Shame on us

TraffickedtIt’s a paradox – there are more slaves now than at any point in human history (21-30 million people), yet Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves says, “there has never been a better time to end it once and for all.” Enslaving/trafficking human beings is illegal in every country. “Today we know how to get people out of slavery … the question is: How many can be freed and how quickly?”

In his book “Disposable People” he describes the dirty process of controlling slaves economically where they cannot be controlled by walls. A 14-year-old girl sold into a low class Thai brothel will be told she must pay eight times her purchase price to get her freedom, on top of rent, food and medicine costs. Her debt will keep growing due to false accounting. The chains in prisons of debt and psychological dungeons are as binding as metal bars. Meanwhile her owners can make a profit of as much as 800% of her purchase price, but if she gets HIV, is injured or is troublesome, she is disposable.

In India children are kidnapped as young as five and six to make carpets sold in the West. Locked in huts with a loom, they are fed little, beaten and paid nothing. Their spines become deformed and their lungs clogged with wool dust. Their eyes become dim.

While India has by far the most people in bondage (with China and Pakistan next), even New Zealand at the other end of the world scale of shame is tainted by this evil. Peter Mihaere, who heads Stand Against Slavery, a New Zealand Baptist justice initiative, says “New Zealand is an attractive place to traffic people to.”  The kiwifruit and construction industries, for example, host Asian workers who live in slave-like conditions and are not being paid as authorities have been led to think. He believes without a shadow of a doubt that the Church can respond effectively to this. Also, New Zealand is becoming a country that is having its children stolen and sold overseas.

While we need to stop being naïve or blind about the growing danger of this plague here, we should look clear-eyed at this as a global issue. Many major international brands of electronics are selling appliances made in Malaysia, where NGO researchers found a third of workers are in forced labour, as reported recently in the Guardian newspaper.  When you buy prawns from South East Asia at the supermarket, chances are good that in their production  have been large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand.  Clothes made in China are another well-known area of shame. Child slaves in Ghana and Ivory Coast harvest cocoa for chocolate. By buying the products we are complicit, unless we are 100% sure our purchase is not tainted.

Many Christians, including Kiwis, have answered the call to go to countries such as India to devote their lives to freeing slaves. For example, there are lawyers and psychologists who stand alongside Indian slave-rescuers to help them ensure success in the courts and rehabilitate vulnerable, damaged people. There are carers who offer places of refuge, recovery and alternative means of income to women and girls sold into the sex industry. SIM has workers in different countries who are partners in this kind of work.

One example is Redlight-Greenlight in an Indian city, which currently takes girls who have been rescued from sex slavery by police or NGOs. But this is not a cut-and-dried matter of rescue. Staff often find that rescued girls retain fantasies that the “boyfriend” who lured them from their village and sold them to middlemen really loves them, and will marry them. Typically they might have confused emotions about their brothel abusers. That is the complex evil of this abuse – psychological scarring in addition to physical. In such a setting, partners need training and immense, God-given wisdom in how they respond and how they share the good news.

Those whose response to a problem is to throw money at it, should know it is claimed that world slavery can be eradicated for the cost of an urban light rail system — about $11 billion. But even then some enclaves of slavery will hide in corners protected by the local ruling elite and out of reach. Saudi Arabia, for example.  However, the nature of evil is to cower before love, faith and prayer.  In this we have access to infinite resources.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”  – Edmund Burke

Don’t just spare a thought for the world’s slaves on October 18, Anti-Slavery Day.  Do something positive to start making a difference.  See some suggested resources here.

To read about two of SIM’s projects in Asia, click here.

For Stand Against Slavery webpage, click here