system, which holds 200,000 people, is essentially a constellation of slave-labor camps. But most contemporary slavery is based on trafficking -- based on varying combinations of deception and coercion, very mobile, very dynamic, leveraging communications and logistics in the same basic way modern businesses do generally. After the earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, Hispaniola was quickly overrun with opportunistic traffickers targeting children to sell into domestic slavery or brothels.
As pervasive as contemporary slavery is, it hasn't come clearly into focus as a global issue until relatively recently. There are a couple of big reasons why -- one having to do with the scale of the problem, the other with the concept of slavery itself.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates the number of slaves in the world today at around 21 million. Kevin Bales, of Free the Slaves -- the U.S. affiliate of the world's oldest human-rights organization, the U.K.-based Anti-Slavery International -- (and the author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy) puts it at 27 million. Siddharth Kara of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy says more than 29 million.
That range represents a tightening consensus. In the 1990s, some accounts had the world's slave population as high as 100 million; others had it as low as 2 million. "It was nuts," says Bales. "I traced all these numbers back. The 100-million number, I finally found this guy in India who'd said it at at UN conference. I asked him, 'How did you get that?' And he said, 'I don't know, it was just a guess.' So nobody had the number."
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