Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kristof and WuDunn: Slavery Today

It is very easy to begin thinking of slavery as something to look up in history books. Kristof and WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky, point out that it is an industry that is large—almost beyond comprehension. They do not give a very specific definition of slavery, but, based on their discussion, it would include physical confinement, being forced to perform services against your will, and being subject to physical punishment or to being killed, while having no access to legal assistance.

In terms of numbers of people subjected to these conditions, the authors quote our State Department.
"Technically, trafficking is often defined as taking someone (by force or deception) across an international border. The U.S. State Department has estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80 percent of them women and girls for sexual exploitation....As the State Department notes, its estimate doesn’t include ‘millions of victims around the world who are trafficked within their own national borders’."Kristof and WuDunn are concerned with the treatment of women. Consequently, they focus on the sex trade. It is not possible to determine a precise number of girls who could properly be called "enslaved" by the definition given above. Much of this activity occurs in Asian countries where girls are either purchased outright or lured away from their homes with promises of jobs in other locations. They are then sold to brothels where they are then either beaten or drugged (or both) into submission. Once they have been tainted by the shame of prostitution, they have little recourse from society and often resign themselves to their fate. Many have developed drug addictions that keep them from leaving. If the girls become pregnant, the brothel owners will keep the child captive in order to inhibit the mother from trying to run away. Often girl babies are raised as a cash crop to feed into the business. Unless one knows something about the girl’s history it is hard for a casual observer to distinguish between voluntary participation and enslavement.
"Our own estimate is that there are 3 million women and girls (and a very small number of boys) worldwide who can fairly be termed enslaved in the sex trade. That is a conservative estimate that does not include many others who were manipulated and intimidated into prostitution....We are talking about 3 million people who in effect are the property of another person and in many cases could be killed by the owner with impunity."The authors put into perspective the scale of modern slavery by noting some historical data.
"In contrast, in the peak decade of the transatlantic slave trade, the 1780s, an average of just under eighty thousand slaves were shipped annually across the Atlantic from Africa to the New World. The average then dropped to a bit more than fifty thousand between 1811 and 1850. In other words, far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries...."The authors also point out that this is one of the humanitarian or human rights issues that is actually getting worse. They also emphasize that while by numbers the most instances occur in Asia, this sort of activity goes on all over the world, even in the U.S. Not only are the absolute numbers growing, but the targets are becoming younger, and all the girls risk an early death.
"...reason for the worsening situation is AIDS. Being sold to a brothel was always a hideous fate, but not usually a death sentence. Now it often is. And because of the fear of AIDS, customers prefer younger girls whom they believe are less likely to be infected. In both Asia and Africa, there is also a legend that AIDS can be cured by sex with a virgin, and that has nurtured demand for young girls kidnapped from their villages."So—if you feel that the world is going to hell in a hand basket—you are probably correct.

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