Modern-day slavery

October 21, 2019

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UNDER Unesco’s definition, modern-day slavery is characterised by “an element of ownership or control over another’s life, coercion and the restriction of movement” and “by the fact that someone is not free to leave or to change an employer”. Under this terminology fall all acts of coerced services and exploitative labour — from human trafficking and debt bondage to forced marriage. Modern-day slavery goes against the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically Article 4, which states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Regrettably, this ideal is far from being a reality for tens of millions of people around the world. Human bodies are callously reduced to objects of capitalist value — and only that — to be used, abused and bartered in the pursuit of profit. As Europe marked its Anti-Trafficking Day last Friday, the secretary general of the Council of Europe made an appeal to the governments of the continent to ensure justice for the victims of human trafficking, along with reparations. In the past several years, the European Union has struggled to contain the menace of human trafficking within its borders. While it is difficult to give exact figures on the scale of such illicit activities, the UN estimates that approximately 40.3m of the world’s population can be classified as modern-day slaves, with many trapped in the human trafficking web through the use of coercion, deceit or violence. Unlike smuggling, trafficking is always carried out without any form of consent of the victim. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are women and girls, while nearly 25pc of all victims are children.

With some of the highest rates of slavery in the world, Pakistan is no stranger to the evils of modern-day slavery. Approximately, 3.19m Pakistanis are classified as modern-day slaves. Many become imprisoned in trafficking rings and forced marriages — a practice so common, it barely causes a stir and remains underreported — while others get tricked into organ mining and debt bondage — a contract so cruel, it is often passed down several generations, and is especially rampant in the agriculture and brick kiln industries, with entire families working to pay off the debt. It bears repeating: slavery is not a problem of the past.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019