The Article: Slavery's Global Comeback
The Source: The Atlantic
The Author: J.J. Gould, deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com.
The Gist: Buying and selling people into forced labor is bigger than ever. But many Americans are unaware of what "human trafficking" really means.
The leading demographic accounts of contemporary slavery project a global slave population of between 20 million and 30 million people. The highest ratios of slaves worldwide are from South and Southeast Asia, along with China, Russia, and the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. 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. Most of the world's slaves are in sedentary forms of servitude, such as hereditary collateral-debt bondage, but about 20 percent have been unwittingly trafficked by predators through deception and coercion. Human trafficking is often highly mobile and dynamic, leveraging modern communications and logistics in the same basic ways contemporary business does generally. After the earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, Hispaniola was quickly overrun with opportunistic traffickers targeting children to sell into forced domestic work or brothels.
The Bottom Line: Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, a major step that ended slavery in the United States. Most people assume that the end of the transatlantic slave trade, a 350 year period in which 13.5 million people were taken out of Africa, was the end of slavery. But slavery has continued into the twenty-first century. Indeed, it is estimated that there are twice as many enslaved right now as there had been in the whole 350-year span of the transatlantic trade. Since it's so ubiquitous, why don't we hear more about it?
As Gould explains, part of the problem is that viewing slavery as something in the past can mean "having a harder time recognizing slavery when it's right in front of us." We also tend to use the more vague term of "human trafficking." Although evangelicals have been leaders in the movement to end human trafficking, the rhetoric we use tends to make it seem as if the only form of trafficking is the sexual exploitation of women and children. While that is a significant and troubling aspect of the trade, the epidemic of slavery is broader and more pervasive.
Gould's article is an important reminder that we need to be aware of the problem, call it what it is, and recognize how important awareness can be for addressing the issue. As he notes, "There are historical reasons why a heightened social awareness of slavery could prove more effective than we might first be inclined to think."
In order to truly love our global neighbors, all Christians should do our part to advance the new abolition movement. Our God has set us free. It's time we do the same for his children.