Modern Slavery

Slavery has existed throughout human history and still exists in the world today in various forms. Estimates of people living in slavery vary, but it is probably between 12 million and 27 million. But in most countries of the world, slavery is illegal. So how come it is still tolerated?

Definition of slavery

  •  Slaves are treated as property to be bought and sold.
  • Slaves are not paid for their labour.
  • Slaves cannot refuse to work.
  • Slavery denies its victims any possibility of choosing a different lifestyle.
  • Slaves are under constant threat of violence or actual violence to force them to work and to stop them leaving.
  • Slaves are quite distinct from exploited workers – who at least have some degree of choice.

Forms of Slavery

What forms does slavery take – and how do people get into this situation in the first place?

  • Debt is the cause of much poverty and suffering throughout the world. In South Asia, in particular, people sell themselves, (or their children!), into slavery to ruthless gangsters who will force them to work, in theory to repay the loan – though this is usually impossible.
  • In Sri Lanka, Uganda and the Congo, for example, rebel forces have kidnapped children and either sexually exploited them or forced them to be child soldiers.
  • Young girls (and boys) are trapped into the sex trade where they have no choice but to perform for their jailer’s profit with little chance to escape.
  • Immigrants, whether legal or illegal, who are trapped because of their lack of knowledge of the local language, culture or their rights in a foreign country. Some are held by unscrupulous people and kept in virtual slavery. This includes people who have come to the U.K. or America for “a better life” and women from Asia working as domestic servants in the Middle East.

Causes and symptoms of slavery

  • Greed (financial) on the part of slave owners.
  • Love of power over other people.
  • Debt, and the lack of access to ethical lending.
  • Ignorance of the law and their rights.
  • Fear of physical violence.
  • Corruption in the police or law courts that ought to protect slavery’s victims.
  • Indifference of other people to the plight of slavery’s victims.

Can slavery being eliminated?

Yes it can. In most countries of the world slavery is not legal and can be eliminated by political, social and legal action. To eliminate slavery we need to:

  • Have stronger laws in some countries to make all forms of slavery illegal.
  • Politicians need to be more committed to ensuring that people do not live in conditions of slavery.
  • We need less corruption in police forces, city and state authorities and in the law-courts to ensure justice for the enslaved
  • We need more encouragement to police forces around the world to tackle this problem.
  • Above all, we need to tackle indifference in developed and developing countries to change public opinion so that slavery, in any form, is no longer tolerated.

What can we do?

This depends to some extent on where we live.

  • If we live in a country where various forms of slavery are endemic, we can influence public opinion in our own country and fight indifference, vested interests and corruption wherever we see them.
  • Problems do not cease when people are freed from slavery. They need help in setting up a new life and they need healing from the effects of slavery on their lives and their families. Karuna Action ( supports a church in Delhi, India that runs a programme to rehabilitate girls who were rescued from the sex trade, giving them spiritual, emotional and physical healing and helping them to rebuild their lives.

Together we can eliminate Slavery and Extreme Poverty

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

7 thoughts on “Modern Slavery”

  1. Watching where your sugar and cocoa (chocolate) come from is another good tip. As far as I know, much cocoa grown in The Ivory Coast uses slave labour, and much of the sugar grown in the Dominican Republic also uses slave labour.
    Cadburys has traditionally had one of the better ethical records as far as I know, while Nestle, Mars & Hersheys are not so good. It’s generally safer to look for organic or Fairtrade if in any doubt, in my opinion.


  2. Good thoughts George and so challenging. Some of us may not be able to get involved in this issue directly beyond writing to MP’s or giving money, but lets not forget that everytime we bring the Kingdom of God to a neighbour or friend we are slowly changing the world to become more like heaven on earth. If each of us take the words of Jesus about going out and making disciples among our own community then the world changes for better and that will also impact such evils as slavery. Lets not forget what we can do right where we are today.


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