13 December 2017

Set The Captives Free

The actuality of slavery in our society.

In this month of thanksgiving and reflection on the blessings God has showered on us, I am grateful to Him for so many things. If you and I were to sit down together, I’m sure we could think and write a list of things we are thankful for that would be as long as the road from my house to yours. My list is already very long: loving family, wonderful friends, a roof over my head, access to education and information, financial provision. It’s funny, though, as there are things that I am hardly aware I even have and thus, often forget to be thankful for. Freedom is one. My freedom is just ‘there’. I have the freedom to speak, the freedom to think, to make choices, to love, to live… and I rarely think about how blessed I am to be free.

And yet, there are people in this world whose loudest cry is for freedom. 27 million of them, actually. 27 million people who have been robbed of their freedom and trapped in slavery. Robert Alan once said,

“Slavery was abolished 150 years ago, right? While it is true that slavery is illegal almost everywhere on earth, the fact is there are more slaves today than there ever were.”

It is thought that 2.5 million people are in forced labour, including sexual exploitation, at any given time. Every year 600K-800K people are trafficked from one place to another, for the purpose of slavery. 56% are in Asia and the Pacific. The majority of victims are under the age of 24. Up to 95% experience physical or sexual violence. (Given the criminal and thus, covert nature of the problem of slavery, it is difficult to ascertain exact statistics – these, however, are official estimates).

“Slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. It led to the adoption of the first human rights laws and to the creation of the first human rights non-governmental organisation. And yet despite the efforts of the international community to combat this abhorrent practice, it is still widely prevalent in all its insidious forms, old and new.” Kofi Annan.

What is a slave? A contemporary slave is a person held against their will, controlled by violence and paid nothing for their work — the same definition used for slaves 150 years ago. Slaves are bought to perform physical labour, to be sexually exploited, to be used as drug mules…to be robbed of their freedom and their human dignity.

Many slaves are trafficked from one location to another, and so the term ‘human trafficking’ is the one that you will most often hear in reference to people in slavery today.

In 1850, the average price for a slave was the equivalent to $40,000. Today, the average price of a human being is $100, less than £50. The trafficking industry reaps approximately 800% in profit. Given the devastatingly low price of a slave nowadays, there is no incentive to maintain even a low level of well-being for the slaves; they are ‘disposable‘. They are controlled, often through fear, violence and drug use, until they are no longer useful; and then are thrown away. That said, human beings are ‘reusable’: you can only use a batch of cocaine once, but a human can be used over and over again.

Not all slaves are bought – some find themselves in debt bondage, at times stemming back several generations. Some slaves are made false promises, involving better career prospects or better lives for their families. And still some are forced into slavery, kidnapped from a vulnerable situation into an exploitative one.

When people first think of human trafficking or modern-day slavery, they imagine a girl being exploited in a brothel down an obscure street in Thailand or Romania, or poorly treated workers in far-away factories supplying major clothing companies. Whilst these things do happen, we must be aware of the fact that slavery happens in every corner of the world and to many kinds of people, for many different reasons. Indeed, in July of this year, the BBC published the results of an investigation which suggested that £500,000 was made each week in brothels in Northern Ireland, into which it is thought many of the prostitutes have been trafficked. Many of the homeless people in Belfast were brought to N.I. believing the promise of a job and bright future from traffickers who use them and dispose of them, leaving them desolate and destitute on Botanic Avenue.

In all of this, we must remember also that without demand for slaves of all kinds, slavery would not exist. The slave-traders are not the only criminals. Without people willing to sexually exploit others, people willing to use slaves in their factories or buy products made by slaves, without people willing to exploit others in their homes, slavery would not exist. It is human nature that defiles the very nature of other human beings: men and women in our society, regularly and willingly paying to exploit others.

This is uncomfortable reading, I know. It is a subject that should break our hearts, cause us to weep over the state of our world and our humanity. What comforts me is the knowledge that God’s heart, too, is broken over His children being enslaved and exploited. And yet, it doesn’t stop there. We must, in our brokenness, be moved to action. It is not enough to read an article, feel shocked, agree that evil must be stopped – God longs for us to be part of the solution, working towards the fulfilment of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” (December 10th, 1948). This will come about as we follow God’s command to, “seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17).

As we consider practical ways in which to do this, the first two are praying for chains to be broken, for hearts to be mended, for the sin that causes slavery to be wiped out, and wisdom for those who are ‘on the frontline’ of this battle. Secondly, it is vital for us to research and be aware and informed of the reality of the problems our world is facing. Local news outlets, www.love146.org or www.ijm.org are wonderful resources.

The tragedy is devastating, and the need is great – but our hope exceeds all of this.

Gemma Wilson