Walk by Faith; Serve with Abandon
Expect to Win!
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The Advocacy Foundation, Inc.
Helping Individuals, Organizations & Communities
Achieve Their Full Potential
Since its founding in 2003, The Advocacy Foundation has become recognized as an effective
provider of support to those who receive our services, having real impact within the communities
we serve. We are currently engaged in community and faith-based collaborative initiatives,
having the overall objective of eradicating all forms of youth violence and correcting injustices
everywhere. In carrying-out these initiatives, we have adopted the evidence-based strategic
framework developed and implemented by the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency
The stated objectives are:
1. Community Mobilization;
2. Social Intervention;
3. Provision of Opportunities;
4. Organizational Change and Development;
5. Suppression [of illegal activities].
Moreover, it is our most fundamental belief that in order to be effective, prevention and
intervention strategies must be Community Specific, Culturally Relevant, Evidence-Based, and
Collaborative. The Violence Prevention and Intervention programming we employ in
implementing this community-enhancing framework include the programs further described
throughout our publications, programs and special projects both domestically and
ISBN: ......... ../2017
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Advocacy Foundation Publishers
(878) 222-0450 | Voice | Data | SMS
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Every publication in our many series’ is dedicated to everyone, absolutely everyone, who by
virtue of their calling and by Divine inspiration, direction and guidance, is on the battlefield dayafter-day
striving to follow God’s will and purpose for their lives. And this is with particular affinity
for those Spiritual warriors who are being transformed into excellence through daily academic,
professional, familial, and other challenges.
We pray that you will bear in mind:
Matthew 19:26 (NLT)
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible.
But with God everything is possible.” (Emphasis added)
To all of us who daily look past our circumstances, and naysayers, to what the Lord says we will
- The Advocacy Foundation, Inc.
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The Transformative Justice Project
Eradicating Juvenile Delinquency Requires a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
The Juvenile Justice system is incredibly
overloaded, and Solutions-Based programs are
woefully underfunded. Our precious children,
therefore, particularly young people of color, often
get the “swift” version of justice whenever they
come into contact with the law.
Decisions to build prison facilities are often based
on elementary school test results, and our country
incarcerates more of its young than any other
nation on earth. So we at The Foundation labor to
pull our young people out of the “school to prison”
pipeline, and we then coordinate the efforts of the
legal, psychological, governmental and
educational professionals needed to bring an end
We also educate families, police, local businesses,
elected officials, clergy, and schools and other
stakeholders about transforming whole communities, and we labor to change their
thinking about the causes of delinquency with the goal of helping them embrace the
idea of restoration for the young people in our care who demonstrate repentance for
The way we accomplish all this is a follows:
1. We vigorously advocate for charges reductions, wherever possible, in the
adjudicatory (court) process, with the ultimate goal of expungement or pardon, in order
to maximize the chances for our clients to graduate high school and progress into
college, military service or the workforce without the stigma of a criminal record;
2. We then enroll each young person into an Evidence-Based, Data-Driven
Restorative Justice program designed to facilitate their rehabilitation and subsequent
reintegration back into the community;
3. While those projects are operating, we conduct a wide variety of ComeUnity-
ReEngineering seminars and workshops on topics ranging from Juvenile Justice to
Parental Rights, to Domestic issues to Police friendly contacts, to mental health
intervention, to CBO and FBO accountability and compliance;
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4. Throughout the process, we encourage and maintain frequent personal contact
between all parties;
5 Throughout the process we conduct a continuum of events and fundraisers
designed to facilitate collaboration among professionals and community stakeholders;
6. 1 We disseminate Quarterly publications, like our e-Advocate series Newsletter
and our e-Advocate Quarterly electronic Magazine to all regular donors in order to
facilitate a lifelong learning process on the ever-evolving developments in the Justice
And in addition to the help we provide for our young clients and their families, we also
facilitate Community Engagement through the Restorative Justice process,
thereby balancing the interests of local businesses, schools, clergy, social assistance
organizations, elected officials, law enforcement entities, and all interested
stakeholders. Through these efforts, relationships are rebuilt & strengthened, local
businesses and communities are enhanced & protected from victimization, young
careers are developed, and our precious young people are kept out of the prison
Additionally, we develop Transformative “Void Resistance” (TVR) initiatives to elevate
concerns of our successes resulting in economic hardship for those employed by the
TVR is an innovative-comprehensive process that works in conjunction with our
Transformative Justice initiatives to transition the original use and purpose of current
systems into positive social impact operations, which systematically retrains current
staff, renovates facilities, creates new employment opportunities, increases salaries and
is data proven to enhance employee’s mental wellbeing and overall quality of life – an
exponential Transformative Social Impact benefit for ALL community stakeholders.
This is a massive undertaking, and we need all the help and financial support you can
give! We plan to help 75 young persons per quarter-year (aggregating to a total of 250
per year) in each jurisdiction we serve) at an average cost of under $2,500 per client,
per year. *
Thank you in advance for your support!
In addition to supporting our world-class programming and support services, all regular donors receive our Quarterly e-Newsletter
(The e-Advocate), as well as The e-Advocate Quarterly Magazine.
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1. The national average cost to taxpayers for minimum-security youth incarceration,
is around $43,000.00 per child, per year.
2. The average annual cost to taxpayers for maximum-security youth incarceration
is well over $148,000.00 per child, per year.
- (US News and World Report, December 9, 2014);
3. In every jurisdiction in the nation, the Plea Bargain rate is above 99%.
The Judicial system engages in a tri-partite balancing task in every single one of these
matters, seeking to balance Rehabilitative Justice with Community Protection and
Judicial Economy, and, although the practitioners work very hard to achieve positive
outcomes, the scales are nowhere near balanced where people of color are involved.
We must reverse this trend, which is right now working very much against the best
interests of our young.
Our young people do not belong behind bars.
- Jack Johnson
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The Advocacy Foundation, Inc.
Helping Individuals, Organizations & Communities
Achieve Their Full Potential
…a compendium of works on
Slavery in The 21 st Century
“Turning the Improbable Into the Exceptional”
John C Johnson III
Founder & CEO
Voice | Data | SMS
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Luke 4:18 (ESV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good
news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of
sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave [a] nor free, there is no male and
female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Christ Has Set Us Free
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a
yoke of slavery.
“If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make
him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He
shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he
and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of
his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, [a] whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they
shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your
God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male
and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy
from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who
have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them
to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them,
but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another
Redeeming a Poor Man
“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him
becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of
the stranger's clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers
may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from
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his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. 50 He shall
calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of
jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was
with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. 51 If there are still many years
left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52 If there
remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his
redemption in proportion to his years of service. 53 He shall treat him as a worker hired
year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not
redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the
year of jubilee. 55 For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. [b] They are my
servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
“If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold [a] to you, he shall serve
you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when
you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish
him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As
the Lordyour God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that
you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I
command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he
loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an
awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave [b] forever. And to
your female slave [c] you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let
him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years.
So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.
“You shall not give up to his master a slave [a] who has escaped from his master to
you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within
one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
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Table of Contents
…a compilation of works on
Slavery in The 21 st Century
I. Introduction: Contemporary Slavery………………………………….. 17
II. Debt Bondage…………………………………………………………… 29
III. Wage Slavery……………………..……………………………………. 39
IV. Child Slavery……………………….……………………………………. 55
V. Migrant Domestic Workers…………………………………………….. 59
VI. Human Trafficking…….…………….………………………………….. 73
VII. Bride Buying……………………….………………………………....... 105
VIII. The Modern Slavery Act of 2015 (UK)………………………………. 109
IX. The Global Slavery Index…………………………………………….. 115
X. References……………………………………………………............. 125
A. Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery
B. Slavery and Human Trafficking in The 21 st Century
C. The Economic Foundations of Contemporary Slavery
D. Abolishing Slavery In Its Contemporary Form
Copyright © 2003 – 2018 The Advocacy Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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This work is not meant to be a piece of original academic
analysis, but rather draws very heavily on the work of
scholars in a diverse range of fields. All material drawn upon
is referenced appropriately.
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Contemporary Slavery, also known as modern slavery or neo-slavery, refers to
institutional slavery that continues to exist in present day society. Estimates of the
number of slaves today range from around 21 million to 70 million, depending on
method used to estimate and the definition of slavery being used.
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons agency of the United States
Department of State says that "'modern slavery', 'trafficking in persons', and 'human
trafficking' have been used as umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harboring,
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transporting, providing or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts
through the use of force, fraud, or coercion". Besides these, a number of different terms
are used in the US federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000
and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially
Women and Children, including "involuntary servitude", "slavery" or "practices similar to
slavery", "debt bondage", and "forced labor".
According to American professor Kevin Bales, co-founder and former president of Free
the Slaves, modern slavery occurs "when a person is under control of another person,
who applies violence and force to maintain that control, and the goal of that control is
exploitation". According to this definition, research from the Walk Free Foundation
based on its Global Slavery Index 2016 estimated that there were about 70 million
slaves around the world in 2016, with 58% of them living in the top five countries—India,
Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Of these 45.8 million, it is estimated that
around 10 million of these contemporary slaves are children. Bales warned that,
because slavery is officially abolished everywhere, the practice is illegal, and thus more
hidden from the public and authorities. This makes it impossible to obtain exact figures
from primary sources. The best that can be done is estimate based on secondary
sources, such as UN investigations, newspaper articles, government reports, and
figures from NGOs.
In slave labor, the slave-owner only needs to pay for sustenance and enforcement. This
is sometimes lower than the wage-cost of free laborers, as free workers earn more than
sustenance; in these cases, slaves have a positive price. When the cost of sustenance
and enforcement exceeds the wage rate, slave-owning would no longer be profitable,
and owners would simply release their slaves. Slaves are thus a more attractive
investment in high-wage environments, and environments where enforcement is cheap,
and less attractive in environments where the wage-rate is low and enforcement is
Free workers also earn compensating differentials, whereby they are paid more for
doing unpleasant work. Neither sustenance nor enforcement costs rise with the
unpleasantness of the work, however, so slaves' costs do not rise by the same amount.
As such, slaves are more attractive for unpleasant work, and less for pleasant work.
Because the unpleasantness of the work is not internalized, being borne by the slave
rather than the owner, it is a negative externality and leads to over-use of slaves in
these situations. Slaves can also be forced to do illegal work such as picking pockets or
Modern slavery can be quite profitable and corrupt governments tacitly allow it, despite
it being outlawed by international treaties such as Supplementary Convention on the
Abolition of Slavery and local laws. Total annual revenues of traffickers were estimated
in 2004 to range from US $5 billion to US $9 billion, though profits are substantially
lower. American slaves in 1809 were sold for around the equivalent of US$40,000 in
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today's money. Today, a slave can be bought for $90. The conscription of child soldiers
by some governments is often viewed as a form of government-endorsed slavery.
Modern slavery is often seen as a by-product of poverty. Countries that lack education,
economic freedom, the rule of law, and have poor societal structure can create an
environment that fosters the acceptance and propagation of slavery.
Professor Remington Crawford III of the University of Toronto said:
Slavery is something that's with us always. We need to keep it in view and think about it
when we buy our clothes, to question where they are sourced. Governments and CEOs
need to think more carefully about what they are doing and what they are inadvertently
Slavery by Descent and Chattel Slavery
Slavery by descent, also called chattel slavery, is the form most often associated with
the word "slavery". In chattel slavery, the enslaved person is considered the personal
property (chattel) of someone else, and can usually be bought and sold. It stems
historically from either conquest, where a conquered person is enslaved, as in the
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Roman Empire or Ottoman Empire, or from slave raiding, as in the Atlantic slave trade
or Arab slave trade. In the 21st Century, almost every country has legally abolished
Since the 2014 Civil War in Libya, and the subsequent breakdown of law and order,
there have been reports of enslaved migrants being sold in public, open slave markets
in the country.
Mauritania has a long history with slavery. Chattel slavery was formally made illegal in
the country but the laws against it have gone largely unenforced. It is estimated that
around 90,000 people (over 2% of Mauritania's population) are slaves. In addition,
forced marriage and child prostitution are not criminalized.
Debt bondage can also be passed down to descendants, like chattel slavery. See the
section on debt bondage below for more information on that. Sex slaves in the modern
world are often effectively chattel, especially when they are forced into prostitution.
Once again, see the section on sexual slavery below for more information.
Government-Forced Labor and Conscription
In North Korea, the government forces many people to work for the state, both inside
and outside North Korea itself, sometimes for many years. The 2018 Global Slavery
Index estimated that 2.8 million people were slaves in the country. The value of all the
labour done by North Koreans for the government is estimated at $975 million USD,
with dulgyeokdae (youth workers) forced to do dangerous construction work, and
inminban (women and girl workers) forced to making clothing in sweatshops. The
workers are often unpaid. Additionally, North Korea's army of 1.2 million soldiers is often
made to work on construction projects unrelated to defense.
In Eritrea, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people are in an indefinite military service
program which amounts to mass slavery, according to UN investigators. Their report
also found sexual slavery and other forced labor.
About 35-40 countries are currently enforcing military conscription of some sort, even if
it's only temporary service.
In China's system of labour prisons (formerly called laogai), millions of prisoners have
been subject to forced, unpaid labour. The laogai system is estimated to currently house
between 500,000 and 2 million prisoners, And to have caused tens of millions of deaths.
In parallel with laogai, China operated the smaller Re-education through labor system of
prisons up until 2013. In addition to both of these, It has been alleged that China is also
operating forced labour camps in Xinjiang, imprisoning hundreds of thousands (possibly
as many as a million) of muslims, uyghurs and other ethnic minorities and political
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At first China denied this, claiming there was no suppression of ethnic minorities, no
arbitrary detention or re-education centers in Xinjiang. About a month later, China went
back on this, with the Xinjiang government formally legalizing the prisons.
In 1865, the United States passed the 13th Amendment to the United States
Constitution, which banned slavery and involuntary servitude "except as punishment for
a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted", providing a legal basis for
slavery to continue in the country. As of 2018, many prisoners in the US perform work.
In Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, prisoners are not paid at all for their work. In
other states, as of 2011,
prisoners were paid
between $0.23 and $1.15
per hour. Federal Prison
Industries paid innmates an
average of $0.90 per hour
in 2017. In many cases the
penal work is forced, with
prisoners being punished
by solitary confinement if
they refuse to work. From
2010 to 2015 and again in
2016 and 2018, some
prisoners in the US refused
to work, protesting for
better pay, better
conditions, and for the end of forced labor. Strike leaders are currently punished with
indefinite solitary confinement. Forced prison labor occurs in both public/governmentrun
prisons and private prisons. The prison labor industry makes over $1 billion USD
per year selling products that inmates make, while inmates are paid very little or nothing
in return. In California, 2,500 incarcerated workers are fighting wildfires for only $1 per
hour, which saves the state as much as $100 million a year.
In North Korea, tens of thousands of prisoners may be held in forced labour camps.
Prisoners suffer harsh conditions and have been forced to dig their own graves and to
throw rocks at the dead body of another prisoner. At Yodok Concentration Camp,
children and political prisoners were subject to forced labour. Yodok closed in 2014 and
its prisoners were transferred to other prisons.
Millions of people today work as bonded laborers. The cycle begins when people take
extreme loans under the condition that they work off the debt. The "loan" is designed so
that it can never be paid off, and is often passed down for generations. This form of
slavery is prevalent in South Asia. People become trapped in this system working
ostensibly towards repayment though they are often forced to work far past the original
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amount they owe. They work under the force of threats and abuse, their helplessness is
reinforced due to the large power differential between the "creditor" and the "debtor".
Forced Migrant Labor
People may be enticed to migrate with the promise of work, only to have their
documents seized and be forced to work under the threat of violence to them or their
families. Undocumented immigrants may also be taken advantage of; without legal
residency, they often have no recourse to the law. Along with sex slavery, this is the
form of slavery most often encountered in wealthy countries such as the United States,
in Western Europe, and in the Middle East.
In the United Arab Emirates, some foreign workers are exploited and more or less
enslaved. The majority of the UAE resident population are foreign migrant workers
rather than local Emirati citizens. The country has a kafala system which ties migrant
workers to local Emirati sponsors with very little government oversight. This has often
led to forced labor and human trafficking. In 2017, the UAE passed a law to protect the
rights of domestic workers.
Vietnamese teenagers are trafficked to the United Kingdom and forced to work in illegal
cannabis farms. When police raid the cannabis farms, trafficked victims are typically
sent to prison.
Along with migrant slavery, forced prostitution is the form of slavery most often
encountered in wealthy regions such as the United States, in Western Europe, and in
the Middle East. It is the primary form of slavery in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia,
particularly in Moldova and Laos. Many child sex slaves are trafficked from these areas
to the West and the Middle East. An estimated 22% of slaves to date are active in the
In 2005, the Gulf Times reported that boys from Nepal had been lured to India and
enslaved for sex. Many of these boys had also been subject to male genital mutilation
Forced Marriage and Child Marriage
Mainly driven by the culture in certain regions, early or forced marriage is a form of
slavery that affects millions of women and girls all over the world. When families cannot
support their children, the daughters are often married off to the males of wealthier,
more powerful families. These men are often significantly older than the girls. The
females are forced into lives whose main purpose is to serve their husbands. This often
fosters an environment for physical, verbal and sexual abuse.
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Forced marriages also happen in developed nations. In the United Kingdom there were
3,546 reports to the police of forced marriage over three years from 2014 to 2016.
Reported cases are the tip of an iceberg.
In the United States over 200,000 minors were legally married from 2002-2017, with the
youngest being only 10 years old. Most were married to adults. Currently 48 US states,
as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, allow marriage of minors as long as there is judicial
consent, parental consent or if the minor is pregnant. Many (such as California) have no
minimum age in such cases. In 2017-2018, several states began passing laws to either
restrict child marriage or ban it altogether.
Bride-buying is the act of purchasing a bride as property, in a similar manner to chattel
slavery. It can also be related to human trafficking.
Children comprise about 26% of the slaves today. Most are domestic workers or work in
cocoa, cotton or fishing industries. Many are trafficked and sexually exploited. In war-
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torn countries, children have been kidnapped and sold to political parties to use as child
soldiers. Forced child labor is the dominant form of slavery in Haiti.
One of world's largest seafood exporters, Thailand's fishing industry is rife with
trafficking and abuse. Many reports since 2000 have documented the forced labour of
trafficked workers in the Thai fishing industry. Thousands of migrants from neighboring
Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar etc. and locals mainly from rural areas have
been forced to work on fishing boats with no contract or stable wages. Trafficking
victims are often tricked by brokers’ false promises of “good” factory jobs, then forced
onto fishing boats where they are trapped, bought and sold like livestock, and held
against their will for months or years at a time, forced to work grueling 22-hour days in
dangerous conditions. Those who resist or try to run away are beaten, tortured, and
In addition to sex slavery, modern slaves are often forced to work in certain
occupations. Common occupations include:
Small-scale building work, such as laying driveways, and other labour. 
Cannabis farming - Teenagers are trafficked from Vietnam to work in illegal
cannabis farms in Britain.
Car washing by hand
Domestic servitude, sometimes with sexual exploitation.
Nail bars (cosmetic). Many people are trafficked from Vietnam to the UK for this
Fishing, mainly associated with Thailand's sea food industry.
Manufacturing - Many prisoners in the US are forced to manufacture products as
diverse as mattresses, spectacles, underwear, road signs and body armor.
Agriculture and Forestry - Prisoners in the United States and China are often
forced to do farming and forestry work. See prison farm.
In North Korea, dulgyeokdae (youth workers) are often forced to work in
construction and inminban (women workers) are forced to work in clothing
Signs that someone may have been forced into slavery include a lack of identity
documents, lack of personal possessions, clothing that is unsuitable or has seen much
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wear, poor living conditions, a reluctance to make eye contact, unwillingness to talk, and
unwillingness to seek help. In the UK people are encouraged to report suspicions to a
modern slavery telephone helpline.
The United Nations have defined human trafficking as follows:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of
the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception,
of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of
payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another
person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the
exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced
labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of
According to United States Department of State data, an "estimated 600,000 to 820,000
men, women, and children [are] trafficked across international borders each year,
approximately 70 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors. The
data also illustrates that the majority of transnational victims are trafficked into
commercial sexual exploitation." However, "the alarming enslavement of people for
purposes of labor exploitation, often in their own countries, is a form of human trafficking
that can be hard to track from afar". It is estimated that 50,000 people are trafficked
every year in the United States.
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Governmental Efforts Against Slavery
The government credited with the strongest response to modern slavery are the
Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Portugal,
Croatia, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Norway. In the United Kingdom, the government
has instituted major reforms in the legal system through the Criminal Finance Act
effective from September 30, 2017.
Under the act, there will be transparency in regards to interbank information sharing
with law enforcement agencies to help to crack down on money laundering agencies
related to contemporary slavery. The Act also aims at reducing the incidence of tax
evasion attributed to the lucrative slave trade conducted under the domain of the law.
Despite this the UK government has been refusing asylum and deporting children
trafficked to the UK as slaves. This puts the children at risk of being subject to control by
slavery gangs a second time. It also deters child victims from coming forward with
English and Welsh police have been accused of doing too little, and of not handling
victims in ways that encourage them to explain what has happened. There are also
legal difficulties in defining crimes and prosecuting perpetrators.
In contrast, the governments accused of taking the least action against it are North
Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Central African Republic, Papua
New Guinea, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
Modern slavery is a multibillion-dollar industry with estimates of up to $35 billion
generated annually. In 2013 the United Nations estimated that roughly 27 to 30 million
individuals are currently caught in the slave trade industry. According to Walk Free
Foundation, there were 46 million people worldwide enslaved in 2016 in the form of
"human trafficking, forced labor, bondage from indebtedness, forced or servile marriage
or commercial sexual exploitation", with an estimated 18 million of those in India. China
is second with 3.4 million, followed by Pakistan (2.1 million), Bangladesh (1.5 million),
and Uzbekistan (1.2 million).
By percentages of the population living in slavery Uzbekistan tops with 4% of its
population living under slavery followed by Cambodia (1.6%), India (1.4%) and Qatar
(1.4%). Although these figures have also faced criticism for its inconsistency and
4.3% of the population of Mauritania still remains enslaved. Despite being illegal in
every nation, slavery is still present in several forms today.
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Slavery also exists in advanced democratic nations, for example the UK where Home
Office estimates suggested 10,000 to 13,000 victims in December 2015. This includes,
forced work of various kinds, such as forced prostitution. The UK has recently made an
attempt to combat modern slavery via the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Large commercial
organizations are now required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement in
regard to their supply chains for each financial year. The Walk Free Foundation
reported in 2018 that slavery in advanced democratic nations is much more common
than previously known, in particular the United States and Great Britain, which have
403,000 and 136,000 slaves respectively. Andrew Forrest, founder of the organization,
said that "The United States is one of the most advanced countries in the world yet has
more than 400,000 modern slaves working under forced labor conditions."
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II. Debt Bondage
Debt Bondage, also known as debt slavery or bonded labour, is the pledge of a
person's services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation, where the
terms of the repayment are not clearly or reasonably stated, and the person who is
holding the debt and thus has some control over the laborer, does not intend to ever
admit that the debt has been repaid. The services required to repay the debt may be
undefined, and the services' duration may be undefined, thus allowing the person
supposedly owed the debt to demand services indefinitely. Debt bondage can be
passed on from generation to generation.
Currently, debt bondage is the most common
method of enslavement with an estimated 8.1
million people bonded to labor illegally as
cited by the International Labour Organization
in 2005. Debt bondage has been described
by the United Nations as a form of "modern
day slavery" and the Supplementary
Convention on the Abolition of Slavery seeks
to abolish the practice.
Though most countries in South Asia and
Sub-Saharan Africa are parties to the Convention, the practice is still prevalent primarily
in these regions. It is predicted that 84 to 88% of the bonded laborers in the world are in
South Asia. Lack of prosecution or insufficient punishment of this crime are the leading
causes of the practice as it exists at this scale today.
Though the Forced Labor Convention of 1930 by the International Labor Organization,
which included 187 parties, sought to bring organized attention to eradicating slavery
through forms of forced labor, formal opposition to debt bondage in particular came at
the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery in 1956. The convention in
1956 defined debt bondage under Article 1, section (a):
"Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor
of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt if
the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the
liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively
limited and defined;"
When a pledge to provide services to pay off debt is made by an individual, the
employer often illegally inflates interest rates at an unreasonable amount, making it
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impossible for the individual to leave bonded labor. When the bonded laborer dies,
debts are often passed on to children.
Usage of Term
Although debt bondage, forced labor, and human trafficking are all defined as forms or
variations of slavery, each term is distinct. Debt bondage differs from forced labour and
human trafficking in that a person consciously pledges to work as a means of
repayment of debt without being placed into labor against will.
Debt bondage only applies to individuals who have no hopes of leaving the labor due to
inability to ever pay debt back. Those who offer their services to repay a debt and the
employer reduces the debt accordingly are not in debt bondage.
In the 19th century, people in Asia were bonded to labor due to a variety of reasons
ranging from farmers mortgaging harvests to drug addicts in need for opium in China.
When a natural disaster occurred or food was scarce, people willingly chose debt
bondage as a means to a secure life. In the early 20th century in Asia, most laborers
tied to debt bondage had been born into it. In certain regions, such as in Burma, debt
bondage was far more common than slavery. Many went into bondage to pay off
interest on a loan or to pay taxes, and as they worked, often on farms, lodging, meals,
and clothing fees were added to the existing debt causing overall debt and interest to
increase. These continued added loan values made leaving servitude unattainable.
Moreover, after the development of the international economy, more workers were
needed for the pre-industrial economies of Asia during the 19th century. A greater
demand for labor was needed in Asia to power exports to growing industrial countries
like the United States and Germany. Cultivation of cash crops like coffee, cocoa, and
sugar and exploitation of minerals like gold and tin led farm owners to search for
individuals in need of loans for the sake of keeping laborers permanently. In particular,
the Indian indenture system was based on debt bondage by which an estimated two
million Indians were transported to various colonies of European powers to provide
labor for plantations. It started from the end of slavery in 1833 and continued until 1920.
Important to both East and West Africa, pawnship, defined by Wilks as "the use of
people in transferring their rights for settlement of debt," was common during the 17th
century. The system of pawnship occurred simultaneously with the slave trade in Africa.
Though the export of slaves from Africa to the Americas is often analyzed, slavery was
rampant internally as well. Development of plantations like those in Zanzibar in East
Africa reflected the need for internal slaves. Furthermore, many of the slaves that were
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exported were male as brutal and labor-intensive conditions favored the male body
build. This created gender implications for individuals in the pawnship system as more
women were pawned than men and often sexually exploited within the country.
After the abolition of slavery in many countries in the 19th century, Europeans still
needed laborers. Moreover, conditions for emancipated slaves were harsh.
Discrimination was rampant within the labor market, making attainment of a sustainable
income for former slaves tough. Because of these conditions, many freed slaves
preferred to live through slavery-like contracts with their masters in a manner parallel to
Prevalence of modern slavery, as a percentage of the population, by country. These
estimates are from the Walk Free Foundation. Estimates by sources with broader
definitions of slavery can be higher.
Debt bondage was "quite normal" in classical antiquity. The poor or those who had
fallen irredeemably in debt might place themselves into bondage "voluntarily"—or more
precisely, might be compelled by circumstances to choose debt bondage as a way to
anticipate and avoid worse terms that their creditors might impose on them.
In the Greco-Roman world, debt bondage was a distinct legal category into which a free
person might fall, in theory temporarily, distinguished from the pervasive practice of
slavery, which included enslavement as a result of defaulting on debt. Many forms of
debt bondage existed in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome.
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Debt bondage was widespread in ancient Greece. The only city-state known to have
abolished it is Athens, as early as the Archaic period under the debt reform legislation of
Solon. Both enslavement for debt and debt bondage were practiced in Ptolemaic Egypt.
By the Hellenistic period, the limited evidence indicates that debt bondage had replaced
outright enslavement for debt.
The most onerous debt bondage was various forms of paramonē, "indentured labor." As
a matter of law, a person subjected to paramonē was categorically free, and not a slave,
but in practice his freedom was severely constrained by his servitude. Solon's reforms
occurred in the context of democratic politics at Athens that required clearer distinctions
between "free" and "slave"; as a perverse consequence, chattel slavery increased.
The selling of one's own child into slavery is likely in most cases to have resulted from
extreme poverty or debt, but strictly speaking is a form of chattel slavery, not debt
bondage. The exact legal circumstances in Greece, however, are far more poorly
documented than in ancient Rome.
Nexum was a debt bondage contract in the early Roman Republic. Within the Roman
legal system, it was a form of mancipatio. Though the terms of the contract would vary,
essentially a free man pledged himself as a bond slave (nexus) as surety for a loan. He
might also hand over his son as collateral. Although the bondsman might be subjected
to humiliation and abuse, as a legal citizen he was supposed to be exempt from
corporal punishment. Nexum was abolished by the Lex Poetelia Papiria in 326 BC, in
part to prevent abuses to the physical integrity of citizens who had fallen into debt
Roman historians illuminated the abolition of nexum with a traditional story that varied in
its particulars; basically, a nexus who was a handsome but upstanding youth suffered
sexual harassment by the holder of the debt. In one version, the youth had gone into
debt to pay for his father's funeral; in others, he had been handed over by his father. In
all versions, he is presented as a model of virtue. Historical or not, the cautionary tale
highlighted the incongruities of subjecting one free citizen to another's use, and the legal
response was aimed at establishing the citizen's right to liberty (libertas), as
distinguished from the slave or social outcast.
Cicero considered the abolition of nexum primarily a political maneuver to appease the
common people (plebs): the law was passed during the Conflict of the Orders, when
plebeians were struggling to establish their rights in relation to the hereditary privileges
of the patricians. Although nexum was abolished as a way to secure a loan, debt
bondage might still result after a debtor defaulted.
European Middle Ages
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While serfdom under feudalism was the predominant political and economic system in
Europe in the High Middle Ages, persisting in the Austrian Empire till 1848 and the
Russian Empire until 1861 (details), debt bondage (and slavery) provided other forms of
Further information on indentured servitude in the American colonies: Indentured
During the colonial history of the United States, persons bonded themselves to
an owner who paid their passage to the New World. They worked until the debt
of passage was paid off, often for years.
In Peru, a peonage system existed from the 16th century until land reform in the
1950s. One estate in Peru that existed from the late 16th century until it ended
had up to 1,700 people employed and had a prison. They were expected to work
for their landlord a minimum of three days a week and more if necessary to
complete assigned work. Workers were paid a symbolic two cents per year.
Workers were unable to travel outside their assigned lands without permission
and were not allowed to organize any independent community activity. In the
Peruvian Amazon, debt peonage is an important aspect of contemporary Urarina
Though the figures differ from those of the International Labour Organization,
researcher Siddharth Kara has calculated the number of slaves in the world by type,
and determined that at the end of 2011 there were 18 to 20.5 million bonded laborers.
Bonded laborers work in industries today that produce goods including but not limited to
frozen shrimp, bricks, tea, coffee, diamonds, marble, and apparel.
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Although India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh all have laws prohibiting debt bondage, it is
estimated by Kara that 84 to 88% of the bonded laborers in the world are in South Asia.
Figures by the Human Rights Watch in 1999 are drastically higher estimating 40 million
workers, composed mainly of children, are tied to labor through debt bondage in India
Research by Kara estimates there to be between 55,000 and 65,000 brick kilns in South
Asia with 70% of them in India. Other research estimates 6,000 kilns in Pakistan alone.
Total revenue from brick kilns in South Asia is estimated by Kara to be $13.3 to $15.2
billion. Many of the brick kiln workers are migrants and travel between brick kiln
locations every few months. Kiln workers often live in extreme poverty and many began
work at kilns through repayment of a starting loan averaging $150 to $200. Kiln owners
offer laborers "friendly loans" to avoid being criminalized in breaking bonded labor laws.
Bonded brick kiln laborers, including children, work in harsh and unsafe conditions as
the heat from the kiln may cause heat stroke and a number of other medical conditions.
Although these laborers do have the option to default on loans, there is fear of death
and violence by brick kiln owners if they choose to do so.
An essential grain to the South Asian diet, rice is harvested throughout India and Nepal
in particular. In India, more than 20% of agricultural land is used to grow rice. Rice mill
owners often employ workers who live in harsh conditions on farms. Workers receive
such low wages that they must borrow money from their employers causing them to be
tied to the rice mill through debt. For example, in India, the average pay rate per day
was $0.55 American dollars as recorded in 2006. Though some workers may be able to
survive minimally from their compensation, uncontrollable life events such as an illness
require loans. Families, including children, work day and night to prepare the rice for
export by boiling it, drying it in the sun, and sifting through it for purification.
Furthermore, families who live on rice mill production sites are often excluded from
access to hospitals and schools.
Though there are not reliable estimates of bonded laborers in Sub-Saharan Africa to
date from credible sources, the Global Slavery Index estimates the total number of
those enslaved in this region is 6.25 million. In countries like Ghana, it is estimated that
85% of people enslaved are tied to labor. Additionally, this region includes Mauritania,
the country with the highest proportion of slavery in the world as an estimated 20% of its
population is enslaved through methods like debt bondage.
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The Environmental Justice Foundation found human rights violations in the fisheries on
the coasts of South and West Africa including labor exploitation. Exporter fish
companies drive smaller businesses and individuals to lower profits, causing
bankruptcy. In many cases, recruitment to these companies occurs by luring small
business owners and migrant workers through debt bondage.  In recruiting individual
fishers, fees are sometimes charged by a broker to use ports which opens the debt
After countries began to formally abolish slavery, unemployment was rampant for blacks
in South Africa and Nigeria pushing black women to work as domestic workers.
Currently, estimates from the International Labor Organization state that between
800,000 and 1.1 million domestic workers are in South Africa. Many of these domestic
servants become bonded to labor in a process similar to other industries in Asia. The
wages given to servants are often so poor that loans are taken when servants are in
need of more money, making it impossible to escape. The hours of working for domestic
servants are unpredictable, and because many servants are women, their young
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children are often left under the care of older children or other family members.
Moreover, these women can work up to the age of 75 and their daughters are likely to
be servants in the same households.
A 1994 report of Burmese prostitutes in Thailand reports compulsory indebtedness is
common for girls in forced prostitution, especially those transported across the border.
They are forced to work off their debt, often with 100 percent interest, and to pay for
their room, food and other items. In addition to debt bondage, the women and girls face
a wide range of abuses, including illegal confinement; forced labor; rape; physical
abuse; and more.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that $51.2 billion is made
annually in the exploitation of workers through debt bondage. Though the employers
actively take part in accruing the debt of laborers, buyers of products and services in the
country of manufacturing and abroad also contribute to the profitability of this practice.
In many of the industries in which debt bondage is common like brick kilns or fisheries,
entire families are often involved in paying of the debt of one individual, including
children. These children generally do not have access to education thus making it
impossible to get out of poverty. Moreover, if a relative who still is in debt dies, the
bondage is passed on to another family member, usually the children. At the
International Labor Organization Convention, this cycle was labeled as the "Worst
Forms of Child Labor." Researchers like Basu and Chau link the occurrence of child
labor through debt bondage with factors like labor rights and the stage of development
of an economy. Although minimum age labor laws are present in many regions with
child debt bondage, the laws are not enforced especially with regard to the agrarian
The United Nations
Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of "modern day
slavery" and is prohibited by international law. It is specifically dealt with by article 1(a)
of the United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. It
persists nonetheless especially in developing countries, which have few mechanisms
for credit security or bankruptcy, and where fewer people hold formal title to land or
possessions. According to some economists, like Hernando de Soto, this is a major
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arrier to development in these countries. For example, entrepreneurs do not dare to
take risks and cannot get credit because they hold no collateral and may burden
families for generations to come.
India was the first country to pass legislation directly prohibiting debt bondage through
the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976.  Less than two decades later,
Pakistan also passed a similar act in 1992 and Nepal passed the Kamaiya Labor
(Prohibition) Act in 2002. Despite the fact that these laws are in place, debt bondage in
South Asia is still widespread.
In India, the rise of Dalit activism, government legislation starting as early as 1949, as
well as ongoing work by NGOs and government offices to enforce labor laws and
rehabilitate those in debt, appears to have contributed to the reduction of bonded labor
there. However, according to research papers presented by the International Labor
Organization, there are still many obstacles to the eradication of bonded labor in India.
In many of the countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Ghana in which debt
bondage is prevalent, there are not laws that either state direct prohibition or
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appropriate punishment. For example, South Africa passed the Basic Conditions of
Employment Act of 1997 which prohibits forced labor but the punishment is up to 3
years of jail. In addition, though many of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have laws
that vaguely prohibit debt bondage, prosecution of such crimes rarely occurs.
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III. Wage Slavery
Wage Slavery is a term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by
focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. It is usually used to refer
to a situation where a person's livelihood depends on wages or a salary, especially
when the dependence is total and immediate.
The term "wage slavery" has been used to criticize exploitation of labour and social
stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor
and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in
sweatshops) and the latter as a lack of workers' self-management, fulfilling job choices
and leisure in an economy. The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of
employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform
otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their "species character" not only
under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution.
Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted as early as Cicero in Ancient
Rome, such as in De Officiis. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, thinkers such
as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx elaborated the comparison between wage
labor and slavery, while Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by
machines. Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American
slavery invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their
slaves to workers in the North. The United States abolished slavery after the Civil War,
but labor union activists found the metaphor useful and appropriate. According to
Lawrence Glickman, in the Gilded Age "[r]eferences abounded in the labor press, and it
is hard to find a speech by a labor leader without the phrase".
The introduction of wage labor in 18th-century Britain was met with resistance, giving
rise to the principles of syndicalism. Historically, some labor organizations and individual
social activists have espoused workers' self-management or worker cooperatives as
possible alternatives to wage labor.
Emma Goldman famously denounced wage slavery
by saying: "The only difference is that you are
hired slaves instead of block slaves"
The view that working for wages is akin to slavery dates
back to the ancient world. In ancient Rome, Cicero wrote
that "whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and
puts himself in the rank of slaves".
In 1763, the French journalist Simon Linguet published an
influential description of wage slavery:
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The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him ... They
were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market ... It is the
impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil
whose fruits they will not eat and our masons to construct buildings in which they will
not live ... It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in
order to get from him permission to enrich him ... what effective gain [has] the
suppression of slavery brought [him ?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune ...
These men ... [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. ...
They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?
The view that wage work has substantial similarities with chattel slavery was actively put
forward in the late 18th and 19th centuries by defenders of chattel slavery (most notably
in the Southern states of the United States) and by opponents of capitalism (who were
also critics of chattel slavery). Some defenders of slavery, mainly from the Southern
slave states, argued that Northern workers were "free but in name – the slaves of
endless toil" and that their slaves were better off. This contention has been partly
corroborated by some modern studies that indicate slaves' material conditions in the
19th century were "better than what was typically available to free urban laborers at the
time". In this period, Henry David Thoreau wrote that "[i]t is hard to have a Southern
overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slavedriver
Some abolitionists in the United States regarded the analogy as spurious. They
believed that wage workers were "neither wronged nor oppressed". Abraham Lincoln
and the Republicans argued that the condition of wage workers was different from
slavery as laborers were likely to have the opportunity to work for themselves in the
future, achieving self-employment. The abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass
initially declared "now I am my own master", upon taking a paying job. However, later in
life he concluded to the contrary, saying "experience demonstrates that there may be a
slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery,
and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other". Douglass went on to speak
about these conditions as arising from the unequal bargaining power between the
ownership/capitalist class and the non-ownership/laborer class within a compulsory
monetary market: "No more crafty and effective devise for defrauding the southern
laborers could be adopted than the one that substitutes orders upon shopkeepers for
currency in payment of wages. It has the merit of a show of honesty, while it puts the
laborer completely at the mercy of the land-owner and the shopkeeper".
Self-employment became less common as the artisan tradition slowly disappeared in
the later part of the 19th century. In 1869, The New York Times described the system of
wage labor as "a system of slavery as absolute if not as degrading as that which lately
prevailed at the South". E. P. Thompson notes that for British workers at the end of the
18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the "gap in status between a 'servant,' a hired
wage-laborer subject to the orders and discipline of the master, and an artisan, who
might 'come and go' as he pleased, was wide enough for men to shed blood rather than
allow themselves to be pushed from one side to the other. And, in the value system of
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the community, those who resisted degradation were in the right". A "Member of the
Builders' Union" in the 1830s argued that the trade unions "will not only strike for less
work, and more wages, but will ultimately abolish wages, become their own masters
and work for each other; labor and capital will no longer be separate but will be
indissolubly joined together in the hands of workmen and work-women". This
perspective inspired the
Union of 1834 which had
the "two-fold purpose of
syndicalist unions – the
protection of the workers
under the existing system
and the formation of the
nuclei of the future
society" when the unions
"take over the whole
industry of the country".
"Research has shown",
Lazonick, "that the 'freeborn
Englishman' of the
eighteenth century – even
those who, by force of
circumstance, had to
submit to agricultural
wage labour – tenaciously
resisted entry into the
The use of the term "wage slave" by labor organizations may originate from the labor
protests of the Lowell Mill Girls in 1836. The imagery of wage slavery was widely used
by labor organizations during the mid-19th century to object to the lack of workers' selfmanagement.
However, it was gradually replaced by the more neutral term "wage work"
towards the end of the 19th century as labor organizations shifted their focus to raising
Karl Marx described capitalist society as infringing on individual autonomy because it is
based on a materialistic and commodified concept of the body and its liberty (i.e. as
something that is sold, rented, or alienated in a class society). According to Friedrich
The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The
individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it
may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were
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of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it,
has no secure existence.
Similarities of Wage Work with Slavery
Critics of wage work have drawn several similarities between wage work and slavery:
1. Since the chattel slave is property, his value to an owner is in some ways higher
than that of a worker who may quit, be fired or replaced. The chattel slave's
owner has made a greater investment in terms of the money paid for the slave.
For this reason, in times of recession chattel slaves could not be fired like wage
laborers. A "wage slave" could also be harmed at no (or less) cost. American
chattel-slaves in the 19th century had improved their standard of living from the
18th century and – according to historians Fogel and Engerman – plantation
records show that slaves worked less, were better fed and whipped only
occasionally – their material conditions in the 19th century being "better than
what was typically available to free urban laborers at the time". This was partially
due to slave psychological strategies under an economic system different from
capitalist wage-slavery. According to Mark Michael Smith of the Economic
History Society, "although intrusive and oppressive, paternalism, the way
masters employed it, and the methods slaves used to manipulate it, rendered
slaveholders' attempts to institute capitalistic work regimens on their plantation
ineffective and so allowed slaves to carve out a degree of autonomy".
2. Unlike a chattel slave, a wage laborer can (barring unemployment or lack of job
offers) choose between employers, but those employers usually constitute a
minority of owners in the population for which the wage laborer must work while
attempts to implement workers' control on employers' businesses may be
considered an act of theft or insubordination and thus be met with violence,
imprisonment or other legal and social measures. The wage laborer's starkest
choice is to work for an employer or to face poverty or starvation. If a chattel
slave refuses to work, a number of punishments are also available; from beatings
to food deprivation – although economically rational slave-owners practiced
positive reinforcement to achieve best results and before losing their investment
by killing an expensive slave.
3. Historically, the range of occupations and status positions held by chattel slaves
has been nearly as broad as that held by free persons, indicating some
similarities between chattel slavery and wage slavery as well.
4. Like chattel slavery, wage slavery does not stem from some immutable "human
nature", but represents a "specific response to material and historical conditions"
that "reproduce[s] the inhabitants, the social relations… the ideas… [and] the
social form of daily life".
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5. Similarities became blurred when proponents of wage labor won the American
Civil War of 1861-1865, in which they competed for legitimacy with defenders of
chattel slavery. Each side presented an over-positive assessment of their own
system while denigrating the opponent.
According to American anarcho-syndicalist philosopher Noam Chomsky, workers
themselves noticed the similarities between chattel and wage slavery. Chomsky noted
that the 19th-century Lowell Mill Girls, without any reported knowledge of European
Marxism or anarchism, condemned the "degradation and subordination" of the newlyemerging
industrial system and the "new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but
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self", maintaining that "those who work in the mills should own them". They expressed
their concerns in a protest song during their 1836 strike:
Oh! isn't it a pity, such a pretty girl as I
Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave,
For I'm so fond of liberty,
That I cannot be a slave.
Defenses of both wage labor and chattel slavery in the literature have linked the
subjection of man to man with the subjection of man to nature – arguing that hierarchy
and a social system's particular relations of production represent human nature and are
no more coercive than the reality of life itself. According to this narrative, any wellintentioned
attempt to fundamentally change the status quo is naively utopian and will
result in more oppressive conditions. Bosses in both of these long-lasting systems
argued that their respective systems created a lot of wealth and prosperity. In some
sense, both did create jobs, and their investment entailed risk. For example, slaveowners
risked losing money by buying chattel slaves who later became ill or died; while
bosses risked losing money by hiring workers (wage slaves) to make products that did
not sell well on the market. Marginally, both chattel and wage slaves may become
bosses; sometimes by working hard. The "rags to riches" story occasionally comes to
pass in capitalism; the "slave to master" story occurred in places like colonial Brazil,
where slaves could buy their own freedom and become business owners, selfemployed,
or slave-owners themselves. Thus critics of the concept of wage slavery do
not regard social mobility, or the hard work and risk that it may entail, as a redeeming
Anthropologist David Graeber has noted that historically the first wage-labor contracts
we know about – whether in ancient Greece or Rome, or in the Malay or Swahili citystates
in the Indian Ocean – were in fact contracts for the rental of chattel slaves
(usually the owner would receive a share of the money and the slaves another, with
which to maintain their living expenses). According to Graeber, such arrangements
were quite common in New World slavery as well, whether in the United States or in
Brazil. C. L. R. James (1901-1989) argued that most of the techniques of human
organization employed on factory workers during the Industrial Revolution first
developed on slave plantations. Subsequent work "traces the innovations of modern
management to the slave plantation".
Decline in use of term
The usage of the term "wage slavery" shifted to "wage work" at the end of the 19th
century as groups like the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor shifted to
a more reformist, trade union ideology instead of worker's self-management. Much of
the decline was caused by the rapid increase in manufacturing after the Industrial
Revolution and the subsequent dominance of wage labor as a result. Another factor
was immigration and demographic changes that led to ethnic tension between the
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As Hallgrimsdottir and Benoit point out:
[I]ncreased centralization of production ... declining wages ... [an] expanding ... labor
pool ... intensifying competition, and ... [t]he loss of competence and independence
experienced by skilled labor" meant that "a critique that referred to all [wage] work as
slavery and avoided demands for wage concessions in favor of supporting the creation of
the producerist republic (by diverting strike funds towards funding ... co-operatives, for
example) was far less compelling than one that identified the specific conditions of
slavery as low wages.
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Treatment in Various Economic Systems
Some anti-capitalist thinkers claim that the elite maintain wage slavery and a divided
working class through their influence over the media and entertainment industry,
educational institutions, unjust laws, nationalist and corporate propaganda, pressures
and incentives to internalize values serviceable to the power structure, state violence,
fear of unemployment, and a historical legacy of exploitation and profit
accumulation/transfer under prior systems, which shaped the development of economic
theory. Adam Smith noted that employers often conspire together to keep wages low
and have the upper hand in conflicts between workers and employers:
The interest of the dealers ... in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is
always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public... [They]
have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public ... We rarely hear,
it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of
workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as
ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of
tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their
actual rate ... It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon
all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a
compliance with their terms.
The concept of wage slavery could conceivably be traced back to pre-capitalist figures
like Gerrard Winstanley from the radical Christian Diggers movement in England, who
wrote in his 1649 pamphlet, The New Law of Righteousness, that there "shall be no
buying or selling, no fairs nor markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury
for every man" and "there shall be none Lord over others, but every one shall be a Lord
Aristotle stated that "the citizens must not live a mechanic or a mercantile life (for such a
life is ignoble and inimical to virtue), nor yet must those who are to be citizens in the
best state be tillers of the soil (for leisure is needed both for the development of virtue
and for active participation in politics)", often paraphrased as "all paid jobs absorb and
degrade the mind". Cicero wrote in 44 BC that "vulgar are the means of livelihood of all
hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill; for in their
case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery". Somewhat similar
criticisms have also been expressed by some proponents of liberalism, like Silvio Gesell
and Thomas Paine; Henry George, who inspired the economic philosophy known as
Georgism;  and the Distributist school of thought within the Catholic Church.
To Karl Marx and anarchist thinkers like Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, wage
slavery was a class condition in place due to the existence of private property and the
state. This class situation rested primarily on:
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1. The existence of property not intended for active use;
2. The concentration of ownership in few hands;
3. The lack of direct access by workers to the means of production and
consumption goods; and
4. The perpetuation of a reserve army of unemployed workers.
And secondarily on:
1. The waste of workers' efforts and resources on producing useless luxuries;
2. The waste of goods so that their price may remain high; and
3. The waste of all those who sit between the producer and consumer, taking their
own shares at each stage without actually contributing to the production of
goods, i.e. the middle man.
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Fascist economic policies were more hostile to independent trade unions than modern
economies in Europe or the United States. Fascism was more widely accepted in the
1920s and 1930s, and foreign corporate investment (notably from the United States) in
Italy and Germany increased after the fascists took power.
Fascism has been perceived by some notable critics, like Buenaventura Durruti, to be a
last resort weapon of the privileged to ensure the maintenance of wage slavery:
No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is
slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.
According to Noam Chomsky, analysis of the psychological implications of wage slavery
goes back to the Enlightenment era. In his 1791 book The Limits of State Action,
classical liberal thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt explained how "whatever does not spring
from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not
enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely
with mechanical exactness" and so when the laborer works under external control, "we
may admire what he does, but we despise what he is". Because they explore human
authority and obedience, both the Milgram and Stanford experiments have been found
useful in the psychological study of wage-based workplace relations.
Self-Identity Problems and Stress
According to research, modern work provides people with a sense of personal and
social identity that is tied to:
1. The particular work role, even if unfulfilling; and
2. The social role it entails e.g. family bread-winning, friendship forming and so on.
Thus job loss entails the loss of this identity.
Erich Fromm argued that if a person perceives himself as being what he owns, then
when that person loses (or even thinks of losing) what he "owns" (e.g. the good looks or
sharp mind that allow him to sell his labor for high wages) a fear of loss may create
anxiety and authoritarian tendencies because that person's sense of identity is
threatened. In contrast, when a person's sense of self is based on what he experiences
in a state of being (creativity, love, sadness, taste, sight and the like) with a less
materialistic regard for what he once had and lost, or may lose, then less authoritarian
tendencies prevail. In his view, the state of being flourishes under a worker-managed
workplace and economy, whereas self-ownership entails a materialistic notion of self,
created to rationalize the lack of worker control that would allow for a state of being.
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Investigative journalist Robert Kuttner analyzed the work of public-health scholars
Jeffrey Johnson and Ellen Hall about modern conditions of work and concludes that "to
be in a life situation where one experiences relentless demands by others, over which
one has relatively little control, is to be at risk of poor health, physically as well as
mentally". Under wage labor, "a relatively small elite demands and gets empowerment,
self-actualization, autonomy, and other work satisfaction that partially compensate for
long hours" while "epidemiological data confirm that lower-paid, lower-status workers
are more likely to experience the most clinically damaging forms of stress, in part
because they have less control over their work".
Wage slavery and the educational system that precedes it "implies power held by the
leader. Without power the leader is inept. The possession of power inevitably leads to
corruption ... in spite of ... good intentions ... [Leadership means] power of initiative, this
sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood, is taken
from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their initiative, their
responsibility, their self-respect becomes his ... [and the] order and system he maintains
is based upon the suppression of the men, from being independent thinkers into being
'the men' ... In a word, he is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy".
For the "leader", such marginalisation can be beneficial, for a leader "sees no need for
any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Indeed
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such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding criticism and opposition, is an
obstacle and causes confusion". Wage slavery "implies erosion of the human
personality ... [because] some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these
instincts which predispose them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of
In 19th-century discussions of labor relations, it was normally assumed that the threat of
starvation forced those without property to work for wages. Proponents of the view that
modern forms of employment constitute wage slavery, even when workers appear to
have a range of available alternatives, have attributed its perpetuation to a variety of
social factors that maintain the hegemony of the employer class.
In an account of the Lowell Mill Girls, Harriet Hanson Robinson wrote that generously
high wages were offered to overcome the degrading nature of the work:
At the time the Lowell cotton mills were started the caste of the factory girl was the
lowest among the employments of women. ... She was represented as subjected to
influences that must destroy her purity and selfrespect. In the eyes of her overseer she
was but a brute, a slave, to be beaten, pinched and pushed about. It was to overcome
this prejudice that such high wages had been offered to women that they might be
induced to become millgirls, in spite of the opprobrium that still clung to this degrading
In his book Disciplined Minds, Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to
run organizations in the interests of their employers. Because employers cannot be on
hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to "ensure that each and
every detail of their work favors the right interests–or skewers the disfavored ones" in
the absence of overt control:
The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom
employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the
confines of an assigned ideology.
Parecon (participatory economics) theory posits a social class "between labor and
capital" of higher paid professionals such as "doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers
and others" who monopolize empowering labor and constitute a class above wage
laborers who do mostly "obedient, rote work".
The terms "employee" or "worker" have often been replaced by "associate". This plays
up the allegedly voluntary nature of the interaction while playing down the subordinate
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status of the wage laborer as well as the worker-boss class distinction emphasized by
labor movements. Billboards as well as television, Internet and newspaper
advertisements consistently show low-wage workers with smiles on their faces,
Job interviews and other data on requirements for lower skilled workers in developed
countries – particularly in the growing service sector – indicate that the more workers
depend on low wages and the less skilled or desirable their job is, the more employers
screen for workers without better employment options and expect them to feign
Such screening and feigning may not only contribute to the positive self-image of the
employer as someone granting desirable employment, but also signal wagedependence
by indicating the employee's willingness to feign, which in turn may
discourage the dissatisfaction normally associated with job-switching or union activity.
At the same time, employers in the service industry have justified unstable, part-time
employment and low wages by playing down the importance of service jobs for the lives
of the wage laborers (e.g. just temporary before finding something better, student
summer jobs and the like).
In the early 20th century, "scientific methods of strikebreaking" were devised –
employing a variety of tactics that emphasized how strikes undermined "harmony" and
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Some social activists objecting to the market system or price system of wage working
historically have considered syndicalism, worker cooperatives, workers' selfmanagement
and workers' control as possible alternatives to the current wage system.
Labor and Government
The American philosopher John Dewey believed that until "industrial feudalism" is
replaced by "industrial democracy", politics will be "the shadow cast on society by big
business". Thomas Ferguson has postulated in his investment theory of party
competition that the undemocratic nature of economic institutions under capitalism
causes elections to become occasions when blocs of investors coalesce and compete
to control the state.
Noam Chomsky has argued that political theory tends to blur the 'elite' function of
Modern political theory stresses Madison's belief that "in a just and a free government
the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded." But in this
case too it is useful to look at the doctrine more carefully. There are no rights of
property, only rights to property that is, rights of persons with property,...
[In] representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain […] there is
a monopoly of power centralized in the state, and secondly – and critically – […] the
representative democracy is limited to the political sphere and in no serious way
encroaches on the economic sphere […] That is, as long as individuals are compelled to
rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role
in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion
and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful.
In this regard, Chomsky has used Bakunin's theories about an "instinct for freedom", the
militant history of labor movements, Kropotkin's mutual aid evolutionary principle of
survival and Marc Hauser's theories supporting an innate and universal moral faculty, to
explain the incompatibility of oppression with certain aspects of human nature.
Influence on Environmental Degradation
Loyola University philosophy professor John Clark and libertarian socialist philosopher
Murray Bookchin have criticized the system of wage labor for encouraging
environmental destruction, arguing that a self-managed industrial society would better
manage the environment. Like other anarchists, they attribute much of the Industrial
Revolution's pollution to the "hierarchical" and "competitive" economic relations
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Some criticize wage slavery on strictly contractual grounds, e.g. David Ellerman and
Carole Pateman, arguing that the employment contract is a legal fiction in that it treats
human beings juridically as mere tools or inputs by abdicating responsibility and selfdetermination,
which the critics argue are inalienable. As Ellerman points out, "[t]he
employee is legally
transformed from being a
co-responsible partner to
being only an input supplier
sharing no legal
responsibility for either the
input liabilities [costs] or the
produced outputs [revenue,
profits] of the employer's
business". Such contracts
are inherently invalid "since
the person remain[s] a de
facto fully capacitated adult
person with only the
contractual role of a nonperson"
as it is impossible to
physically transfer selfdetermination.
The contractarian argument
is unassailable all the time it
is accepted that abilities can
'acquire' an external relation
to an individual, and can be
treated as if they were
property. To treat abilities in this manner is also implicitly to accept that the 'exchange'
between employer and worker is like any other exchange of material property . . . The
answer to the question of how property in the person can be contracted out is that no
such procedure is possible. Labour power, capacities or services, cannot be separated
from the person of the worker like pieces of property.
In a modern liberal capitalist society, the employment contract is enforced while the
enslavement contract is not; the former being considered valid because of its
consensual/non-coercive nature and the latter being considered inherently invalid,
consensual or not. The noted economist Paul Samuelson described this discrepancy:
Since slavery was abolished, human earning power is forbidden by law to be
capitalized. A man is not even free to sell himself; he must rent himself at a wage.
Some advocates of right-libertarianism, among them philosopher Robert Nozick,
address this inconsistency in modern societies arguing that a consistently libertarian
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society would allow and regard as valid consensual/non-coercive enslavement
contracts, rejecting the notion of inalienable rights:
The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to
sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would.
Others like Murray Rothbard allow for the possibility of debt slavery, asserting that a
lifetime labour contract can be broken so long as the slave pays appropriate damages:
[I]f A has agreed to work for life for B in exchange for 10,000 grams of gold, he will have
to return the proportionate amount of property if he terminates the arrangement and
ceases to work.
Schools of Economics
In the philosophy of mainstream, neoclassical economics, wage labor is seen as the
voluntary sale of one's own time and efforts, just like a carpenter would sell a chair, or a
farmer would sell wheat. It is considered neither an antagonistic nor abusive relationship
and carries no particular moral implications.
Austrian economics argues that a person is not "free" unless they can sell their labor
because otherwise that person has no self-ownership and will be owned by a "third
party" of individuals.
Post-Keynesian economics perceives wage slavery as resulting from inequality of
bargaining power between labor and capital, which exists when the economy does not
"allow labor to organize and form a strong countervailing force".
The two main forms of socialist economics perceive wage slavery differently:
1. Libertarian socialism sees it as a lack of workers' self-management in the context
of substituting state and capitalist control with political and economic
decentralization and confederation.
2. State socialists view it as an injustice perpetrated by capitalists and solved
through nationalization and social ownership of the means of production.
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IV. Child Slavery
Child Slavery is the slavery of children. The enslavement of children can be traced
back through history. Even after the abolition of slavery, children continue to be
enslaved and trafficked in modern times, which is a particular problem in developing
Child slavery refers to the slavery of children below the age of majority. In the past,
many children have been sold into slavery in order for their family to repay debts or
crimes or earn some money if the family were short of cash. A scholar retold a story
about a mother where, "her predicament shattered the privilege of thinking of her
children in purely personal and sentimental terms and caused her to consider whether
outsiders might find value in them". Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about a woman who
was bought by a slave owner to breed children for him to sell. The expectations of
children who were either bought or born into slavery varied. Scholars noted, "age and
physical capacity, as well as the degree of dependence, set the terms of children's
integration into households".
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The duties that child slaves were responsible for performing are disputed amongst
scholars. A few representations of the lives that slave children led portrayed them as,
"virtually divorced from the plantation economy until they were old enough to be
employed as field hands, thereby emphasizing the carefree nature of childhood for a
part of the slave population that was temporarily spared forced labor". This view also
stated that if children were asked to perform any duties at all, it was to perform light
household chores, such as being "organized into 'trash gangs' and made to collect
refuse about the estate". Opposing scholars argued that slave children had their youth
stolen from them, and were forced to start performing adult duties at a very young age.
Some say that children were forced to perform field labor duties as young as the age of
six. It is argued that in some areas children were put to "regular work in the antebellum
South" and it "was a time when slaves began to learn work routines, but also work
discipline and related punishment".
A degree of self-possession was present in some degree to adults, but "children
retained the legal incapacities of dependence even after they had become productive
members of households". It was reported by scholars that, "this distinctive status
shaped children's standing within familial households and left them subject to forced
apprenticeship, even after emancipation". There were slave owners who did not want
child slaves or women who were pregnant for fear that the child would have "took up too
much of her time".
The conditions of slavery for pregnant women varied regionally. In most cases, women
worked in the fields up until childbirth performing small tasks. "four weeks appears to
have been the average confinement period, or 'lying-in period', for antebellum slave
women following delivery in the South as a whole". Slaveholders in northern Virginia,
however, usually only permitted an average lying-in period of about "two weeks before
ordering new mothers back to work". The responsibility of raising and tending to the
children then became the task of other children and older elderly slaves. In most
institutions of slavery throughout the world, the children of slaves became the property
of the owner. This created a constant supply of people to perform labor. This was the
case with, for example, thralls and American slaves. In other cases, children were
enslaved as if they were adults. Usually, the status of the mother determined if the child
was a slave, but some local laws varied the decision to the father. In many cultures,
slaves could earn their freedom through hard work and buying their own freedom.
Although the abolition of slavery in much of the world has greatly reduced child slavery,
the problem lives on, especially in developing countries. According to the Anti-Slavery
Society, "Although there is no longer any state which legally recognizes, or which will
enforce, a claim by a person to a right of property over another, the abolition of slavery
does not mean that it ceased to exist. There are millions of people throughout the
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world—mainly children—in conditions of virtual to slavery." It further notes that slavery,
particularly child slavery, was on the rise in 2003. It points out that there are countless
others in other forms of servitude (such as peonage, bonded labor and servile
concubinage) which are not slavery in the narrow legal sense. Critics claim they are
stretching the definition and practice of slavery beyond its original meaning, and are
actually referring to forms of unfree labor other than slavery. In 1990, reports of slavery
came out of Bahr al Ghazal, a Dinka region in southern Sudan. In 1995, Dinka mothers
spoke about their abducted children. Roughly 20,000 slaves were reported in Sudan in
1999. "The handmade woolen carpet industry is extremely labor intensive and one of
the largest export earners for India, Pakistan, Nepal and Morocco." During the past 20
years, about 200,000 and 300,000 children are involved, most of them in the carpet belt
of Uttar Pradesh in central India. Many children in Asia are kidnapped or trapped in
servitude, where they work in factories and workshops for no pay and receive constant
beatings. Slaves have reappeared following the old slave trade routes in West Africa.
"The children are kidnapped or purchased for $20–$70 each in poorer states, such as
Benin and Togo, and sold into slavery in sex dens or as unpaid domestic servants for
$350.00 each in wealthier oil-rich states, such as Nigeria and Gabon."
Trafficking of children includes recruiting, harboring, obtaining, and transporting children
by use of force or fraud for the purpose of subjecting them to involuntary acts, such as
commercial sexual exploitation (including prostitution) or involuntary labour, i.e.,
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enslavement. Some see human trafficking as the modern form of slavery. Human
trafficking is the trade of human beings and their use by criminals to make money. The
majority of trafficking victims are adults, predominantly made up of women forced into
prostitution (although men are trafficked also), but children make up a significant
number of the victims forced into prostitution.
In Ukraine, a survey conducted by the non-governmental organization (NGO) La
Strada-Ukraine in 2001–2003, based on a sample of 106 women being trafficked out of
Ukraine found that 3% were under 18, and the US State Department reported in 2004
that incidents of minors being trafficked was increasing. In Thailand, NGOs have
estimated that up to a third of prostitutes are children under 18, many trafficked from
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and
child pornography estimates that about one million children in Asia alone are victims of
the sex trade.
Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Save the Children, World Vision and the British
Red Cross have called for an immediate halt to adoptions of Haitian children not
approved before the earthquake, warning that child traffickers could exploit the lack of
regulation. An Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
spokesman said that child enslavement and trafficking was "an existing problem and
could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months".
In 2007, Human Rights Watch estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 children served as
soldiers in current conflicts.
More girls under 16 work as domestic workers than any other category of child labor,
often sent to cities by parents living in rural poverty such as in restaveks in Haiti.
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V. Migrant Domestic Workers
Migrant Domestic Workers (also known as foreign home care workers, foreign
domestic workers, foreign domestic helpers, transnational domestic workers, foreign
domestic employees, overseas domestic workers and domestic migrant workers) are,
according to the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 189 and the
International Organization for Migration, any persons “moving to another country or
region to better their material or social conditions and improve the prospect for
themselves or their family,” engaged in a work relationship performing “in or for a
household or households.” Domestic work itself can cover a "wide range of tasks and
services that vary from country to country and that can be different depending on the
age, gender, ethnic background and migration status of the workers concerned." These
particular workers have been identified by some academics as situated within "the rapid
growth of paid domestic labor, the feminization of transnational migration, and the
development of new public spheres.” Prominent discussions on the topic include the
status of these workers, motivations for becoming one, recruitment and employment
practices in the field, and various measures being undertaken to change the conditions
of domestic work among migrants.
Migrant Domestic Workers in The World
The status of migrant domestic workers is unique in the field of labor, due to the site of
their employment: the home. The domestic sphere, by definition, “is imagined as a place
for private individuals, not political or indeed market actors.” Due to their embeddedness
in what can be considered the “private sphere”, some analysts have gone so far as to
equate domestic laborers with members of the employers’ families, a dynamic made all
the more complex by these workers' status as migrants. Historically, they have not been
regarded as the same form of labor as manufacturers or doctors. From the end of the
Second World War until the mid-1980s, for instance, “most ILO Conventions explicitly
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excluded domestic workers from the protections afforded by most employment
The lack of knowledge concerning the composition of this workforce has been attributed
to this historical lack of attention and advocacy. Current estimates place the number of
domestics anywhere between 53 and 100 million. The ILO, in 2010, projected the
following distribution of domestic workers throughout the world:
Region Domestic Workers Percentage of women
Developed Countries 3 555 000 73%
Eastern Europe/CIS 595 000 67%
Asia/Pacific 21 467 000 81%
Latin America/Caribbean 19 593 000 92%
Africa 5 236 000 74%
Middle East 2 107 000 63%
Source: Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics
and the extent of legal protection, International Labor Organization. Geneva. 2013
According to a report by the same organization, globally, “83% of domestic workers are
women,” and migrants compose a majority of these. Due, however, to “the
heterogeneity, irregularity and invisibility of domestic and care work," statistics can
never be comprehensive.
Regulations and Conventions
The fact that domestic work is often relegated to the private sphere, coupled with the
sometimes-illegal status of these migrants, has created a sparse regulatory
environment. As cited above, for example, the ILO had purposefully excluded domestic
workers from their labor regulations. However, increasing advocacy, coupled with the
increasingly transnational element of domestic work prompted the drafting of
Convention 189, “Domestic Workers Convention, 2011,” which mandated rest hours, a
minimum wage, some freedom of movement, a clearly worded working contract before
migrating, and a right to live outside of their workplace. Though this convention passed
with a majority of votes, it has thus far only been ratified by Uruguay and the
Philippines, both net sending countries.
The ILO is not the only international organization attempting to regulate this field,
however. The European Parliament drafted a resolution, submitted to the European
Commission, calling for domestics’ inclusion in future labor legislation, to take into
account their unique work environment, and give training, social security, and set work
hours to domestic workers.
This has yet to be adopted or change international regulation, though. As such, the
regulation of migrant domestic labor is left to individual states, which, as will be
examined, has led to abuses.
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Drivers for Demand and Supply for Migrant Domestic Workers
Starting in the mid-19th century, the employment of a domestic worker became a status
symbol for bourgeois households and a civilizing mission to young female servants
coming from the countryside in search for education, lodging and income. The character
of this migration changed around the start of the 20th century, when maids were
recruited to work overseas as part of racial purity policies, which involved providing
suitable brides for the male settlers.
Changes in roles and social
aspirations of middle-class women are
perceived to have intensified the
admission of women into waged work.
From an economic perspective,
freeing these middle and upper-class
women from household chores
allowed them to engage in more
productive activities; families’ real
income thus increases along with their
Women migrating into private
households thousands of miles away
from their country of origin are
motivated to do so by the search for
better salaries and also that their
prospects will improve in the
destination countries. These women
are frequently escaping violence, war,
corruption, natural disasters and long-term economic instabilities or poverty in general.
Because these workers' remittances are a source of revenues for their countries of
origin, some countries actively encourage their female workers to migrate abroad for
domestic work as a key development strategy, offsetting unemployment problems, while
growing the economy through accumulating foreign-exchange reserves.
Migrant domestic workers tend to replace the native peers of the host country, and
displace them towards other (usually more productive) activities.
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Migrant domestic workers are, on average, better educated than their domestically
sourced counterparts. Undocumented migrants can become domestic workers, not only
due to demand but also to a lack of access to the formal labor market, language
barriers, a lack of social capital (networks), or technical barriers that impede their labor
market integration. Some of these workers even hold advanced degrees, but, as their
educational credentials are not accepted in the host country, or they are not legally
qualified to work in their field, they are not able to find work that would comply with their
level of education. The status afforded to highly educated migrants, however, is often
more sought after, especially in the field of child care, as both an asset and a symbol of
status for the employer.
Nevertheless, the insufficiency of state-supported care facilities under the auspices of
the welfare state and an increasingly aging population created a demand for domestic
work, particularly in OECD countries. This so-called ‘care crisis’ has been one of the
motors of the feminization of migration, as it has opened up labor opportunities for
women in the area of care work.
Cost and Flexibility
Institutional arrangements contribute to making migrant domestic workers cost less to
employers than their native counterparts. Due to the largely undocumented or informal
nature of their employment, migrants are not automatically entitled to social
benefits(health care, etc.), reproductive, and family rights (e.g., family unification). In
countries such as Malaysia, even through formal employment arrangements, employers
are not required to pay minimum wages to migrant workers. This legal vulnerability
found in the case of undocumented immigrants is also often cited as a reason for nonpayment
for services provided. In terms of working conditions, research on the
perception of employers in the UK found that migrants were seen to be more likely to
live in and perceived as more ‘flexible’ both in terms of tasks performed and of working
hours, another motive for hiring this type of worker. Additionally, in case of formal, legal
arrangements, some immigration law gives the employers control over workers’ mobility
during the period of the contract; this is seen as an offset to the fact that domestic
workers in that labor market typically experience high turnover.
Discipline and “Loyalty”
Migrant domestic workers tend to shy away from authorities and social services, due in
some part to their status as undocumented and mostly women. Additionally, research
has shown that the perception exists on the part of the workers that they are being
afforded some form of protection by their employers, which, thus, demands a projection
of gratitude and courtesy in their attitude. This is exemplified by the fact that, in some
cases, domestic work may be considered a viable alternative to sex work for a female
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illegal immigrant. The pressure to send remittances from abroad to the source country is
felt more strongly by these women, who tend to remit a greater proportion of their
income than their male counterparts. Their wages are also used to pay back recruitment
agencies and cover basic costs of family members in their home communities, including
their health care and education. This, in a way, binds them to their jobs and is a
disincentive to repatriate or quit. When they are required to be officially sponsored, such
as in the Kafala system of some Middle Eastern countries, the migrant domestic worker
becomes legally and economically bound to their sponsor, creating an environment in
which these particular workers are encouraged to be more loyal and more under the
control of their employer.
Racial Stereotypes of “Ideal” Domestic Workers
Many individual employers reportedly express a preference for domestic workers with
(assumed or real) behavioral, cultural, linguistic or religious traits thought to influence
the quality of service provided. Research of the perceptions of employers have shown
that racial stereotypes identify certain nationalities as ideal domestic workers. In the
United States, for instance, Mexican maids and Peruvian nannies are seen as
‘submissive’ workers and ‘natural mothers’ respectively. These perceptions play out in
the levels of compensation for these workers. In the United Arab Emirates, for instance,
a college-educated domestic worker from the Philippines is seen as more of a status
symbol and earns significantly more than her equally skilled counterpart from India; this
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disparity is attributed in the literature to racial and socioeconomic assumptions on the
part of employers.
Recruitment of Migrant Domestic Workers
The high demand for foreign domestic workers in the Arab states has created a
flourishing and profitable market for private employment agencies and informal brokers
that supply labor from many countries, mainly Asian and African source countries.
Statistics from the International Federation of Private Employment Agencies (CIETT)
show that 34 per cent of the world’s 72,000 private employment agencies are based in
the Asia-Pacific region and 8 percent in Africa, though most of these agencies are
temporary staffing agencies that are not involved in cross-border migration. Local
recruiters trawl through villages and portray pictures of promising working environment,
success and profitable income in urban centers or rich countries abroad. They have
been known to promise recruits income to help them build in their native countries or,
for younger recruits, the opportunity to continue their education abroad. Labor recruiters
and agencies undergo scant monitoring, and in most countries, few regulations exist to
control the recruitment fees charged to workers. Private recruitment agencies
orchestrate much of the migration process from pre-departure to the return. They
provide information, financial and logistical support; however, migrant domestic workers’
dependence on private agencies for so many services create many opportunities for
exploitation and abuse.
According to International Labor Organization, there exist frequent irregularities
concerning these intermediaries (i.e., recruiters and agents in sending and receiving
countries). Therefore, the inconsistencies, between regulations in source and
destination countries, as well as loopholes in existing laws and regulations create
opportunities for unscrupulous agencies to exploit the system. Intermediaries who
provide services to facilitate the migration process have been indicated to be important
perpetrators of exploitation of women migrant workers. Taking advantage of migrants’
desperation to find work, agents and employers have been accused of shifting the
burden of recruitment fees, including airfare, visas, and administrative fees, on to the
workers themselves, while employers pay a nominal fee. This creates a heavy debt
burden on international migrant domestic workers. Many Indonesian domestic workers
migrating to Persian Gulf countries take out loans from local moneylenders with interest
rates as high as 100 percent to pay these fees, while those traveling to Asia typically
use a “fly now, pay later” scheme. For example, in Singapore and Hong Kong,
Indonesian migrant domestic workers often spend up to 10 months out of a two-year
contract without a salary, since they must turn over these wages to repay their
recruitment fees. The resulting financial pressure makes it difficult for workers to report
abuse for fear of losing their jobs and having no way to pay off their debts. Experience
has shown that bans on the recruitment and deployment of migrant workers, which
often affect domestic workers disproportionally, are difficult to enforce and drive the
recruitment process further underground. In addition, the extravagant fees charged by
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ecruiting agencies and the weak legal system in the countries in question establish the
path for non-registered recruiters and brokers to engage in trafficking of migrants for
In the Arab countries, recruiters match domestic workers with their employers through
the kafala system or sponsorship system. This system binds domestic workers’ visa and
legal status directly to a kafl (or sponsor), who maintains control over her mobility for the
duration of her stay in the host country. Consequently, migrant domestic workers cannot
change their place of employment without obtaining prior approval from their employersponsor.
The kafala system over the years has been credited with the “privatization of
regional migration”, creating unequal working conditions and violations of rights of
migrant domestic workers.
In the Western world, the employment of migrant domestic workers differs from the
predominant hiring and recruiting trends in the East. In Europe, migration has followed a
pattern from East to West, that is from Eastern Europe to Western, Southern and
Northern Europe and from South to North, from Latin America, Asia and Africa to the
EU countries. The demand for migrant domestic workers has been credited to the
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welfare system of these countries. In order to enable female nationals to ‘reconcile’ care
work and a working life, some European states have installed a quota system for the
recruitment of domestic workers (Spain, Italy, Greece), which allows employers to
recruit workers from abroad under specific criteria, or they have opened their borders to
these workers (Britain and Ireland with the domestic worker visa). Others, such as
Germany, the Nordic States, and the Netherlands, have hardly acknowledged the need
for migrant domestic workers, let alone included this need in their managed migration
policies. United States and Canada have adopted migrant programs such as
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 IRCA and Live-In Caregiver program,
respectively, in order to facilitate the employment of migrant domestic workers.
The high demand for domestic care, along with different social welfare structures,
together with restrictive migration policies, has led to an extensive informal domestic
services market with a high percentage of undocumented foreign workers in Western
countries. For this reason, despite the IRCA's intent to limit illegal migration, it has been
accused of promoting the undocumented immigration of women. The employment of
domestic migrant workers in these countries is known to be based on social capital.
There are three entrance doors through which women enter the domestic sector. First,
there is the "co-Optation modality" whereby women channel each other into each other
into employment positions, by mainly relying from the moment of arrival on social
networks made-up of family members, friends and/or acquaintances who connect them
with potential employers in the country. Second, there is "freelance domestic worker" by
building her own clientele through newspapers and magazines job offers, distributing
cards offering services in residential areas. Finally, there is the "communitarian social
network", which unlike co-Optation,is formed after migration. Religious networks (i.e.,
churches) are extremely important in network-building of many female immigrants. This
entrance door is rarely used upon arrival as it requires the formation of new contacts
Vulnerability to Abuse
Although the working conditions of migrant domestic workers are also dependent on
regional and country specific factors, several global commonalities render these
workers vulnerable to abuse.
Risks of Abuse During Recruitment And Travel
Recruitment agencies and other intermediaries often do not inform migrant domestic
workers about their rights in their future employment and about the mechanisms
available to them in order to report abuse. Advertising non-existent domestic jobs and
forcing migrants to pay high fees are daily risks migrant domestic workers face. In
transit to the country of employment, female workers are particularly vulnerable to
physical and sexual harassment and abuse.
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Regardless of their country of employment, migrant domestic workers experience social
isolation from the local community, as well as from their home community, resulting
from the move to a different country. Since they typically leave their families behind,
migrant domestic workers are separated physically from their social network, including
their children and close relatives, which contributes to their social isolation. The
language and cultural barriers further complicate this transition and make it difficult for
these workers to connect with the local population. Due to the language barrier, migrant
domestic workers know little to nothing about the local laws to protect themselves from
abuse in the work place. This prevents them from raising awareness about their working
conditions and from forming collective action.
In addition to
workers have a reputation for being “unskilled, low-end and expendable,” which
contributes to their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. Gender stereotypes and bias
also add to their negative perception, particularly in the case of female domestic migrant
workers who experience “disadvantages arising from their gender and the low social
status assigned to domestic work.” Discrimination is not only limited to gender, but also
extends to race, class and ethnicity.
Migrant domestic workers’ working conditions further exacerbate their exposure to
abuse, which largely arises out of their informal status in the economy. Since their work
primarily takes place in private households, they are invisible from the formal labor
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structures, hidden from the public. As a result, they cannot defend their rights and
unions cannot represent them. The informal nature of domestic work, often results in
exploitative and harsh forms of labor, exposing these workers to human rights abuses.
Due to poor – in many cases none – regulation, migrant domestic workers face
“excessive hours, physical and sexual abuse, forced labor and confinement.” In many
countries, this also includes foregoing wages and paying debt bondage. Bonded labor
occurs when the migrant domestic worker is required to pay off transportation and
recruitment costs, as well as agent commission fees.
According to the ILO, 20.9 million persons work as forced labor in the world, of which
domestic work represents the biggest proportion, affecting migrant domestic workers
around the world. In some countries, these migrants work under slavery-like conditions,
trapping them in their employment, and they can be susceptible to food deprivation and,
in extreme cases, even death.
Even when the workers are paid, it is not always sufficient to provide for themselves and
their families. Confinement and restrictions on their freedom of movement because of
their harsh working conditions also contribute to their social isolation and their further
exposure to abuse. Since migrant domestic workers have little to no opportunity to
demand better working conditions through unions and legal protection, they often
receive few, if any, social benefits. This includes insufficient rest time and little to no
opportunities to visit their relatives during medical emergencies, and no pension.
Dependency on The Employer
Migrant domestic workers can become extremely dependent on their employers through
all of the aforementioned risks. In many cases, employers will withhold their immigration
papers and confiscate their passports, which adds to their dependency and
helplessness. This makes it difficult for migrant domestic workers to contact law
enforcement officials in order to report abusive working conditions. Additionally, “the
absence of work contracts and the fact that in many countries domestic employment is
not recognized in labor legislation allows employers to impose working conditions
unilaterally.” Employers frequently consider their migrant domestic workers as their
property or do not treat them as “proper” employees. Sometimes their place of work is
also their shelter, making migrant domestic workers dependent on their employers.
Lasting Effects of Abuse
Even when migrant domestic workers return to their native countries, abuse
experienced during their domestic employment abroad can have lasting effects.
Workers often do not have access to support mechanisms and do not have the
possibility to seek legal counsel due to their informal status during their period of
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Improving the Conditions of Migrant Domestic Workers
Challenges to Collective Action
Migrant domestic workers, due to the nature of their work and to their status as
migrants, or irregular migrants, are subject to a number of challenges that prevent
collective action and claims for rights. The same factors that make migrant domestic
workers vulnerable to abuse also prevent them from developing social networks  and
coordinating action. Moreover, domestic workers more generally cannot employ tactics
used by other workers in organizations, such as strike action, if they live in their
Beyond these structural issues, states are also partially responsible for preventing
collective action, with some countries imposing limitations on movement and
organization. In fact domestic migrant workers are prohibited from creating or joining
trade unions in a number of countries around the world. Non-governmental organization
(NGO) activity has also been constrained by state action, with barriers to registration or
prohibition of “political activity.”
Efforts by Intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organizations
International organizations have helped raise awareness about the plight of migrant
domestic workers by issuing reports, launching programs and discussing issues
surrounding migrant domestic work.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has stressed the importance of legal
standards for workers and migrants. It has more specifically addressed states’ lack of
protection for migrant domestic workers during its June 2004 Congress and during a
High-Level Panel Discussion in 2013. The ILO has also launched the Global Action
Program on Migrant Domestic Workers and their Families, undertaken studies in and
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guidelines for foreign domestic workers in specific countries and published a report
making note that female migrant workers constituted the main demographics in the
sector of domestic work.
Other United Nations agencies have addressed migrant domestic work, with the United
Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) attempting to facilitate dialogue
between countries to establish agreements that recognize migrant workers’ rights
protection, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) releasing a report
highlighting the gendered aspects of migration.
In terms of efforts to address the problem of private recruitment, the International
Confederation of Private Employment Agencies, or Ciett, has created standards for
recruitment in its code of conduct that are consistent with the ILO's Convention 181.
Ciett's code reaches 47 national federations of private employment agencies and 8 of
the largest staffing companies worldwide.
Collaborative works have also been published, including a manual by the International
Domestic Workers Network and the ILO, geared to both national and migration
domestic workers in Asia and the Pacific, and a report by Human Rights Watch, along
with the International Domestic Workers’ Network and The International Trade Union
Strategies by Civil Society to Address Issues Faced by Migrant Domestic Workers
Advocacy efforts have evolved from fighting to “recognize the position of paid domestic
workers” to addressing work conditions and forms of abuse. Through time, a number of
strategies have been used by international and civil society organizations in the hopes
of improving the conditions surrounding migrant domestic work. These have included
conventional means of mobilizing, such as rallies, protests and public campaigns to
raise awareness or improve migrant domestic workers’ conditions. Lobbying, at both the
national and supranational levels to modify laws or by trade unions attempting to
change the irregular status of migrant domestic workers has been used as a tactic. Civil
society has also played a role in negotiating international legislation such as the
International Labor Organization’s Domestic Worker Convention.
Beyond these public mobilizations and lobbying efforts for change, awareness raising
has also been used as a strategy, serving in some cases to transform the public view on
migrant domestic workers with the hope of stigmatizing abuse against and encouraging
respect toward migrant domestic workers at the national level. Educational efforts have
also been used to inform women of their rights in countries where laws outlining
employers’ obligations do exist. Due to the difficulties in mobilizing domestic workers,
initiatives to raise awareness and inform migrant workers of their rights has not always
been undertaken in institutionalized manners, but rather through informal means, such
as planned encounters in public spaces that migrant domestic workers are known to
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Language and discourse represent another component in advocacy efforts for migrant
domestic workers. Certain organizations and institutions, have, for example, taken the
approach of promoting social and economic benefits of domestic work by migrants to
private household and society at large. Groups have also employed women’s rights,
workers’ rights and human rights language in their discourse. Moreover, groups
addressing migrant domestic groups have tied abuse against migrant domestic workers
at the national level to campaigns against abuse at the global level, to wider issues of
abuse against women more generally, to human trafficking and domestic slavery, and to
neoliberal globalization. Migrant domestic groups have also created coalitions with other
organizations such as feminist groups, labor groups, groups for immigrant rights,
religious, human rights organizations, and trade unions. In fact, given these domestic
workers come from abroad, there were a number of “cross-border alliances” created.
While women’s rights has been alluded to in some advocacy initiatives and that “crossborder
exchanges strengthened the momentum in the development of transnational
advocacy of worker rights as a gender-based concern,” the intersection between
migrant domestic work and gender in advocacy has not been consistent. Some
organizations may consider themselves “feminist” or emphasize the gender dimension
of their work, while others may not wish to associate migrant domestic workers’ with
Given that the nature of domestic work poses challenges in mobilizing large groups of
migrant workers, other tactics have been used to cater to and improve the situation of
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these migrants. These strategies have included providing support and services to these
workers, with groups offering shelter, food, clothing, legal advice and assistance, as well
as counselling. These groups have additionally been required to tailor their human
resources and materials in order to ensure accessibility by communicating in a
language understood by these foreign employees.
Resistance and Agency by Migrant Domestic Workers
Despite the challenges to collective action and advocacy, some works have shown that
migrant domestic workers do communicate with and inform each other as well as
engage in forms of resistance against their employers. During their time off work,
migrant domestic workers “reclaim their identities” through their attire and can ridicule
their employers in their absence. They also find ways to communicate with others and
as such “attempt to build communities” or learn about ways to improve their own
working conditions by making use of information and communication technology or by
undertaking discussions from their balcony with passersby and domestic workers from
Some domestic workers invest efforts to improve their own welfare or further challenge
their employers’ authority by using emotion to capitalize on their employers’ guilt and
sympathy for monetary gain, refusing to participate in “extracurricular work” such as
family dinners, emphasizing “status similarity” between themselves and their employers,
or refusing to accept statements by their employer that could be offensive to migrant
In addressing issues faced by migrant domestic workers, some countries have ratified
the Domestic Workers Convention or have adapted their national legislations by
implementing minimum rest requirements or wages. Country-specific initiatives have
also been introduced. These have included a Code of Conduct in Lebanon for recruiting
migrant domestic workers, subsidies for assistance offered to migrant workers in
Taiwan, or mandating certain government agencies with the task of overseeing the
treatment of their nationals working as domestic workers in other countries, as it was
done in the Philippines. Finally, there are governments, notably in Europe, which allow
for migrant domestic workers to join or start trade unions.
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VI. Human Trafficking
Human Trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual
slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may
encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage, or the extraction of
organs or tissues, including for surrogacy and ova removal. Human trafficking can occur
within a country or trans-nationally. Human trafficking is a crime against the person
because of the violation of the victim's rights of movement through coercion and
because of their commercial exploitation. Human trafficking is the trade in people,
especially women and children, and does not necessarily involve the movement of the
person from one place to another.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), forced labour alone (one
component of human trafficking) generates an estimated $150 billion in profits per
annum as of 2014. In 2012, the ILO estimated that 21 million victims are trapped in
modern-day slavery. Of these, 14.2 million (68%) were exploited for labour, 4.5 million
(22%) were sexually exploited, and 2.2 million (10%) were exploited in state-imposed
forced labour. The International Labour Organization has reported that child workers,
minorities, and irregular migrants are at considerable risk of more extreme forms of
exploitation. Statistics shows that over half of the world’s 215 million young workers are
observed to be in hazardous sectors, including forced sex work and forced street
begging. Ethnic minorities and highly marginalized groups of people are highly
estimated to work in some of the most exploitative and damaging sectors, such as
leather tanning, mining, and stone quarry work.
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Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national
Human trafficking is condemned as a violation of human rights by international
conventions. In addition, human trafficking is subject to a directive in the European
Union. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, Belarus, Iran, Russia, and
Turkmenistan remain among the worst countries when it comes to providing protection
against human trafficking and forced labor.
Although human trafficking can occur at local or domestic levels, it has international
implications, as recognized by the United Nations in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress
and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as
the Trafficking Protocol or the Palermo Protocol), an international agreement under the
UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) which entered into
force on 25 December 2003.
The protocol is one of three which supplement the CTOC. The Trafficking Protocol is
the first global, legally binding instrument on trafficking in over half a century, and the
only one with an agreed-upon definition of trafficking in persons. One of its purposes is
to facilitate international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting such trafficking.
Another is to protect and assist human trafficking's victims with full respect for their
rights as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Trafficking
Protocol, which had 117 signatories and as of November, 2018 173 parties, defines
human trafficking as:
(a) [...] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by
means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of
deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or
receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over
another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum,
the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced
labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal,
manipulation or implantation of organs;
(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth
in sub-paragraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in
subparagraph (a) have been used;
(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the
purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not
involve any of the means set forth in sub-paragraph (a) of this article;
(d) "Child" shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.
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In 2014, the International Labour Organization estimated $150 billion in annual profit is
generated from forced labour alone.
The average cost of a human trafficking victim today is USD $90 whereas the average
slave in 1800 America cost the equivalent of USD $40,000.
Usage of The Term
Human trafficking differs from people smuggling, which involves a person voluntarily
requesting or hiring another individual to covertly transport them across an international
border, usually because the smuggled person would be denied entry into a country by
legal channels. Though illegal, there may be no deception or coercion involved. After
entry into the country and arrival at their ultimate destination, the smuggled person is
usually free to find their own way. According to the International Centre for Migration
Policy Development (ICMPD), people smuggling is a violation of national immigration
laws of the destination country, and does not require violations of the rights of the
smuggled person. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is a crime against a person
because of the violation of the victim's rights through coercion and exploitation.
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While smuggling requires travel, trafficking does not. Trafficked people are held against
their will through acts of coercion, and forced to work for or provide services to the
trafficker or others. The work or services may include anything from bonded or forced
labour to commercial sexual exploitation. The arrangement may be structured as a work
contract, but with no or low payment, or on terms which are highly exploitative.
Sometimes the arrangement is structured as debt bondage, with the victim not being
permitted or able to pay off the debt.
Bonded labour, or debt bondage, is probably the least known form of labour trafficking
today, and yet is the most widely used method of enslaving people. Victims become
"bonded" when their labour, the labour which they themselves hired and the tangible
goods they have bought are demanded as a means of repayment for a loan or service
whose terms and conditions have not been defined, or where the value of the victims'
services is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt. Generally, the value of their
work is greater than the original sum of money "borrowed".
Forced labour is a situation in which victims are forced to work against their own will
under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment; their freedom is
restricted and a degree of ownership is exerted. Men are at risk of being trafficked for
unskilled work, which globally generates 31 billion USD according to the International
Labour Organization. Forms of forced labour can include domestic servitude,
agricultural labour, sweatshop factory labor, janitorial, food service and other service
industry labour, and begging. Some of the products that can be produced by forced
labour are: clothing, cocoa, bricks, coffee, cotton, and gold.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the single largest global provider of
services to victims of trafficking, reports receiving an increasing number of cases in
which victims were subjected to forced labour. A 2012 study observes that "… 2010 was
particularly notable as the first year in which IOM assisted more victims of labour
trafficking than those who had been trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation." The
IOMs' main focus is "to provide secure, reliable, flexible and cost-effective serviced for
persons who require international migration assistance. To enhance the humane and
orderly management of migration and the effective respect for the human rights of
migrations in accordance with international law. To offer advice, research, technical
cooperation and operational assistance to States, intergovernmental and nongovernmental
organizations and other stakeholders, in order to build national capacities
and facilitate international, regional and bilateral cooperation on migration matters..."
Child labour is a form of work that may be hazardous to the physical, mental, spiritual,
moral, or social development of children and can interfere with their education.
According to the International Labour Organization, the global number of children
involved in child labour has fallen during the past decade – it has declined by one third,
from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million children in 2012. Sub-Saharan Africa is the
region with the highest incidence of child labour, while the largest numbers of childworkers
are found in Asia and the Pacific.
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A schematic showing global human trafficking from
countries of origin and destination
Countries of Origin
Yellow: Moderate number of persons
Orange: High number of persons
Red: Very high number of persons
Countries of Destination
Light blue: High number of persons
Blue: Very high number of persons
Countries shown in grey are neither countries of origin
nor countries of destination
A world map showing the legislative situation in different
countries to prevent female trafficking as of 2009
according to WomanStats Project.
Gray: No data
Green: Trafficking is illegal and rare
Yellow: Trafficking is illegal but problems still exist
Purple: Trafficking is illegal but is still practiced
Blue: Trafficking is limitedly illegal and is practiced
Red: Trafficking is not illegal and is commonly practiced
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has further assisted many nongovernmental
organizations in their fight against human trafficking. The 2006 armed
conflict in Lebanon, which saw 300,000 domestic workers from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and
the Philippines jobless and targets of traffickers, led to an emergency information
campaign with NGO Caritas Migrant to raise human-trafficking awareness. Additionally,
an April 2006 report, Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, helped to identify 127
countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries for human
trafficking. To date, it is the second most frequently downloaded UNODC report.
Continuing into 2007, UNODC supported initiatives like the Community Vigilance project
along the border between India and Nepal, as well as provided subsidy for NGO
trafficking prevention campaigns in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) was
conceived to promote the global fight on human trafficking, on the basis of international
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agreements reached at the UN. UN.GIFT was launched in March 2007 by UNODC with
a grant made on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. It is managed in cooperation with
the International Labour Organization (ILO); the International Organization for Migration
(IOM); the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF); the Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights (OHCHR); and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
UNODC efforts to motivate action launched the Blue Heart Campaign Against Human
Trafficking on 6 March 2009, which Mexico launched its own national version of in April
2010. The campaign encourages people to show solidarity with human trafficking
victims by wearing the blue heart, similar to how wearing the red ribbon promotes
transnational HIV/AIDS awareness. On 4 November 2010, U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon launched the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in
Persons to provide humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of human trafficking
with the aim of increasing the number of those rescued and supported, and broadening
the extent of assistance they receive.
In December 2012, UNODC published the new edition of the Global Report on
Trafficking in Persons. The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 has revealed
that 27 per cent of all victims of human trafficking officially detected globally between
2007 and 2010 are children, up 7 per cent from the period 2003 to 2006.
The Global Report recorded victims of 136 different nationalities detected in 118
countries between 2007 and 2010, during which period, 460 different flows were
identified. Around half of all trafficking took place within the same region with 27 per
cent occurring within national borders. One exception is the Middle East, where most
detected victims are East and South Asians. Trafficking victims from East Asia have
been detected in more than 60 countries, making them the most geographically
dispersed group around the world. There are significant regional differences in the
detected forms of exploitation. Countries in Africa and in Asia generally intercept more
cases of trafficking for forced labour, while sexual exploitation is somewhat more
frequently found in Europe and in the Americas. Additionally, trafficking for organ
removal was detected in 16 countries around the world.The Report raises concerns
about low conviction rates – 16 per cent of reporting countries did not record a single
conviction for trafficking in persons between 2007 and 2010. As of February 2018, 173
countries have ratified the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol, of which
UNODC is the guardian. Significant progress has been made in terms of legislation: as
of 2012, 83 per cent of countries had a law criminalizing trafficking in persons in
accordance with the Protocol.
Current International Treaties (General)
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, entered into force in 1957
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially
Women and Children
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Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air
Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child
ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
ILO Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
In 2002, Derek Ellerman and Katherine Chon founded a non-government organization
called Polaris Project to combat human trafficking. In 2007, Polaris instituted the
National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) where callers can report tips
and receive information on human trafficking. Polaris' website and hotline informs the
public about where cases of suspected human trafficking have occurred within the
United States. The website records calls on a map.
In 2007, the U.S. Senate designated 11 January as a National Day of Human
Trafficking Awareness in an effort to raise consciousness about this global, national and
local issue. In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, President Barack Obama proclaimed
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January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Along with these
initiatives libraries across the United States are beginning to contribute to human
trafficking awareness. Slowly, libraries are turning into educational centers for those
who are not aware of this issue. They are collaborating with other organizations to train
staff members to spot human trafficking victims and find ways to help them.
In 2014, DARPA funded the Memex program with the explicit goal of combating human
trafficking via domain-specific search. The advanced search capacity, including its
ability to reach into the dark web has already allowed for prosecution of human
trafficking cases, although they can be difficult to prosecute due to the fraudulent tactics
of the human traffickers.
Due to its size and the access to its large airport, Atlanta, Georgia is known as the core
of trafficking in the United States. A 2014 study by Urban Institute showed that some
traffickers, or "pimps", in Atlanta grossed over $32,000 in one week.
In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline received reports of
more than 5,000 potential human trafficking cases in the U.S. Children comprise up to
one-third of all victims, while women make up more than half. Human trafficking is a big
business and it is a major problem in South Florida and one of the hotspots of this crime
is on Miami Beach. Police in the city say they arrested 3 dozen suspected human
traffickers in 2017. That’s believed to be the most in the South Florida area and
investigators say in addition to focusing on arresting traffickers they’re focusing on
providing help to victims.
Council of Europe
On 3 May 2005, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Convention
on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS No. 197). The Convention was
opened for signature in Warsaw on 16 May 2005 on the occasion of the 3rd Summit of
Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe. On 24 October 2007, the
Convention received its tenth ratification thereby triggering the process whereby it
entered into force on 1 February 2008. As of June 2017, the Convention has been
ratified by 47 states (including Belarus, a non-Council of Europe state), with Russia
being the only state to not have ratified (nor signed).
While other international instruments already exist in this field, the Council of Europe
Convention, the first European treaty in this field, is a comprehensive treaty focusing
mainly on the protection of victims of trafficking and the safeguard of their rights. It also
aims to prevent trafficking and to prosecute traffickers. In addition, the Convention
provides for the setting up of an effective and independent monitoring mechanism
capable of controlling the implementation of the obligations contained in the Convention.
The Convention is not restricted to Council of Europe member states; non-member
states and the European Union also have the possibility of becoming Party to the
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Convention. In 2013 Belarus became the first non-Council of Europe member state to
accede to the Convention.
The Convention established a Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human
Beings (GRETA) which monitors the implementation of the Convention through country
reports. As of 1 March 2013, GRETA has published 17 country reports.
Complementary protection against sex trafficking of children is ensured through the
Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation
and Sexual Abuse (signed in Lanzarote, 25 October 2007). The Convention entered into
force on 1 July 2010. As of September 2018, the Convention has been ratified by 44
states, with another 3 states having signed but not yet ratified.
In addition, the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg
has passed judgments concerning trafficking in human beings which violated obligations
under the European Convention on Human Rights: Siliadin v. France, judgment of 26
July 2005, and Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, judgment of 7 January 2010.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
In 2003, the OSCE established an anti-trafficking mechanism aimed at raising public
awareness of the problem and building the political will within participating states to
tackle it effectively.
The OSCE actions against human trafficking are coordinated by the Office of the
Special Representative for Combating the Traffic of Human Beings. In January 2010,
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro became the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator
for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Dr. Giammarinaro (Italy) has been
a judge at the Criminal Court of Rome since 1991. She served from 2006 until 2009 in
the European Commission's Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in
Brussels, where she was responsible for work to combat human trafficking and sexual
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exploitation of children, as well as for penal aspects of illegal immigration within the unit
dealing with the fight against organized crime. During this time, she co-ordinated the
Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings of the European Commission. From
2001 to 2006 she was a judge for preliminary investigation in the Criminal Court of
Rome. Prior to that, from 1996 she was Head of the Legislative Office and Adviser to
the Minister for Equal Opportunities. From 2006 to December 2009 the office was
headed by Eva Biaudet, a former Member of Parliament and Minister of Health and
Social Services in her native Finland.
The activities of the Office of the Special Representative range from training law
enforcement agencies to tackle human trafficking to promoting policies aimed at rooting
out corruption and organised crime. The Special Representative also visits countries
and can, on their request, support the formation and implementation of their antitrafficking
policies. In other cases the Special Representative provides advice regarding
implementation of the decisions on human trafficking, and assists governments,
ministers and officials to achieve their stated goals of tackling human trafficking.
India Anti Human Trafficking Portal
In India, the trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour,
forced marriages and domestic servitude is considered an organized crime. The
Government of India applies the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, active from 3
February 2013, as well as Section 370 and 370A IPC, which defines human trafficking
and "provides stringent punishment for human trafficking; trafficking of children for
exploitation in any form including physical exploitation; or any form of sexual
exploitation, slavery, servitude or the forced removal of organs." Additionally, a Regional
Task Force implements the SAARC Convention on the prevention of Trafficking in
Women and Children.
Shri R.P.N. Singh, India's Minister of State for Home Affairs, launched a government
web portal, the Anti Human Trafficking Portal, on 20 February 2014. The official
statement explained that the objective of the on-line resource is for the "sharing of
information across all stakeholders, States/UTs [Union Territories] and civil society
organizations for effective implementation of Anti Human Trafficking measures." The
key aims of the portal are:
Aid in the tracking of cases with inter-state ramifications.
Provide comprehensive information on legislation, statistics, court judgements,
United Nations Conventions, details of trafficked people and traffickers and
rescue success stories.
Provide connection to "Trackchild", the National Portal on Missing Children that is
operational in many states.
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Also on 20 February, the Indian government announced the implementation of a
Comprehensive Scheme that involves the establishment of Integrated Anti Human
Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in 335 vulnerable police districts throughout India, as well as
capacity building that includes training for police, prosecutors and judiciary. As of the
announcement, 225 Integrated AHTUs had been made operational, while 100 more
AHTUs were proposed for the forthcoming financial year.
The Anti-Trafficking Policy Index
The '3P Anti-trafficking Policy Index' measured the effectiveness of government policies
to fight human trafficking based on an evaluation of policy requirements prescribed by
the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons,
especially Women and Children (2000).
The policy level was evaluated using a five-point scale, where a score of five indicates
the best policy practice, while score 1 is the worst. This scale was used to analyze the
main three anti-trafficking policy areas: (i) prosecuting (criminalizing) traffickers, (ii)
protecting victims, and (iii) preventing the crime of human trafficking. Each sub-index of
prosecution, protection and prevention was aggregated to the overall index with an
unweighted sum, with the overall index ranging from a score of 3 (worst) to 15 (best). It
is available for up to 177 countries annually for 2000 to 2015 (the 2015 report, published
in 2016, is the last as of 26.11.2018).
In 2015, three countries demonstrated the highest possible rankings in policies for all
three dimensions (overall score 15). These countries were Austria, Spain and the
United Kingdom. There were four countries with a near perfect score of 14 (Belgium,
Philippines, Armenia, and South Korea). Four more scored 13 points, including the
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USA. The worst score, the minimum possible, is 3. In addition to North Korea, Libya,
Syria, Eritrea and the BES Islands scored 3 with both Iran and Russia scoring only 4
(along with Kiribati, Yemen, and Equatorial Guinea). For more information view the
Human Trafficking Research and Measurement website.
In 2014, for the first time in history major leaders of many religions, Buddhist, Anglican,
Catholic, and Orthodox Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim, met to sign a shared
commitment against modern-day slavery; the declaration they signed calls for the
elimination of slavery and human trafficking by the year 2020. The signatories were:
Pope Francis, Mātā Amṛtānandamayī (also known as Amma), Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chân
Không (representing Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh), Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana, Chief
High Priest of Malaysia, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rabbi David Rosen, Abbas Abdalla
Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif (representing Mohamed
Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar), Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-
Modarresi, Sheikh Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah
(representing Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi), Sheikh Omar
Abboud, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Metropolitan Emmanuel of
France (representing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.)
The Blue Campaign collaborates with law enforcement, government, non-governmental,
and private organizations to end human trafficking and protect victims.
One of the organizations taking the most active part in the anti-trafficking is the United
Nations. In early 2016 the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the
United Nations held an interactive discussion entitled "Responding to Current
Challenges in Trafficking in Human Beings".
One of the current efforts being done to combat human trafficking is an app called
TraffickCam. This app was created by the Exchange Initiative and researchers at
TraffckCam was launched on June 20, 2016 and enables anyone to take photos of their
hotel rooms, which then gets uploaded to a large database of hotel images. Since
human trafficking victims are often found in hotel rooms for online advertisements, law
enforcement and investigators can use these photos to help find and prosecute
Anti-trafficking awareness and fundraising campaigns constitute a significant portion of
anti-trafficking initiatives. The 24 Hour Race is one such initiative that focuses on
increasing awareness among high school students in Asia. The Blue Campaign is
another anti-trafficking initiative that works with the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security to combat human trafficking and bring freedom to exploited victims.
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Trafficking in Persons Report released in June 2016 states that "refugees and migrants;
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals; religious
minorities; people with disabilities; and those who are stateless" are the most at-risk for
human trafficking. Governments best protect victims from being exploited when the
needs of vulnerable populations are understood. Additionally, in its Protocol to Prevent,
Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the
United Nations notes that women and children are particularly at risk for human
trafficking and revictimization. The Protocol requires State Parties not only to enact
measures that prevent human trafficking but also to address the factors that exacerbate
women and children's vulnerability, including "poverty, underdevelopment and lack of
Trafficking of Children
Trafficking of children involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or
receipt of children for the purpose of exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation of
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children can take many forms, including forcing a child into prostitution or other forms of
sexual activity or child pornography. Child exploitation may also involve forced labour or
services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, the removal of organs, illicit
international adoption, trafficking for early marriage, recruitment as child soldiers, for
use in begging or as athletes (such as child camel jockeys or football players).
IOM statistics indicate that a significant minority (35%) of trafficked persons it assisted
in 2011 were less than 18 years of age, which is roughly consistent with estimates from
previous years. It was reported in 2010 that Thailand and Brazil were considered to
have the worst child sex trafficking records.
Traffickers in children may take advantage of the parents' extreme poverty. Parents may
sell children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or gain income, or they may be
deceived concerning the prospects of training and a better life for their children. They
may sell their children into labour, sex trafficking, or illegal adoptions.
The adoption process, legal and illegal, when abused can sometimes result in cases of
trafficking of babies and pregnant women from developing countries to the West. In
David M. Smolin's 2005 papers on child trafficking and adoption scandals between India
and the United States, he presents the systemic vulnerabilities in the inter-country
adoption system that makes adoption scandals predictable.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at Article 34, states, "States
Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual
abuse". In the European Union, commercial sexual exploitation of children is subject to
a directive – Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13
December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and
The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of
Intercountry Adoption (or Hague Adoption Convention) is an international convention
dealing with international adoption, that aims at preventing child laundering, child
trafficking, and other abuses related to international adoption.
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict seeks to
prevent forceful recruitment (e.g. by guerrilla forces) of children for use in armed
The International Labour Organization claims that sex trafficking affects 4.5 million
people worldwide. Most victims find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from
which escape is both difficult and dangerous.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation was formerly thought of as the organized movement of
people, usually women, between countries and within countries for sex work with the
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use of physical coercion, deception and bondage through forced debt. However, the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (US), does not require movement for the
offence. The issue becomes contentious when the element of coercion is removed from
the definition to incorporate facilitation of consensual involvement in prostitution. For
example, in the United Kingdom, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 incorporated trafficking
for sexual exploitation but did not require those committing the offence to use coercion,
deception or force, so that it also includes any person who enters the UK to carry out
sex work with consent as having been "trafficked." In addition, any minor involved in a
commercial sex act in the US while under the age of 18 qualifies as a trafficking victim,
even if no force, fraud or coercion is involved, under the definition of "Severe Forms of
Trafficking in Persons" in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
Sexual trafficking includes coercing a migrant into a sexual act as a condition of
allowing or arranging the migration. Sexual trafficking uses physical or sexual coercion,
deception, abuse of power and bondage incurred through forced debt. Trafficked
women and children, for instance, are often promised work in the domestic or service
industry, but instead are sometimes taken to brothels where they are required to
undertake sex work, while their passports and other identification papers are
confiscated. They may be beaten or locked up and promised their freedom only after
earning – through prostitution – their purchase price, as well as their travel and visa
A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both participants are married without their
freely given consent. Servile marriage is defined as a marriage involving a person being
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sold, transferred or inherited into that marriage. According to ECPAT, "Child trafficking
for forced marriage is simply another manifestation of trafficking and is not restricted to
particular nationalities or countries".
A forced marriage qualifies as a form of human trafficking in certain situations. If a
woman is sent abroad, forced into the marriage and then repeatedly compelled to
engage in sexual conduct with her new husband, then her experience is that of sex
trafficking. If the bride is treated as a domestic servant by her new husband and/or his
family, then this is a form of labour trafficking.
Labour trafficking is the movement of persons for the purpose of forced labour and
services. It may involve bonded labour, involuntary servitude, domestic servitude, and
child labour. Labour trafficking happens most often within the domain of domestic work,
agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment; and migrant workers and
indigenous people are especially at risk of becoming victims. People smuggling
operations are also known to traffic people for the exploitation of their labour, for
example, as transporters.
Trafficking for Organ Trade
Trafficking in organs is a form of human trafficking. It can take different forms. In some
cases, the victim is compelled into giving up an organ. In other cases, the victim agrees
to sell an organ in exchange of money/goods, but is not paid (or paid less). Finally, the
victim may have the organ removed without the victim's knowledge (usually when the
victim is treated for another medical problem/illness – real or orchestrated
problem/illness). Migrant workers, homeless persons, and illiterate persons are
particularly vulnerable to this form of exploitation. Trafficking of organs is an organized
crime, involving several offenders:
The Medical Staff
Trafficking for organ trade often seeks kidneys. Trafficking in organs is a lucrative trade
because in many countries the waiting lists for patients who need transplants are very
There are many different estimates of how large the human trafficking and sex
trafficking industries are. According to scholar Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People
(2004), estimates that as many as 27 million people are in "modern-day slavery" across
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the globe. In 2008, the U.S. Department of State estimates that 2 million children are
exploited by the global commercial sex trade. In the same year, a study classified 12.3
million individuals worldwide as "forced laborers, bonded laborers or sex-trafficking
victims." Approximately 1.39 million of these individuals worked as commercial sex
slaves, with women and girls comprising 98% of that 1.36 million.
The enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000
by the United States Congress and its subsequent re-authorizations established the
Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which
engages with foreign governments to fight human trafficking and publishes a Trafficking
in Persons Report annually. The Trafficking in Persons Report evaluates each country's
progress in anti-trafficking and places each country onto one of three tiers based on
their governments' efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of
trafficking as prescribed by the TVPA. However, questions have been raised by critical
anti-trafficking scholars about the basis of this tier system, its heavy focus on
compliance with state department protocols, and its failure to consider "risk" and the
likely prevalence of trafficking when rating the efforts of diverse countries.
In particular, there were three main components of the TVPA, commonly called the
PROTECTION: The TVPA increased the US Government's efforts to protect trafficked
foreign national victims including, but not limited to: Victims of trafficking, many of whom
were previously ineligible for government assistance, were provided assistance; and a
non-immigrant status for victims of trafficking if they cooperated in the investigation and
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prosecution of traffickers (T-Visas, as well as providing other mechanisms to ensure the
continued presence of victims to assist in such investigations and prosecutions).
PROSECUTION: The TVPA authorized the US Government to strengthen efforts to
prosecute traffickers including, but not limited to: Creating a series of new crimes on
trafficking, forced labour, and document servitude that supplemented existing limited
crimes related to slavery and involuntary servitude; and recognizing that modern-day
slavery takes place in the context of fraud and coercion, as well as force, and is based
on new clear definitions for both trafficking into sexual exploitation and labour
exploitation: Sex trafficking was defined as, "a commercial sex act that is induced by
force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not
attained 18 years of age". Labour trafficking was defined as, "the recruitment, harboring,
transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use
of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude,
peonage, debt bondage, or slavery".
PREVENTION: The TVPA allowed for increased prevention measures including:
Authorizing the US Government to assist foreign countries with their efforts to combat
trafficking, as well as address trafficking within the United States, including through
research and awareness-raising; and providing foreign countries with assistance in
drafting laws to prosecute trafficking, creating programs for trafficking victims, and
assistance with implementing effective means of investigation.
Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later identified a fourth P, "partnership", in 2009
to serve as a, "pathway to progress in the effort against modern-day slavery."
A complex set of factors fuel sex trafficking, including poverty, unemployment, social
norms that discriminate against women, commercial demand for sex, institutional
challenges, and globalization.
Poverty and Globalization
Poverty and lack of educational and economic opportunities in one's hometown may
lead women to voluntarily migrate and then be involuntarily trafficked into sex work. As
globalization opened up national borders to greater exchange of goods and capital,
labour migration also increased. Less wealthy countries have fewer options for livable
wages. The economic impact of globalization pushes people to make conscious
decisions to migrate and be vulnerable to trafficking. Gender inequalities that hinder
women from participating in the formal sector also push women into informal sectors.
Long waiting lists for organs in the United States and Europe created a thriving
international black market. Traffickers harvest organs, particularly kidneys, to sell for
large profit and often without properly caring for or compensating the victims. Victims
often come from poor, rural communities and see few other options than to sell organs
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illegally. Wealthy countries' inability to meet organ demand within their own borders
perpetuates trafficking. By reforming their internal donation system, Iran achieved a
surplus of legal donors and provides an instructive model for eliminating both organ
trafficking and -shortage.
Globalization and the rise of Internet technology has also facilitated sex trafficking.
Online classified sites and social networks such as Craigslist have been under intense
scrutiny for being used by johns and traffickers in facilitating sex trafficking and sex work
in general. Traffickers use explicit sites and underground sites (e.g. Craigslist,
Backpage, MySpace) to market, recruit, sell, and exploit females. Facebook, Twitter,
and other social networking sites are suspected for similar uses. For example, Randal
G. Jennings was convicted of sex trafficking five underage girls by forcing them to
advertise on Craigslist and driving them to meet the customers. According to the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, online classified ads reduce the
risks of finding prospective customers. Studies have identified the Internet as the single
biggest facilitator of commercial sex trade, although it is difficult to ascertain which
women advertised are sex trafficking victims. Traffickers and pimps use the Internet to
recruit minors, since Internet and social networking sites usage have significantly
increased especially among children.
Organized criminals can generate up to several thousand dollars per day from one
trafficked girl, and the Internet has further increased profitability of sex trafficking and
child trafficking. With faster access to a wider clientele, more sexual encounters can be
scheduled. Victims and clients, according to a New York City report on sex trafficking in
minors, increasingly use the Internet to meet customers. Because of protests, Craigslist
has since closed its adult services section. According to authorities, Backpage is now
the main source for advertising trafficking victims. Investigators also frequently browse
online classified ads to identify potential underage girls who are trafficked.
While globalization fostered new technologies that may exacerbate sex trafficking,
technology can also be used to assist law enforcement and anti-trafficking efforts. A
study was done on online classified ads surrounding the Super Bowl. A number of
reports have noticed increase in sex trafficking during previous years of the Super Bowl.
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For the 2011 Super Bowl held in Dallas, Texas, the Backpage for Dallas area
experienced a 136% increase on the number of posts in the Adult section on Super
Bowl Sunday, where as Sundays typically have the lowest amount of posts.
Researchers analyzed the most salient terms in these online ads, which suggested that
many escorts were traveling across state lines to Dallas specifically for the Super Bowl,
and found that the self-reported ages were higher than usual. Twitter was another social
networking platform studied for detecting sex trafficking. Digital tools can be used to
narrow the pool of sex trafficking cases, albeit imperfectly and with uncertainty.
However, there has been no evidence found actually linking the Super Bowl – or any
other sporting event – to increased trafficking or prostitution.
Political and Institutional Challenges
Corrupt and inadequately trained police officers can be complicit in sex trafficking and/or
commit violence against sex workers, including sex trafficked victims. Human traffickers
often incorporate abuse of the legal system into their control tactics by making threats of
deportation or by turning victims into the authorities, possibly resulting in the
incarceration of the victims.
Anti-trafficking agendas from different groups can also be in conflict. In the movement
for sex workers rights, sex workers establish unions and organizations, which seek to
eliminate trafficking. However, law enforcement also seek to eliminate trafficking and to
prosecute trafficking, and their work may infringe on sex workers' rights and agency. For
example, the sex workers union DMSC (Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee) in
Kolkata, India, has "self-regulatory boards" (SRBs) that patrol the red light districts and
assist girls who are underage or trafficked. The union opposes police intervention and
interferes with police efforts to bring minor girls out of brothels, on the grounds that
police action might have an adverse impact on non-trafficked sex workers, especially
because police officers in many places are corrupt and violent in their operations. Critics
argue that since sex trafficking is an economic and violent crime, it calls for law
enforcement to intervene and prevent violence against victims.
Criminalization of sex work also may foster the underground market for sex work and
enable sex trafficking.
Difficult political situations such as civil war and social conflict are push factors for
migration and trafficking. A study reported that larger countries, the richest and the
poorest countries, and countries with restricted press freedom are likely to engage in
more sex trafficking. Specifically, being in a transitional economy made a country
nineteen times more likely to be ranked in the highest trafficking category, and gender
inequalities in a country's labour market also correlated with higher trafficking rates.
An annual US State Department report in June 2013 cited Russia and China as among
the worst offenders in combatting forced labour and sex trafficking, raising the possibility
of US sanctions being leveraged against these countries. In 1997 alone as many as
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175,000 young women from Russia, as well as the former Soviet Union, were sold as
commodities in the sex markets of the developed countries in Europe and the Americas.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the laws which effectively prohibited
prostitution illegal. It delayed the implementation of this ruling for one year to give the
parliament time to enact replacement laws, if it so desired.
Commercial Demand for Sex
Abolitionists who seek an end to sex trafficking explain the nature of sex trafficking as
an economic supply and demand model. In this model, male demand for prostitutes
leads to a market of sex work, which, in turn, fosters sex trafficking, the illegal trade and
coercion of people into sex work, and pimps and traffickers become 'distributors' who
supply people to be sexually exploited. The demand for sex trafficking can also be
facilitated by some pimps' and traffickers' desire for women whom they can exploit as
workers because they do not require wages, safe working circumstances, and agency in
Sex trafficking victims face threats of violence from many sources, including customers,
pimps, brothel owners, madams, traffickers, and corrupt local law enforcement officials.
Raids as an anti-sex trafficking measure have the potential to help, and also to protect
sex trafficked victims. Because of their potentially complicated legal status and their
potential language barriers, the arrest or fear of arrest creates stress and other
emotional trauma for trafficking victims. Victims may also experience physical violence
from law enforcement during raids. The challenges facing victims often continue of
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course, after their experience of "rescue" or removal from coercive sexual exploitation.
In addition to coping with their past traumatic experiences, former trafficking victims
often experience social alienation in the host and home countries. Stigmatization, social
exclusion, and intolerance often make it difficult for former victims to integrate into their
host community, or to reintegrate into their former community. Accordingly, one of the
central aims of protection assistance, is the promotion of (re)integration. Too often
however, governments and large institutional donors offer little funding to support the
provision of assistance and social services to former trafficking victims. As the victims
are also pushed into drug trafficking, many of them face criminal sanctions also.
Short-Term Impact – Psychological Coercion
The use of coercion by perpetrators and traffickers involves the use of extreme control.
Perpetrators expose the victim to high amounts of psychological stress induced by
threats, fear, and physical and emotional violence. Tactics of coercion are reportedly
used in three phases of trafficking: recruitment, initiation, and indoctrination. During the
initiation phase, traffickers use foot-in-the-door techniques of persuasion to lead their
victims into various trafficking industries. This manipulation creates an environment
where the victim becomes completely dependent upon the authority of the trafficker.
Traffickers take advantage of family dysfunction, homelessness, and history of
childhood abuse to psychologically manipulate women and children into the trafficking
One form of psychological coercion particularly common in cases of sex trafficking and
forced prostitution is Stockholm syndrome. Many women entering into the sex trafficking
industry are minors whom have already experienced prior sexual abuse.  Traffickers
take advantage of young girls by luring them into the business through force and
coercion, but more often through false promises of love, security, and protection. This
form of coercion works to recruit and initiate the victim into the life of a sex worker, while
also reinforcing a "trauma bond", also known as Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm
syndrome is a psychological response where the victim becomes attached to his or her
The goal of a trafficker is to turn a human being into a slave. To do this, perpetrators
employ tactics that can lead to the psychological consequence of learned helplessness
for the victims, where they sense that they no longer have any autonomy or control over
their lives. Traffickers may hold their victims captive, expose them to large amounts of
alcohol or use drugs, keep them in isolation, or withhold food or sleep.  During this
time the victim often begins to feel the onset of depression, guilt and self-blame, anger
and rage, and sleep disturbances, PTSD, numbing, and extreme stress. Under these
pressures, the victim can fall into the hopeless mental state of learned helplessness.
For victims of specifically trafficked for the purpose of forced prostitution and sexual
slavery, initiation into the trade is almost always characterized by violence. Traffickers
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hunt down their victims and employ practices of sexual abuse, torture, brainwashing,
repeated rape and physical assault until the victim submits to his or her fate as a sexual
slave. Victims experience verbal threats, social isolation, and intimidation before they
accept their role as a prostitute.
For those enslaved in situations of forced labor, learned helplessness can also manifest
itself through the trauma of living as a slave. Reports indicate that captivity for the
person and financial gain of their owners adds additional psychological trauma. Victims
are often cut off from all forms of social connection, as isolation allows the perpetrator to
destroy the victim's sense of self and increase his or her dependence on the
- Pres. Barack Obama (2016)
Human trafficking victims may experience complex trauma as a result of repeated cases
of intimate relationship trauma over long periods of time including, but not limited to,
sexual abuse, domestic violence, forced prostitution, or gang rape. Complex trauma
involves multifaceted conditions of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, dissociation,
substance abuse, self-destructive behaviors, medical and somatic concerns, despair,
and revictimization. Psychology researchers report that, although similar to
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Complex trauma is more expansive in diagnosis
because of the effects of prolonged trauma.
Victims of sex trafficking often get "branded" by their traffickers or pimps. These tattoos
usually consist of bar codes or the trafficker's name or rules. Even if a victim escapes
their trafficker's control or gets rescued, these tattoos are painful reminders of their past
and results in emotional distress. To get these tattoos removed or covered-up can cost
hundreds of dollars.
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Psychological reviews have shown that the chronic stress experienced by many victims
of human trafficking can compromise the immune system. Several studies found that
chronic stressors (like trauma or loss) suppressed cellular and humoral immunity.
Victims may develop STDs and HIV/AIDS. Perpetrators frequently use substance abuse
as a means to control their victims, which leads to compromised health, self-destructive
behavior, and long-term physical harm. Furthermore, victims have reported treatment
similar to torture, where their bodies are broken and beaten into submission.
Children are especially vulnerable to these developmental and psychological
consequences of trafficking due to their age. In order to gain complete control of the
child, traffickers often destroy physical and mental health of the children through
persistent physical and emotional abuse. Victims experience severe trauma on a daily
basis that devastates the healthy development of self-concept, self-worth, biological
integrity, and cognitive functioning. Children who grow up in constant environments of
exploitation frequently exhibit antisocial behavior, over-sexualized behavior, self-harm,
aggression, distrust of adults, dissociative disorders, substance abuse, complex trauma,
and attention deficit disorders. Stockholm syndrome is also a common problem for girls
while they are trafficked, which can hinder them from both trying to escape, and moving
forward in psychological recovery programs.
Although 98% of the sex trade is composed of women and girls there is an effort to
gather empirical evidence about the psychological impact of abuse common in sex
trafficking upon young boys. Boys often will experience forms of post-traumatic stress
disorder, but also additional stressors of social stigma of homosexuality associated with
sexual abuse for boys, and externalization of blame, increased anger, and desire for
Sex trafficking increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS pandemic can
be both a cause and a consequence of sex trafficking. On one hand, child-prostitutes
are sought by customers because they are perceived as being less likely to be HIV
positive, and this demand leads to child sex trafficking. On the other hand, trafficking
leads to the proliferation of HIV, because victims, being vulnerable and often
young/inexperienced, cannot protect themselves properly, and get infected.
According to estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO), every year the
human trafficking industry generates 32 billion USD, half of which ($15.5 billion) is made
in industrialized countries, and a third of which ($9.7 billion) is made in Asia. A 2011
paper published in Human Rights Review, "Sex Trafficking: Trends, Challenges and
Limitations of International Law", notes that, since 2000, the number of sex-trafficking
victims has risen while costs associated with trafficking have declined: "Coupled with
the fact that trafficked sex slaves are the single most profitable type of slave, costing on
average $1,895 each but generating $29,210 annually, [there are] stark predictions
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about the likely growth in commercial sex slavery in the future." Sex trafficking victims
rarely get a share of the money that they make through coerced sex work, which further
keeps them oppressed.
Both the public debate on human trafficking and the actions undertaken by the antihuman
traffickers have been criticized by Zbigniew Dumienski, a former research
analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. The criticism touches upon
statistics and data on human trafficking, the concept itself, and anti-trafficking
Problems with Statistics and Data
According to a former Wall Street Journal columnist, figures used in human trafficking
estimates rarely have identifiable sources or transparent methodologies behind them
and in most (if not all) instances, they are mere guesses. Dumienski and Laura Agustin
argue that this is a result of the fact that it is impossible to produce reliable statistics on
a phenomenon happening in the shadow economy. According to a UNESCO Bangkok
researcher, statistics on human trafficking may be unreliable due to overrepresentation
of sex trafficking. As an example, he cites flaws in Thai statistics, who discount men
from their official numbers because by law they cannot be considered trafficking victims
due to their gender.
A 2012 article in the International Communication Gazette examined the effect of two
communication theories (agenda-building and agenda-setting) on media coverage on
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human trafficking in the United States and Britain. The article analyzed four newspapers
including the Guardian and the Washington Post and categorized the content into
various categories. Overall, the article found that sex trafficking was the most reported
form of human trafficking by the newspapers that were analyzed (p. 154). Many of the
other stories on trafficking were non-specific.
Problems with The Concept
According to Zbigniew Dumienski, the very concept of human trafficking is murky and
misleading. It has been argued that while human trafficking is commonly seen as a
monolithic crime, in reality it may be an act of illegal migration that involves various
different actions: some of them may be criminal or abusive, but others often involve
consent and are legal. Laura Agustin argues that not everything that might seem
abusive or coercive is considered as such by the migrant. For instance, she states that:
'would-be travellers commonly seek help from intermediaries who sell information,
services and documents. When travellers cannot afford to buy these outright, they go
into debt'. Dumienski says that while these debts might indeed be on very harsh
conditions, they are usually incurred on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, antihumantrafficking
actors often conflate clandestine migratory movements with forms of
exploitation covered in human trafficking definitions, ignoring the fact that a migratory
movement is not a requirement for human trafficking victimization.
The critics of the current approaches to trafficking say that a lot of the violence and
exploitation faced by illegal migrants derives precisely from the fact that their migration
and their work are illegal and not primarily because of trafficking.
The international Save the Children organization also stated: "The issue, however, gets
mired in controversy and confusion when prostitution too is considered as a violation of
the basic human rights of both adult women and minors, and equal to sexual
exploitation per se…trafficking and prostitution become conflated with each other…On
account of the historical conflation of trafficking and prostitution both legally and in
popular understanding, an overwhelming degree of effort and interventions of antitrafficking
groups are concentrated on trafficking into prostitution."
Claudia Aradau of Open University claims that NGOs involved in anti-sex trafficking
often employ "politics of pity," which promotes that all trafficked victims are completely
guiltless, fully coerced into sex work, and experience the same degrees of physical
suffering. One critic identifies two strategies that gain pity: denunciation – attributing all
violence and suffering to the perpetrator – and sentiment – exclusively depicting the
suffering of the women. NGOs' use of images of unidentifiable women suffering
physically help display sex trafficking scenarios as all the same. She points out that not
all trafficking victims have been abducted, abused physically, and repeatedly raped,
unlike popular portrayals. A study of the relationships between individuals who are
defined as sex-trafficking victims by virtue of having a procurer (especially minors)
concluded that assumptions about victimization and human trafficking do not do justice
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to the complex and often mutual relationships that exist between sex workers and their
Problems with Anti-Trafficking Measures
Groups like Amnesty International have been critical of insufficient or ineffective
government measures to tackle human trafficking. Criticism includes a lack of
understanding of human trafficking issues, poor identification of victims and a lack of
resources for the key pillars of anti-trafficking – identification, protection, prosecution
and prevention. For example, Amnesty International has called the UK government's
new anti-trafficking measures "not fit for purpose."
Victim Identification and Protection in The UK
In the UK, human trafficking cases are processed by the same officials to
simultaneously determine the refugee and trafficking victim statuses of a person.
However, criteria for qualifying as a refugee and a trafficking victim differ and they have
different needs for staying in a country. A person may need assistance as a trafficking
victim but his/her circumstances may not necessarily meet the threshold for asylum. In
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which case, not being granted refugee status affects their status as a trafficked victim
and thus their ability to receive help. Reviews of the statistics from the National Referral
Mechanism (NRM), a tool created by the Council of Europe Convention on Action
against Trafficking in Human Beings (CoE Convention) to help states effectively identify
and care for trafficking victims, found that positive decisions for non-European Union
citizens were much lower than that of EU and UK citizens. According to data on the
NRM decisions from April 2009 to April 2011, an average of 82.8% of UK and EU
citizens were conclusively accepted as victims while an average of only 45.9% of non-
EU citizens were granted the same status. High refusal rates of non-EU people point to
possible stereotypes and biases about regions and countries of origin which may hinder
anti-trafficking efforts, since the asylum system is linked to the trafficking victim
Laura Agustin has suggested that, in some cases, "anti-traffickers" ascribe victim status
to immigrants who have made conscious and rational decisions to cross the borders
knowing they will be selling sex and who do not consider themselves to be victims.
There have been instances in which the alleged victims of trafficking have actually
refused to be rescued or run away from the anti-trafficking shelters.
In a 2013 lawsuit, the Court of Appeal gave guidance to prosecuting authorities on the
prosecution of victims of human trafficking, and held that the convictions of three
Vietnamese children and one Ugandan woman ought to be quashed as the proceedings
amounted to an abuse of the court's process. The case was reported by the BBC and
one of the victims was interviewed by Channel 4.
Law Enforcement and The Use of Raids
In the U.S., services and protections for trafficked victims are related to cooperation with
law enforcement. Legal procedures that involve prosecution and specifically, raids, are
thus the most common anti-trafficking measures. Raids are conducted by law
enforcement and by private actors and many organizations (sometimes in cooperation
with law enforcement). Law enforcement perceive some benefits from raids, including
the ability to locate and identify witnesses for legal processes, to dismantle "criminal
networks", and to rescue victims from abuse.
The problems against anti-trafficking raids are related to the problem of the trafficking
concept itself, as raids' purpose of fighting sex trafficking may be conflated with fighting
prostitution. The Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act of 2005 (TVPRA)
gives state and local law enforcement funding to prosecute customers of commercial
sex, therefore some law enforcement agencies make no distinction between prostitution
and sex trafficking. One study interviewed women who have experienced law
enforcement operations as sex workers and found that during these raids meant to
combat human trafficking, none of the women were ever identified as trafficking victims,
and only one woman was asked whether she was coerced into sex work. The conflation
of trafficking with prostitution, then, does not serve to adequately identify trafficking and
help the victims. Raids are also problematic in that the women involved were most likely
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unclear about who was conducting the raid, what the purpose of the raid was, and what
the outcomes of the raid would be.
Law enforcement personnel agree that raids can intimidate trafficked persons and
render subsequent law enforcement actions unsuccessful. Social workers and attorneys
involved in anti-sex trafficking have negative opinions about raids. Service providers
report a lack of uniform procedure for identifying trafficking victims after raids. The 26
interviewed service providers stated that local police never referred trafficked persons to
them after raids. Law enforcement also often use interrogation methods that intimidate
rather than assist potential trafficking victims. Additionally, sex workers sometimes face
violence from the police during raids and arrests and in rehabilitation centers.
As raids occur to brothels that may house sex workers as well as sex trafficked victims,
raids affect sex workers in general. As clients avoid brothel areas that are raided but do
not stop paying for sex, voluntary sex workers will have to interact with customers
underground. Underground interactions means that sex workers take greater risks,
where as otherwise they would be cooperating with other sex workers and with sex
worker organizations to report violence and protect each other. One example of this is
with HIV prevention. Sex workers collectives monitor condom use, promote HIV testing,
and cares for and monitor the health of HIV positive sex workers. Raids disrupt
communal HIV care and prevention efforts, and if HIV positive sex workers are rescued
and removed from their community, their treatments are disrupted, furthering the spread
Scholars Aziza Ahmed and Meena Seshu suggest reforms in law enforcement
procedures so that raids are last resort, not violent, and are transparent in its purposes
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and processes. Furthermore, they suggest that since any trafficking victims will probably
be in contact with other sex workers first, working with sex workers may be an
alternative to the raid and rescue model.
"End Demand" Programs
Critics argue that End Demand programs are ineffective in that prostitution is not
reduced, "John schools" have little effect on deterrence and portray prostitutes
negatively, and conflicts in interest arise between law enforcement and NGO service
providers. A study found that Sweden's legal experiment (criminalizing clients of
prostitution and providing services to prostitutes who want to exit the industry in order to
combat trafficking) did not reduce the number of prostitutes, but instead increased
exploitation of sex workers because of the higher risk nature of their work. No proper
citation given for this study. The conclusion is strongly disputed. Other studies indicate
that the policy is successful.The same study reported that johns' inclination to buy sex
did not change as a result of john schools, and the programs targeted johns who are
poor and colored immigrants. Some john schools also intimidate johns into not
purchasing sex again by depicting prostitutes as drug addicts, HIV positive, violent, and
dangerous, which further marginalizes sex workers. John schools require program fees,
and police's involvement in NGOs who provide these programs create conflicts of
interest especially with money involved.
Modern Feminist Perspectives
There are different feminist perspectives on sex trafficking. The third-wave feminist
perspective of sex trafficking seeks to harmonize the dominant and liberal feminist
views of sex trafficking. The dominant feminist view focuses on "sexualized domination",
which includes issues of pornography, female sex labor in a patriarchal world, rape, and
sexual harassment. Dominant feminism emphasizes sex trafficking as forced
prostitution and considers the act exploitative. Liberal feminism sees all agents as
capable of reason and choice. Liberal feminists support sex workers rights, and argue
that women who voluntarily chose sex work are autonomous. The liberal feminist
perspective finds sex trafficking problematic where it overrides consent of individuals.
Third-wave feminism harmonizes the thoughts that while individuals have rights,
overarching inequalities hinder women's capabilities. Third-wave feminism also
considers that women who are trafficked and face oppression do not all face the same
kinds of oppression. For example, third-wave feminist proponent Shelley Cavalieri
identifies oppression and privilege in the intersections of race, class, and gender.
Women from low socioeconomic class, generally from the Global South, face
inequalities that differ from those of other sex trafficking victims. Therefore, it advocates
for catering to individual trafficking victim because sex trafficking is not monolithic, and
therefore there is not a one-size-fits-all intervention. This also means allowing individual
victims to tell their unique experiences rather than essentializing all trafficking
experiences. Lastly, third-wave feminism promotes increasing women's agency both
generally and individually, so that they have the opportunity to act on their own behalf.
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Third-wave feminist perspective of sex trafficking is loosely related to Amartya Sen's
and Martha Nussbaum's visions of the human capabilities approach to development. It
advocates for creating viable alternatives for sex trafficking victims. Nussbaum
articulated four concepts to increase trafficking victims' capabilities: education for
victims and their children, microcredit and increased employment options, labor unions
for low-income women in general, and social groups that connect women to one
According to modern Feminists, women and girls are more prone to trafficking also
because of social norms that marginalize their value and status in society. By this
perspective females face considerable gender discrimination both at home and in
school. Stereotypes that women belong at home in the private sphere and that women
are less valuable because they do not and are not allowed to contribute to formal
employment and monetary gains the same way men do further marginalize women's
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status relative to men. Some religious beliefs also lead people to believe that the birth of
girls are a result of bad karma, further cementing the belief that girls are not as valuable
as boys. It is generally regarded by feminists that various social norms contribute to
women's inferior position and lack of agency and knowledge, thus making them
vulnerable to exploitation such as sex trafficking.
As of 2016, Singapore acceded to the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol
and affirmed on 28 September 2015 the commitment to combat people trafficking,
especially women and children.
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VII. Bride Buying
Bride-Purchasing or Bride-Buying is the industry or trade of “purchasing a
bride” to become property and at times as property that can be resold or repurchased
for reselling. Bride-purchasing or bride-selling is practiced by bride-sellers and bridebuyers
in parts of countries such as India and China, among others. The practice is
described as a form of “marriage of convenience” but is illegal in many countries in the
Bride-buying is an old practice in many regions in India. Bride-purchasing is common in
the states of India such as Haryana, Jharkhand, and Punjab. According to CNN-IBN,
women are “bought, sold, trafficked, raped and married off without consent” across
some parts of India. Bride-purchases are usually outsourced from Bihar, Assam, and
West Bengal. The price of the bride (locally known as paros in Jharkhand), if bought
from the sellers, may cost between 4,000 and 30,000 Indian rupees, the equivalent of
US$88 to US$660. The brides' parents are normally paid an average of 500 to 1,000
Indian rupees (around US$11 to US$22). The need to buy a bride is because of the low
ratio of females to males. Such low ratio in turn was caused by the preference by most
Indian parents to have sons instead of daughters, and female foeticide. In 2006,
according to BBC News, there were around 861 women for every 1,000 men in
Haryana; and the national ratio in India as a whole was 927 women for every 1,000
men. The women are not only purchased as brides or wives but also to work as farm
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workers or house help. Most women become “sex slaves” or forced laborers who are
later resold to human traffickers to defray the cost.
According to the Punjabi writer, Kirpal Kazak, bride-selling began in Jharkhand after the
arrival of the Rajputs. The tribe decorate the women for sale with ornaments. The
practice of the sale of women as brides declined after the Green Revolution in India, the
“spread of literacy”, and the improvement of the male-female ratio since 1911. The ratio,
however, declined in 2001. The practice of bride-purchasing became confined to the
poor sections of society such as farmers, Scheduled Castes, and tribes. In povertystricken
families, only one son gets married due to poverty and to “avoid the division of
Bride buying is also an old tradition in China. The practice was largely stamped out by
the Chinese Communists. However, the modern practice is "not unusual in rural
villages"; it is also known as mercenary marriage. According to Ding Lu of the nongovernmental
organization All-China Women's Federation, the practice had a
resurgence due to China’s surging economy. From 1991 to 1996, Chinese police
rescued upwards of 88,000 women and children who had been sold into marriage and
slavery, and the Chinese government claimed that 143,000 traffickers involved were
caught and prosecuted. Some human rights groups state that the figures are not correct
and that the real number of abducted women is higher. Bay Fang and Mark Leong
reported in U.S. News & World Report that "the government sees the commerce in
wives as a shameful problem, it has only in recent years begun to provide any statistics,
and it tries to put the focus on the women who have been saved rather than on the
continuing trade." Causes include poverty and bride shortage in the rural areas (rural
women go to the cities to work). As women leave rural areas to find work in cities, they
are considered more vulnerable to being "tricked or forced into becoming chattel for
men desperate for wives." The shortage of brides in turn is due to amplification of the
traditional preference of Chinese couples for sons by the 1979 one-child policy in China.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that in 1998 there were 120 men
for every 100 women, with imbalances in rural areas being about 130 males for every
100 females. The increase in the cost of dowries is also a contributing factor leading
men to buy women for wives. Human Rights in China states that it is more affordable for
a man to buy a wife from a trafficker for 2,000 to 4,000 yuan than to pay a traditional
dowry, which often runs upwards of 10,000 yuan. For the average urban worker, wife
selling is an affordable option when in 1998 China urban workers make approximately
$60 a month. Brides for sale are outsourced from countries such as Burma, Laos,
Vietnam and North Korea. The bride-traders sell women as brides or as prostitutes
depending on their physical appearance. A common trick employed by bride-brokers in
acquiring brides for sale is the offer of a job such as in factories and instead kidnapping
them. Bride-traders can sell a young woman for the price of US$250 to US$800. US$50
to US$100 of the original price goes to the primary kidnappers while the rest of the
income goes to the traffickers who bring the bride to the main client.
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Chinese women who are bought as wives who bear children are more prone to staying
within the marriage. Fang Yuzhu of the China Women's Federation credits it with a
"strong sense of duty" that Chinese women have, and the idea that it is shameful to
leave their husband. Yuzhu also credits that some women might consider their forced
marriage a better option to the life of poverty and hard labor they would be subject to
upon returning home or the idea that some women may not feel they can find another
husband, since they "have already been with one".
of women as
titles such as
Niami by Arab
writer Mir Dad,
Mul di Tiveen
Woman” in the
other land” in
Hamara Jeewna by Punjabi novelist Dalip Kaur Tiwana, and the play Ik Hor Ramayan
by playwright Ajmer Aulakh.
In Popular Culture
Bazaar (Market), a 1982 Indian film directed by Sagar Sarhadi is based around the
theme of bride buying expatriate Indians in the Gulf countries from Hyderabad, India.
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VIII. The Modern Slavery Act
of 2015 (UK)
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is
designed to combat modern slavery in the UK and consolidates previous offences
relating to trafficking and slavery. The act extends to England and Wales. The bill was
introduced to the House of Commons in draft form in October 2013 by James
Brokenshire, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime and Security.
The bill's sponsors in the Home Office were Theresa May and Lord Bates. It received
Royal Assent and became law on 26 March 2015.
James Brokenshire was quoted as saying that the act would "send the strongest
possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human
beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up."
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The act contains a number of provisions:
The consolidation of the existing slavery and trafficking offences
The introduction of two new civil orders to enable the courts to place restrictions
on those convicted of modern slavery offences, or those involved in such
offences but not yet convicted
The establishment of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to encourage
good practice on the prevention of modern slavery offences and the identification
of victims. The first commissioner was Kevin Hyland
The provision of mechanisms for seizing traffickers’ assets and channeling some
of that money towards victims for compensation payments
The creation of a new statutory defense for slavery or trafficking victims
compelled to commit criminal offences
The provision of child trafficking advocates
Amendments to The Bill
The draft bill included no measures to counter the use of slave labor abroad as the
Home Office believed that asking businesses to audit and report on modern slavery in
their supply chains would be an “additional burden”. However, campaigning resulted in
a supply chain clause being added to the bills so that “big business will be forced to
make public its efforts to stop the use of slave labour by its suppliers”. Consultation
regarding the reporting requirements of the supply chain clause took place in February
and March 2015.
From 29 October 2015 the Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions require businesses
to publish an annual statement if they have an annual turnover above a threshold (£36
million). The statement must confirm the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human
trafficking are not taking place in the business (or in any supply chain) or declare that no
steps to confirm the existence of slavery or trafficking have been taken. It is expected
that few businesses would take the latter option as it may place their ethical position into
question and affect their reputation. There are, however, no legally binding
requirements to conduct due diligence on supply chains and there are no criminal or
financial penalties for non-compliance.
On 21 March 2016 the Home Office held a Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) event
where an independent civil society modern slavery register, the TISC Report, was
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announced in order to provide a
publicly searchable, accessible
registry for companies to share
their statements. At the point of
launch, on the 1st April 2016, it
was partnered with, amongst
others, the Welsh Government,
the Chartered Institute of
Procurement & Supply, the
International Chamber of
Commerce (ICC), and Business
West. On 31 January 2017 it had
10,153 companies with
statements held within its open
data register, making it the
largest modern slavery statement
In November 2014 Fiona
Mactaggart MP added an
amendment to the bill concerning
prostitution, aimed at
criminalising the purchase of sex.
In the bill's debate in the House
House of Commons, John McDonnell MP argued against the amendment. He
highlighted the lack of evidence for any correlation between the Swedish sex purchase
ban and a reduction in numbers of sex workers or their clients, and cited findings "that
not only do such measures not work, they actually cause harm". McDonnell quoted
Reverend Andrew Dotchin, a founding member of the Safety First Coalition: “I strongly
oppose clauses on prostitution in the Modern Slavery Bill, which would make the
purchase of sex illegal. Criminalizing clients does not stop prostitution, nor does it stop
the criminalization of women. It drives prostitution further underground, making it more
dangerous and stigmatizing for women.” The amendment was subsequently dropped.
In March 2015 an amendment was brought forward in the House of Lords concerning
migrant workers who are brought to the UK by their employer using "tied visas". These
workers are typically foreign domestic workers and they are not allowed to legally leave
their job and find employment elsewhere. The system of tied visas, introduced in 2012,
has been compared to the Kafala system of employer-sponsored workers used in some
Middle East countries. The amendment would have given workers in the UK using tied
visas the right to change employer, but it was rejected by the House of Commons.
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Criticism of the bill
Experts in the issue were skeptical of the bill, believing that it had many shortcomings.
Parosha Chandran, a human rights barrister and United Nations expert on trafficking,
claimed that "the bill is very poor on victim protection". Anthony Steen, who advised on
the legislation and chairs the Human Trafficking Foundation, claimed that the bill failed
to focus on the needs of victims of trafficking in the UK. “The bill is wholly and
exclusively about law enforcement – but it shouldn’t be enforcement-based, it should be
victim-based", he said.
Human rights group Liberty argued that the bill should have:
Addressed abuses associated with the Domestic Overseas Worker Visa which
prohibits individuals from changing their employer
Addressed the conflict of interest arising from UK Visas and Immigration being
involved with the National Referral Mechanism which is used to identify trafficking
victims and which acts as a gateway to support
Extended legal aid to slavery victims in civil matters
Implementation of the act
One of the aims of the Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into prostitution
legislation, which began in January 2016, was to examine the impact that the act had
had on trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and whether further measures were
needed to help those involved in prostitution to leave it. Submissions to the inquiry
published in June 2016 said that there had been 1,139 victims of trafficking for sexual
exploitation in 2014.
A review of the act in 2016 found that 289 offences were prosecuted under the act in
2015, and that there had been a 40% rise in the number of victims referred for support.
In July 2016 the Anti-Slavery Commissioner suggested that the number of crimes being
reported and investigated under the act was falling short of the real number of cases of
human trafficking and modern slavery. In the same month prime minister Theresa May
announced additional measures to assist the implementation of the act:
The creation of a task force to coordinate government action
A budget allocation of £33.5 million
An assessment of consistency in police approach by Her Majesty's Inspectorate
In 2017, figures published by the National Crime Agency indicated that there were over
300 current police operations investigating possible violations of the act, and that a total
of 3,805 people had been reported as potential victims in 2016. In September 2017
alone, nine people were jailed for offences under the act.
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In Other Countries
By 2018 legislation intended to minimize the impact of modern slavery on supply chains
had been passed by seven of the G20 countries (including the UK). In 2018 the
Government of Australia introduced a Modern Slavery Bill to the Parliament of Australia,
using the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 as a model. The bill was
introduced following an investigation by the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade which looked into whether Australia should adopt a
comparable Modern Slavery Act, and which had given in-principle support for the
proposal in August 2017. It was passed into law as the Modern Slavery Act 2018 in
November 2018, with effect from 1 January 2019. The reporting threshold is annual
revenue above A$100 million.
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IX. The Global Slavery Index
The Global Slavery Index is a global study of modern slavery conditions by country
published by the Walk Free Foundation (founded by Andrew Forrest). To date, four
editions have been published, in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018. In 2018, building on the
Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, the report estimated that globally 40.3 million
people were in some form of modern slavery on any given day in 2016.
The report includes three data points for each of the 167 countries is covers: national
estimates of the prevalence of modern slavery, a measure of vulnerability, and an
assessment of the strength of government responses to modern slavery.
The 2018 Global Slavery Index includes data on three key variables: the prevalence of
modern slavery in each country, vulnerability to modern slavery, and government
responses to modern slavery. In 2018, the Global Slavery Index methodology
underwent several changes and used significantly expanded data sources. The
methodology is written up in detail in the Global Slavery Index report.
In 2017, the inaugural Global Estimates of Modern Slavery were produced by the
International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation in partnership with the
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International Organization for Migration. Acknowledged data gaps in earlier editions of
the Global Slavery Index, including lack of data on forced sexual exploitation and
children in modern slavery, were addressed by adopting a combined methodological
approach when developing the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. This involved
drawing on three sources of data:
1. The existing Global Slavery Index survey program was expanded to include 54
surveys covering 48 countries. More than 71,000 people have been interviewed
and the countries surveyed represent over half of the world’s population. It is the
most extensive survey program on modern slavery ever undertaken and forms
the central component of the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.
2. Administrative data from the International Organization for Migration’s databases
of assisted victims of trafficking, and
3. Data derived from validated secondary sources and a systematic review of
comments from the International Labor Organization supervisory bodies
regarding ILO Conventions on forced labor.
The 2018 Global Slavery Index uses the same data sources and regional and global
estimates from the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.
The regional estimates form the starting point for the 2018 Global Slavery Index national
level estimates for 167 countries. The prevalence estimates from the 2018 Global
Slavery Index were calculated according to the following process:
1. Individual and country-level variables that have a significant relationship with
forced labor or forced marriage at the individual level were identified. Data for this
analysis were taken from Gallup World Poll (GWP) surveys conducted in 2014,
2015, and 2016.
2. Predicting modern slavery. These risk factors were used to build a statistical
model that best predicts occurrence of modern slavery at the individual level.
3. Estimating prevalence and aligning with Global Estimates of Modern Slavery
regional estimates. Individual predictions were aggregated into risk scores at the
country level. Whereas survey data on forced labour and forced marriage are not
available for every country, a broader set of survey data covering variables such
as age, gender, marital status and so on was available for 147 countries. Country
risk scores were used to estimate country prevalence, based on the extent to
which the country risk score deviated from the average regional risk scores.
4. Final calculation of estimated prevalence. Number of victims was then estimated
by applying the estimated prevalence to population data for each country. To this
“base” estimate, an estimate of state-imposed forced labor was added to
determine the final estimated prevalence of all forms of modern slavery.
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Controversy and Criticism
Much of the criticism of the Global Slavery Index relates to the methodology employed
to produce prevalence estimates presented in the 2016 Global Slavery Index and earlier
editions. The 2016 Global Slavery Index prevalence estimates were based on results of
surveys in 25 countries through the Gallup World Poll, the results of which were
extrapolated to countries with an equivalent risk profile. Measurements of forced sexual
exploitation and children in modern slavery were identified as critical data gaps to
address in future estimations. The 2018 Global Slavery Index saw substantial
methodological improvements, including a significant increase in the number of survey
data points, and substantial changes to the approach to estimating prevalence of
modern slavery in countries without survey data.
According to researchers Andrew Guth, Robyn Anderson, Kasey Kinnard and Hang
Tran, they find the 2014 Global Slavery Index's methods reveal weaknesses and they
raise questions about its replicability and validity. They have stated that the publicity
given to the Index is leading to the use of its data can lead to inaccurate policy
formulation and methods used in the Index are inadequate.
In the 2014 Global Slavery Index, some countries, for which no data were available,
were given the same rate as countries that were judged to be similar. For example,
prevalence rates for Britain were applied to Ireland and Iceland, and those for America
to several western European nations, including Germany. This form of extrapolation has
attracted some criticism.
Scholar Anne Gallagher said the 2014 Global Slavery Index is based on flawed data.
Gallagher writes "the basic unit of measurement of “modern slavery” is flawed: the
definition is self-created and, bizarrely, changes from one year to the next."
Alexis A. Aronowitz called the Index to be "terribly flawed" and points out that:
"The index is based on mix of sources: population surveys in a few countries; fuzzy
estimates by governmental agencies or NGOs; stories in the media; and local experts.
For nations lacking any such source, the index creators engage in an "extrapolation"
exercise -- they simply apply an estimate from one nation to "similar" nations lacking
Global Slavery Index 2014
Rank Country Region Slaver
Global Slavery Index 2014 Table
92.9 75.3 76.8 62.7 67.6 72.2 4.0000 155,600 3,889,880
Page 117 of 161
4 Qatar Middle
Republic of the
12 United Arab
54.0 91.8 39.0 62.8 38.6 56.5 3.9729 1,201,400 30,241,100
68.2 67.0 81.3 64.3 75.0 71.9 2.3041 237,700 10,317,461
50.5 82.3 28.1 26.1 70.1 50.8 1.3563 29,400 2,168,673
27.50 58.9 54.0 56.5 38.3 56.7 1.14 14,285,70 1,252,139,59
85.9 79.2 60.4 68.9 60.0 69.5 1.1300 2,058,200 182,142,594
78.8 78.0 83.9 80.7 64.3 79.3 1.1300 762,900 67,513,677
78.8 100.0 79.7 79.8 59.9 82.6 1.1300 429,000 37,964,306
Middle 100.0 100.0 55.3 74.7 54.1 76.9 1.1300 258,200 22,845,550
Sub- 92.9 83.5 82.3 77.0 66.2 78.9 1.1300 52,200 4,616,417
Sub- 64.6 50.5 69.6 57.3 69.4 61.7 1.1061 49,200 4,447,632
Middle 39.9 85.0 34.4 34.1 40.6 46.8 1.0572 98,800 9,346,129
Middle 71.7 91.8 61.3 77.2 59.0 71.7 1.0351 345,900 33,417,476
Asia 75.3 58.8 54.8 65.3 63.6 62.9 1.0292 155,800 15,135,169
Europe 4.5 58.0 40.1 52.6 53.6 41.8 0.9362 33,300 3,559,000
64.6 28.5 35.7 42.5 44.9 44.0 0.9068 25,700 2,839,073
78.8 23.0 49.6 35.7 72.5 51.2 0.9068 20,900 2,303,315
85.9 35.5 50.2 29.6 53.6 51.8 0.9068 18,300 2,021,144
47.0 23.0 53.3 35.7 63.4 45.2 0.9068 4,900 539,276
61.1 61.7 64.9 50.7 30.1 53.2 0.8227 228,700 27,797,457
71.7 25.9 67.9 46.2 63.5 54.4 0.7456 193,100 25,904,598
Sub- 54.0 44.9 77.8 55.5 41.0 55.5 0.7456 192,600 25,833,752
Sub- 61.1 47.8 86.9 55.2 50.2 60.2 0.7456 132,900 17,831,270
Sub- 54.0 38.8 83.7 58.9 42.8 55.8 0.7456 126,300 16,934,839
Sub- 64.6 43.5 89.1 41.6 57.9 58.6 0.7456 122,000 16,362,567
Sub- 61.1 51.1 71.4 48.5 67.7 58.9 0.7456 108,400 14,538,640
Sub- 43.4 38.1 76.4 54.3 55.7 55.7 0.7456 105,400 14,133,280
Sub- 61.1 36.7 80.3 51.0 50.1 56.7 0.7456 77,000 10,323,474
Sub- 68.2 50.5 76.9 60.4 48.1 60.1 0.7456 50,800 6,816,982
Sub- 78.8 35.9 81.6 53.7 52.0 59.7 0.7456 32,000 4,294,077
Sub- 82.3 34.0 70.4 46.0 52.1 57.7 0.7456 15,500 2,074,465
Eurasia 54.0 89.9 29.7 67.0 47.5 56.2 0.7315 1,049,700 143,499,861
54.0 62.9 81.6 54.9 67.5 64.2 0.7114 350,400 49,253,126
Page 118 of 161
39 South Sudan
63 North Korea
57.6 65.6 78.5 67.6 55.7 65.0 0.7114 144,500 20,316,086
Sub- 92.9 41.7 81.4 64.5 45.7 64.0 0.7114 108,900 15,301,650
Sub- 75.3 60.7 86.4 74.1 64.9 73.7 0.7114 91,200 12,825,314
Sub- 75.3 71.2 70.2 45.9 54.1 63.5 0.7114 83,800 11,776,522
Sub- 71.7 64.3 82.4 69.7 61.5 70.0 0.7114 83,600 11,745,189
Sub- 82.3 53.3 78.5 72.5 57.3 66.7 0.7114 80,400 11,296,173
Sub- 78.8 55.2 81.9 66.4 41.7 66.3 0.7114 72,300 10,162,532
Sub- 68.2 42.0 86.0 50.7 68.2 63.0 0.7114 43,300 6,092,075
Sub- 57.6 53.3 82.5 60.6 58.8 62.5 0.7114 13,200 1,849,285
Sub- 68.2 75.3 72.5 56.1 52.7 65.7 0.7114 6,200 872,932
Asia 57.6 60.0 40.0 44.6 58.6 51.5 0.7093 475,300 67,010,502
Middle 68.2 77.2 38.0 40.9 58.8 56.1 0.7093 25,800 3,632,444
Middle 89.4 69.9 34.3 36.8 78.2 61.8 0.7093 23,900 3,368,572
Middle 78.8 86.9 27.4 37.2 56.5 58.2 0.7093 9,400 1,332,171
Asia 43.4 86.7 36.6 30.3 67.0 51.4 0.7093 3,000 417,784
Sub- 50.5 9.3 43.6 33.6 61.4 41.3 0.6368 3,200 498,897
Sub- 64.6 69.5 55.2 55.8 73.2 65.0 0.5359 6,700 1,249,514
Sub- 92.9 50.5 82.6 72.0 60.0 70.3 0.5001 8,500 1,704,255
Sub- 50.5 72.7 58.5 68.4 71.0 63.6 0.4805 834,200 173,615,345
Middle 50.5 82.1 42.9 49.9 77.2 60.6 0.4800 393,800 82,056,378
Middle 89.4 92.1 49.2 48.1 48.9 64.8 0.4800 188,200 39,208,194
Middle 85.9 68.9 43.9 46.6 50.9 60.0 0.4800 158,400 33,008,150
Asia 78.8 77.4 35.6 30.4 71.5 58.1 0.4800 142,600 29,716,965
Middle 61.1 85.9 48.6 37.5 62.4 60.7 0.4800 31,000 6,459,000
Middle 68.2 64.8 38.2 62.5 78.4 62.5 0.4800 21,400 4,467,390
Asia 75.3 62.0 67.3 58.6 30.0 57.3 0.4348 680,900 156,594,962
Middle 96.5 92.8 41.0 58.1 68.4 71.4 0.4348 336,700 77,447,168
Asia 68.2 91.8 71.8 61.8 64.5 72.3 0.4348 231,600 53,259,018
Asia 78.8 69.8 91.9 79.3 54.4 75.1 0.4348 132,800 30,551,674
Asia 85.9 100.0 59.8 75.1 58.8 75.2 0.4348 108,200 24,895,480
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80 Bosnia and
92 Sri Lanka
Middle 89.4 94.5 64.6 69.7 84.4 80.6 0.4348 106,100 24,407,381
Sub- 71.7 75.3 63.4 61.4 54.4 65.3 0.4348 93,400 21,471,618
Sub- 85.9 91.8 63.9 70.9 53.5 73.5 0.4348 61,500 14,149,648
Sub- 85.9 100.0 92.8 85.5 100.0 94.9 0.4348 45,600 10,495,583
Sub- 92.9 100.0 86.3 55.9 83.5 83.8 0.4348 27,500 6,333,135
Middle 89.4 88.2 50.0 63.0 83.5 75.6 0.4348 27,000 6,201,521
Sub- 92.9 83.5 53.7 62.8 58.8 69.6 0.4348 3,300 757,014
Sub- 36.4 92.6 82.7 52.7 53.8 62.3 0.4141 389,700 94,100,756
America 71.7 39.9 68.4 49.8 67.5 57.3 0.3870 3,100 799,613
Europe 22.2 42.4 30.9 47.9 34.1 35.5 0.3797 27,600 7,265,115
Europe 8.1 27.9 28.7 17.7 37.6 24.0 0.3600 37,900 10,521,468
Europe 54.0 30.8 33.8 22.1 32.4 35.3 0.3600 35,600 9,897,247
Europe 25.8 45.4 34.1 43.2 40.2 37.0 0.3600 25,800 7,163,976
Europe 11.6 28.5 31.2 39.3 33.4 28.8 0.3600 19,500 5,414,095
Eurasia 57.6 71.9 37.0 45.9 46.8 51.1 0.3600 16,100 4,476,900
Europe 43.4 33.8 30.8 30.3 37.0 33.7 0.3600 15,300 4,252,700
Europe 29.3 57.2 34.9 46.4 53.8 45.7 0.3600 13,800 3,829,307
Eurasia 4.5 63.7 35.7 51.6 54.8 42.1 0.3600 10,700 2,976,566
Europe 47.0 36.4 24.5 27.1 44.3 35.2 0.3600 10,600 2,956,121
Europe 47.0 43.6 36.0 57.0 55.3 46.3 0.3600 10,000 2,773,620
Europe 25.8 41.7 33.7 54.9 46.0 39.7 0.3600 7,600 2,107,158
Europe 4.5 15.1 29.6 16.1 34.8 20.7 0.3600 7,400 2,060,484
Europe 50.5 13.2 28.1 24.6 43.5 30.6 0.3600 4,800 1,324,612
Eurasia 25.8 27.7 29.0 20.7 46.0 29.8 0.3600 4,100 1,141,166
Europe 36.4 38.8 30.3 49.5 49.0 40.8 0.3600 2,200 621,383
47.0 91.8 45.1 49.4 41.7 54.3 0.3592 322,200 89,708,900
Sub- 39.9 72.4 72.4 51.2 54.4 56.7 0.3592 135,000 37,578,876
Sub- 32.8 71.6 74.6 59.7 57.0 58.4 0.3592 79,900 22,253,959
Asia 64.6 69.7 47.1 58.9 34.2 55.7 0.3592 73,600 20,483,000
Eurasia 36.4 75.8 34.0 57.8 38.0 49.1 0.3592 61,200 17,037,508
Eurasia 43.4 85.2 36.7 59.5 43.3 53.7 0.3592 33,800 9,416,598
39.9 78.0 51.1 57.1 38.5 51.4 0.3592 29,500 8,207,834
61.1 97.3 61.5 49.8 50.0 62.6 0.3592 24,300 6,769,727
68.2 64.3 45.3 57.0 43.1 54.2 0.3592 20,500 5,719,500
64.6 100.0 45.0 64.7 46.3 64.8 0.3592 18,800 5,240,072
71.7 23.0 60.5 58.2 57.0 54.2 0.3404 4,000 1,178,252
64.6 45.0 40.8 48.3 53.9 52.0 0.3063 33,300 10,886,500
82.3 91.8 36.0 49.5 72.2 65.9 0.2919 84,200 28,828,870
Page 120 of 161
119 El Salvador
47.0 70.0 51.9 49.6 56.0 53.7 0.2858 714,100 249,865,631
Asia 36.4 41.4 45.6 52.5 59.4 47.1 0.2655 261,200 98,393,574
Sub- 68.2 30.8 38.9 21.4 42.3 39.0 0.2541 3,300 1,296,303
Eurasia 50.5 63.7 39.6 44.2 62.9 50.9 0.2476 185,500 74,932,641
Europe 57.6 46.0 38.9 61.1 40.0 48.0 0.2476 112,600 45,489,600
Europe 22.2 45.0 36.3 48.4 56.3 40.9 0.2476 4,500 1,824,000
50.5 45.6 49.8 46.4 63.8 50.5 0.2476 4,100 1,671,711
57.6 91.9 42.2 46.2 53.3 59.0 0.2388 3,241,400 1,357,380,00
89.4 28.5 65.9 48.2 89.3 65.0 0.2300 16,800 7,321,262
39.9 40.9 39.0 60.2 42.7 45.2 0.2182 266,900 122,332,399
America 43.4 43.3 38.7 57.9 49.2 45.8 0.2182 105,400 48,321,405
America 43.4 46.2 35.6 48.9 53.1 45.4 0.2182 66,300 30,375,603
America 39.9 49.6 32.2 57.7 34.7 42.1 0.2182 34,300 15,737,878
America 32.8 44.6 44.1 66.8 58.8 51.7 0.2182 33,800 15,468,203
America 54.0 42.3 53.4 60.5 48.3 49.5 0.2182 23,300 10,671,200
America 54.0 53.8 58.0 75.6 64.4 61.1 0.2182 17,700 8,097,688
America 43.4 36.5 43.3 61.5 53.9 46.3 0.2182 14,800 6,802,295
America 32.8 32.6 44.9 61.4 53.5 42.9 0.2182 13,800 6,340,454
America 8.1 59.6 60.9 59.7 41.2 45.9 0.2182 13,300 6,080,478
America 36.4 20.0 31.7 23.6 45.7 31.5 0.2095 36,900 17,619,708
America 54.0 22.5 34.6 39.1 24.5 34.2 0.2095 10,200 4,872,166
America 68.2 28.0 35.6 46.8 42.6 42.1 0.2095 8,100 3,864,170
America 57.6 14.6 31.3 33.6 26.8 31.4 0.2095 7,100 3,407,062
America 43.4 76.4 38.3 73.7 35.0 52.7 0.2002 60,900 30,405,207
Sub- 43.4 24.8 38.2 46.9 55.6 43.3 0.2001 106,000 52,981,991
Asia 61.1 17.6 23.4 11.4 40.0 29.9 0.1865 237,500 127,338,621
Asia 22.2 39.2 30.8 30.5 36.0 30.3 0.1865 93,700 50,219,669
America 25.8 30.7 30.3 46.5 21.3 29.5 0.1865 77,300 41,446,246
Europe 1.0 21.7 27.1 22.2 48.2 25.5 0.1865 71,900 38,530,725
64.6 3.5 21.1 10.9 25.2 25.0 0.1865 13,400 7,187,500
47.0 54.3 41.2 60.5 59.3 51.7 0.1754 18,200 10,403,761
64.6 27.7 36.2 41.5 36.8 42.8 0.1690 2,300 1,341,151
36.4 23.9 54.9 54.5 49.7 41.7 0.1548 4,200 2,715,000
America 57.6 17.5 42.3 23.1 42.3 38.5 0.1488 400 284,644
Sub- 78.8 68.5 54.4 67.3 56.0 63.6 0.1464 64,900 44,353,691
Sub- 64.6 64.8 79.8 59.0 58.0 67.4 0.1326 30,400 22,924,851
Europe 64.6 97.3 36.4 54.5 34.7 56.8 0.1215 11,500 9,466,000
Europe 25.8 50.1 34.8 42.8 40.6 38.1 0.1132 22,600 19,963,581
Europe 43.4 34.8 30.0 38.8 45.1 37.7 0.1132 2,300 2,013,385
22.2 51.9 28.2 16.8 59.4 35.1 0.0998 5,400 5,399,200
29.3 43.9 28.7 32.0 58.4 37.8 0.0806 6,500 8,059,400
Page 121 of 161
145 United States
164 New Zealand
22.2 28.0 33.3 50.2 42.5 34.6 0.0775 155,300 200,361,925
America 68.2 97.3 51.6 44.8 1.0 55.5 0.0362 4,100 11,265,629
America 8.1 17.9 22.2 26.1 25.4 19.9 0.0190 60,100 316,128,839
Europe 32.8 21.9 24.0 38.1 31.3 29.6 0.0190 11,400 59,831,093
Europe 11.6 24.7 25.1 14.4 12.2 17.6 0.0130 10,500 80,621,788
Europe 25.8 25.8 28.0 21.0 23.9 22.8 0.0130 8,600 66,028,467
Europe 8.1 10.3 17.1 18.4 17.6 15.1 0.0130 8,300 64,097,085
Europe 15.1 27.9 22.8 22.6 17.6 22.7 0.0130 6,100 46,647,421
America 8.1 16.8 25.4 11.2 19.7 15.5 0.0130 4,600 35,158,304
Asia 11.6 28.4 17.1 27.7 28.9 22.7 0.0130 3,000 23,340,000
Asia 11.6 2.9 24.8 13.5 15.1 11.5 0.0130 3,000 23,130,900
Europe 11.6 9.2 25.1 13.5 8.4 11.4 0.0130 2,200 16,804,224
Europe 4.5 18.1 26.8 14.9 15.9 16.0 0.0130 1,500 11,195,138
Europe 36.4 49.8 30.2 43.3 50.9 41.4 0.0130 1,400 11,032,328
Europe 18.7 13.0 28.2 17.0 29.7 21.4 0.0130 1,400 10,459,806
Europe 8.1 15.7 26.5 10.1 10.9 13.5 0.0130 1,200 9,592,552
Europe 4.5 17.3 23.9 14.4 14.4 14.9 0.0130 1,100 8,473,786
Europe 32.8 23.3 21.1 10.6 25.5 22.0 0.0130 1,100 8,081,482
Europe 43.4 16.8 25.2 3.5 6.2 18.4 0.0130 700 5,613,706
Europe 4.5 22.2 26.2 8.9 14.4 16.0 0.0130 700 5,439,407
Europe 11.6 16.0 25.6 7.8 2.5 11.3 0.0130 700 5,084,190
Asia 15.1 8.6 26.6 6.6 6.8 12.7 0.0130 600 4,470,800
Europe 32.8 2.4 10.9 9.9 21.6 17.0 0.0130
17. Costa Rica
22. Hong Kong
23. France, Netherlands
26. South Korea
30. Trinidad and Tobago
Page 123 of 161
Page 124 of 161
Page 125 of 161
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Page 128 of 161
and Contemporary Slavery
Page 129 of 161
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery
Introduction by Dr. Kevin Bales
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
The anti-slavery movement will welcome this important compilation of work on debt bondage
slavery. In the academic and policy analysis of contemporary slavery, many of the fundamental areas
of enslavement are yet to be explored and brought into systematic presentation. This work by the
Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver helps to build up our
understanding of debt bondage, as well as adding to the emerging discipline of contemporary slavery
studies. Debt bondage slavery is one of the oldest forms of slavery that continues into the present
day. The date of the establishment of hereditary debt bondage in the Indian sub-continent is lost in
the pre-history of that region. Untold millions have lived and died under its yoke. In spite of its
longevity, the system continues to be under-studied and little understood, which is why this
publication is so very welcome. By way of introduction it is helpful to review some of the early
definitions of debt bondage, in addition to examining some of the forms it takes.
In the 1956 United Nations Supplementary Convention debt bondage is defined as the “status
or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or those of a person under his
control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied
towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively
limited and defined.” 1 The 1956 Convention places debt bondage within the category of practices
likely to result in a “servile status” 2 and obliges governments to pass laws to abolish it. One of the
key areas of misunderstanding of both international instruments and popular perceptions centers on
that part of the definition that reads, “the value of those services ... is not applied towards the
liquidation of the debt.” The confusion arises because this definition explains that the labor power is
not applied to the debt, but it does not explain how that labor power is actually viewed and used
within the lender-debtor relationship.
There are in fact two distinct forms of debt bondage, both of which meet this criterion but in
different ways. The most common form of debt bondage in South Asia is hereditary collateral debt
bondage slavery. In these cases of debt bondage the labor power (and indeed the very lives of the
debtor and his/her family) becomes collateral held against the debt. This establishes the trap of
bondage–since all the labor power of the debtor is the collateral property of the lender until the debt
is repaid, the debtor is unable to ever earn enough to repay the debt by their own labor. The other
form of debt bondage is coercive fraudulent debt bondage slavery. In this form of debt bondage the work
of the debtor may ostensibly be applied to the debt, but through false accounting or extortionate
interest, repayment remains forever out of reach. In the first form it is the very nature of the
agreement that transforms labor power into collateral, which disqualifies the debtor from ever
1 Supplementary Convention, 226 UNTS 3 (1956), Article 1 (a).
2 Supplementary Convention, 226 UNTS 3 (1956), Article 7 (b).
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
repaying their debt. In the second form it is a violation of the agreement, when “the value of those
services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt,” that traps the
debtor. In both types, the enforcement of the agreement is usually backed up by force, bringing an
end to the free will of the debtor and crossing the line into enslavement.
The definition of debt bondage in the Supplementary Convention also highlights the important
fact that the pledging of a person’s services to repay a debt becomes abusive if the terms and
conditions of such an arrangement are unregulated. This criterion distinguishes between an
acceptable arrangement whereby an individual is working to pay off a debt incurred and the
enslavement of debt bondage. In the former, it is legitimate for a worker to accept credit for
whatever reason and to repay this amount by working, so long as the repayment terms are fixed and
the capital sum borrowed is subject to reasonable interest rates. In contrast, none of these
safeguards exist in a situation of debt bondage slavery. The bonded laborer is often at the mercy of
his or her employer or creditor and the terms of the loan or advance are either not stipulated or not
The dominant position of the employer or creditor in such instances increases the risk and
opportunity of abuse. This is made possible, for example, by allowing the creditor to adjust interest
rates or simply to add interest without informing the bonded laborer, imposing high charges for
food or tools, and making additional advances on wages resulting in increased debt. Ultimately, these
conditions mean that the debtor is unable to repay the loan and remains bonded for an indefinite
period, potentially throughout his or her life. In many cases, the obligation to repay the loan is
inherited by the victims’ children who are born into a life of bonded labor.
In 1924, the Temporary Slavery Commission pointed out that although the contract is made
with the consent of the debtor “it often happens that the creditor so arranges that his debtor gets
more and more into debt, with the result that what was in the beginning only one apparently
equitable contract is transformed finally into enslavement for life.” 3 In theory, the laborer is only
bonded for a temporary period until the debt has been repaid. In reality, repayment is impossible
and the debtor remains enslaved for life.
In some instances, individuals are compelled to place a child or another member of the family in
bondage in order to repay a debt or to obtain a loan, as they are unable to complete all of the work
to be done. This situation perpetuates the cycle of debt from one generation to the next. The
practice of placing a child or other family member in bondage is sometimes identified as “pawning”
or “pledging,” while the situation of families which remain in debt bondage from one generation to
the next is generally referred to as “chronic bondage.”
The evidence of debt bondage received by the U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms
of Slavery has mainly concerned rural areas. Indeed, the problem of bonded labor is viewed
internationally as “an economic malady” 4 linked to rural unemployment. The International
Commission of Jurists Seminar on “Rural Development and Human Rights in South Asia” held in
3 Temporary Slavery Commission Report to the Council, League of Nations Doc.A 17 1924 VI.b at 1 (1924) p.9.
4 Whittaker, Benjamin. (1982). Updating of the Report on Slavery Submitted to the Commission in 1966 UN Doc.
E/CN.4 Sub.2/1982/20 5 July.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
India during December 1982 concluded “landless and bonded laborers are among the weakest and
most exploited sectors of the rural communities in South Asia.” 5
However, debt bondage is not exclusive to rural or agricultural laborers, since it also occurs in
such industries as construction, quarrying, and brick making. The debt which results in the
enslavement of the victim can be incurred in many different ways, notably including travel costs,
subsistence and housing, or through the activities of a recruitment agency. 6 The definition of debt
bondage in the Supplementary Convention is sufficiently wide to cover many migrant workers who
either borrow money or unwittingly incur costs that employers or agents subsequently tell them that
they must repay. This predicament can affect both migrant workers who leave their own country to
seek work abroad, and those workers who leave their own community to seek work elsewhere
within their own country. The definition of debt bondage in the Supplementary Convention was not
drafted to deal specifically with the question of migrant workers, as the large flow of international
migrants was not such a common phenomenon at that time.
This more recent manifestation of debt bondage, which affects migrant workers, is similar in its
effect to the more traditional practice of bonded laborers who work on their creditor’s land. In both
instances, the victims cannot terminate the contract until the debt is repaid; they are equally
vulnerable to abuse or coercion by their creditors. It has been observed that the connection
between trafficking and forced labor practices “is nowhere more clear than in the practice of debtbondage.”
7 The victims are enticed, procured, or kidnapped to their new work place by the agent or
trafficker and must, on arrival, repay the travel and subsistence costs incurred. Oftentimes women
are pushed into prostitution in order to repay this money. The threat of violence and their total
dependence on the creditor/slaveholder in the new environment in many instances forces workers
into the sex industry.
Debt bondage or bonded labor today affects millions of adults and children in their own
countries, as well as migrant workers throughout the world. It has been suggested that one of the
reasons why these practices continue is the economic pressure to retain competitive export prices. 8
As a result, bonded labor systems continue to exist quite openly in many developing countries,
despite legislation prohibiting the practice. They also flourish more clandestinely in industrialized
countries, affecting migrant workers in general and illegal migrants in particular.
In view of the prevalence of bonded labor among the landless in rural areas, governments may
in some instances have to reform the existing land tenure systems in order to comply with their
obligations under the Supplementary Convention to prevent debt bondage. The U.N.’s Food and
Agricultural Organization (FAO) has for many years been assisting in the reform of feudal and semi-
5 Report of the Working Group on Contemporary Form of Slavery at the 9 th Session UN Doc.
E/CN.4/Sub.2/Ac.2/1983/9 Annex II p.2.
6 Whitaker, Benjamin. (1982). Updating of the Report on Slavery Submitted to the Commission in 1966 UN Doc
E/CN.4 Sub.2/1982/20 5 July, p.21.
7 Wijers, Marjan and Lin Lap-Chew. (1997). Trafficking in Women, Forced Labor and Slavery-like Practices in
Marriage, Domestic Labor and Prostitution, Summary April 1997 Utrecht, The Netherlands.
8 Ehrenberg, Daniel S. (1995). “The Labor Link: Applying the International Trading Systems to Enforce Violations
of Forced and Child Labor.” Yale Journal of International Law (20) 361, 375.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
feudal structures of land tenure and the abolition of debt bondage through the development of
Although the practice of debt bondage has in the past been associated mostly with landless
laborers, it is now an international phenomenon affecting many trafficked and migrant workers. This
means that a process of enslavement into debt bondage can begin in a country like India, but can
then be transferred into rich countries of the global north. In the United States, a key mechanism for
drawing workers into debt bondage is the H2-A visa for temporary agricultural or other workers.
This visa allows workers to be brought into the country, normally through a labor broker, and
placed with an employer. The worker is tied to the employer and not allowed to change jobs. While
some employers obey the laws concerning treatment of H2-A workers, a lack of oversight or
inspection means that those wishing to abuse and exploit workers often do so with impunity. Of the
small number of Department of Labor inspectors assigned to H2-A visa recipients, very few have
the language skills needed to interview them–although many H2-A workers speak Spanish, others
may speak one of several East or South Asian languages. The result is that “contracts,” rarely
understood by workers, allow labor brokers and employers to charge inflated interest rates and other
costs to the worker and thus to both bind them by debt and to dramatically increase the profits
made through their exploitation. Skilled workers from India, such as welders and computer
programmers, have been trapped in debt bondage in the United States through abuse of the
loopholes within the H2-A visa system.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that whatever form it takes debt bondage is fundamentally a
mechanism for drawing the vulnerable into slavery. It works on several levels, on one hand justifying
and rationalizing enslavement under the cover of debt, and on the other hand pressing the
(enslaved) debtor to accept their situation by placing the responsibility for repayment upon them. By
manipulating both the external presentation of the crime and the internal understanding of the
victim, it is a powerful criminal tool. The eradication of debt bondage requires that scholars, policy
makes, and law enforcement come to understand its complexities and to unravel its system of
enslavement. This compilation is an important step in that process.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
© 2008, Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Bonded Labor in India
By Devin Finn
Introduction: Types of Widespread Forced Labor
Bonded labor, which is characterized by a long-term relationship between employer and
employee, is usually solidified through a loan, and is embedded intricately in India’s socio-economic
culture—a culture that is a product of class relations, a colonial history, and persistent poverty
among many citizens. Also known as debt bondage, bonded labor is a specific form of forced labor
in which compulsion into servitude is derived from debt. Categorized and examined in the scholarly
literature as a type of forced labor, bonded labor entails constraints on the conditions and duration
of work by an individual. Not all bonded labor is forced, but most forced labor practices, whether
they involve children or adults, are of a bonded nature. Bonded labor is most prevalent in rural areas
where the agricultural industry relies on contracted, often migrant laborers. However, urban areas
also provide fertile ground for long-term bondage.
Characterized by a creditor-debtor relationship that a laborer often passes on to his family
members, bonded labor is typically of an indefinite duration and involves illegal contractual
stipulations. Contracts deny an individual the basic right to choose his or her employer, or to
negotiate the terms of his or her contract. Bonded labor contracts are not purely economic; in India,
they are reinforced by custom or coercion in many sectors such as the agricultural, silk, mining,
match production, and brick kiln industries, among others.
Researchers of bonded labor in India seek to understand its long-standing practices through an
examination of contemporary forms of labor coercion, their origins and relationships to poverty and
inequality, and implications for policymaking. Child labor, agricultural debt bondage, and bonded
migrant labor are persistent forms of modern slavery that fall under the Indian constitutional
definition of forced labor. While child labor and bonded labor in India are typically addressed
separately in the literature, many researchers focus on the causes and consequences of pervasive
child labor in the world’s largest democracy.
Child laborers face major health and physical risks: they work long hours and are required to
perform tasks for which they are physically and developmentally unprepared. Child labor is deeply
entrenched as a common practice in many sectors and states, due in part to India’s economic
emphasis on exports in recent years. According to a current estimate, a quarter of Indian children
ages six to fourteen—roughly two hundred million children—are working, and a third of the
remaining seventy-five percent are bonded laborers (Sooryamoorthy 1991: 31). The largest single
employer of children in India is the agricultural sector where an estimated twenty-five million
children are employed; and the second largest employer of Indian children is the service sector
where children work in hotels and as household maids. An additional five million Indian children are
employed in other labor-intensive industries.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
Origins and Causes of India’s Bonded Labor Problem
Bonded labor stems from a variety of causes, which are highly debated in the literature: an
ingrained legacy of caste-based discrimination, vast poverty and inequality, an inadequate education
system, unjust social relations, and the government’s unwillingness to alter the status quo all
exemplify a few such causes. Additionally, India’s colonial background and caste system have made
it difficult to delineate the history of laborers’ “unfreedom,” as termed by several authors, and to
understand legal and actual differentiations between slavery under British rule and debt bondage and
child labor today.
There are many cultural reasons for the persistence of child labor in India. An expectation that
children should contribute to the socioeconomic survival of the family and community, as well as
the existence of large families, land scarcity, and inadequate enforcement of labor laws are
contributing factors to this problem. In urban areas, following the migration of families to
overpopulated cities, the disintegration of such families due to alcoholism and unemployment often
results in a proliferation of children living on the street, becoming laborers, and entering into
Legal Restrictions and Enforcement
The domestic legal treatment of individual labor rights, which are clearly articulated but seldom
enforced, reflects India’s blurry history with slavery. Article 23 of the 1949 Constitution of India
outlaws both the trafficking of human beings and forced labor, but the legislation defining and
banning bonded labor was only approved by Parliament in 1976. The Bonded Labour System
Abolition Act of 1976 stipulates that the monitoring of labor violations and their enforcement are
responsibilities of state governments. The Indian government has demonstrated a severe lack of will
to implement this ban on bonded labor. Such pervasive non-enforcement may be attributed to
several factors, including government apathy, caste bias, corruption, a lack of accountability, and
inadequate enforcement personnel.
The Supreme Court of India has interpreted bonded labor as the payment of wages that are
below the prevailing market wage or the legal minimum wage. As a response to complaints of
human rights violations, the Court relies on Public Interest Law (PIL) whereby citizens are able to
petition India’s courts if they believe their rights, or the rights of their fellow citizens, are being
denied. The Supreme Court’s two major examinations of child labor in 1991 and 1997 resulted in
PIL rulings that emphasized the role of poverty, and promoted children’s education. However, the
Court refused to ban child labor outright, citing its role as a judicial and not a legislative body.
The Indian government has not yet actively linked economic development to human rights
violations at work. A recent government measure to raise the minimum wage for children
exemplifies a lagging commitment to the eradication of child labor in particular, by essentially
legitimizing children’s work obligations and conditions. Nevertheless, the decision of the Supreme
Court to establish a rehabilitation and welfare program for working children, in addition to the
efforts of the National Human Rights Commission, have been instrumental in sensitizing
policymakers to the serious problem of child labor.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Analysis: Forced Labor and Policy Options
Interpretations of child labor as an ingrained consequence of poverty, an impediment to genuine
democracy and development, and a caste-based practice reinforced by deep-seated biases, inform the
range of policy recommendations. The challenge of effective policy design echoes the paradox of
India’s steady rise as an economic and technological powerhouse, despite the persistence of poverty
and underdevelopment. Development and human rights-minded analyses of child labor as an
economic phenomenon dominate the literature concerned with policy solutions. Economic-based
research on bonded labor in India centers on the links between fertility, poverty, and access to
education, while bearing in mind the policy options available to the government.
The struggle emerges in the debate—which receives limited official policy attention—over
whether to enforce the ban on child labor, attempt to curb it, or maintain the status quo.
Economists attribute the persistence of bonded labor and child labor to a variety of factors: longstanding
caste-based discrimination, inequality, a lack of educational opportunities, high fertility
levels among poor Indians—overall, to poverty as a self-reinforcing cycle. Others challenge the
position that child labor will be eradicated after poverty has been eliminated. As labor—the engine
of the country’s increasing technological sophistication and growth—drives India toward a more
equitable future, the state may gradually move away from its traditional roots and move in the
direction of ensuring human rights protections for all citizens.
Some analysts argue that poverty alleviation is the government’s most promising approach to the
eradication of bonded child labor, given the self-perpetuating patterns of illiteracy, inferior or
nonexistent education, and children’s prevalent work participation. Welfare programs and the
provision of incentives for families not to send their children to work are components of suggested
strategies to fight child labor. Other researchers disagree with the notion that the link between
poverty and child labor is inevitable; their approach highlights the “human security” approach to
economic and social development, in which case ensuring the rights of the child is a social and state
The case for compulsory primary education, made prolifically by Myron Weiner, suggests that
change must come from within the Indian legal framework, and must be supported by official
attitudes, in order to overcome profound class divisions and to achieve the government’s broader
free-market goals. Efforts to make primary education compulsory would require an interpretation of
education as not only a constitutional principle, but also as a fundamental right enforced by the
state. This perspective views education as the main alternative to lifelong labor for all Indians, and as
a building block in the construction of a diverse, educated human resource base capable of
supporting a more open and competitive economy.
Exploitation of children working in dangerous conditions not only results in constraints on a
child’s health and development, but also solidifies his or her fate as an unskilled, low-paid worker. A
greater focus on female education would precipitate a decline in both fertility—seen as a selfreinforcing
cause and effect of child labor—and in children’s work participation.
The debate amongst analysts of the economics of forced labor, particularly of bonded working
children, revolves around whether work can be eradicated completely—or whether current labor
conditions in India are acceptable given the economic demands of underdevelopment. The
suggestion has also been posited that “learn and earn” policies, which combine work and school,
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
may be feasible. For the most part, the government fails to enforce extant laws. Whether child labor
should and can be completely outlawed and the ban enforced, or whether the economic system in
India can realistically allow for all children to attend school, have remained at the crux of the debate
for some time.
Conclusion: Culture, Human Capital, and Change
Bonded labor in India can be viewed as a product of social, historical, economic, and cultural
factors. The redress of child labor, agricultural debt bondage, and other violations will require an
authentic commitment by the Indian government to adhere to its constitutional ban of these
practices, and to overcome class-based prejudices. The Western notion of social responsibility
outside of family loyalties does not exist in India. Certain Hindu beliefs such as the notion that a
person’s role and purpose are determined by his or her status in society have informed attitudes
about governmental and social responsibilities regarding labor violations. Within a few generations,
poor, low-caste Indians enter and perpetuate a cycle of poverty and illiteracy; children often
abandon school and join the workforce. The effects of an increasingly sophisticated and prosperous
India have not reached its poorest and least educated citizens. What remains to be seen is whether
India—as its development and economic trajectories improve—will invest meaningfully in the
protection of human rights and of its labor force, which is a challenge that other rising giants like
China also face.
Agarwal, Ranjan K. 2004. “The Barefoot Lawyers: Prosecuting Child Labour in the Supreme Court
of India.” Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law 21(3): 663-713.
Annotation: The Indian Supreme Court’s reaction to human rights violations is expressed in part
through the practice of Public Interest Law (PIL), whereby citizens are able to petition India’s
courts if they believe their rights, or the rights of their fellow citizens, are being denied. Despite
India’s international commitments against bonded labor, constitutional guarantees against
hazardous child labor, and the enactment of the Child Labour Act and the National Child
Labour Policy in 1986, India cannot claim adequate enforcement of prohibitions. Officials at
various levels continue to exploit legal loopholes. The Supreme Court’s two major examinations
of child labor in 1991 and 1997 resulted in PIL rulings that “sought to balance the child’s
economic needs against his or her fundamental rights”; they did not ban child labor outright.
While some critics argue that the judiciary has not gone far enough to eradicate child labor, the
Court asserts that its responsibilities are not legislative: it will not make laws or change existing
Arnold, Rose M. 1967. “Hindu Values and Indian Social Problems.” The Sociological Quarterly 8(3): 10.
Annotation: In a sociological analysis of the impact of Indian cultural values on severe social
problems, the author cites particular Hindu beliefs and hierarchical structures to explain
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
inattentiveness to long-standing rights violations. A belief in the concept of dharma—the idea
that a person’s role and purpose are determined by his status in society—results in an acceptance
of the status quo and an absence of concern for individual welfare. These themes result in a lack
of genuine attention to social problems such as poverty, prostitution, child labor, and poor
working conditions. The notion of social responsibility, outside of family loyalties, does not exist
in India. The traditional hierarchy places women below men in the social strata. According to
Arnold, women’s roles and natures dictate that they will undergo suffering and punishment. The
article is valuable to readers with a desire to understand cultural explanations of forced labor,
which include a tension between Hindu social ideals and social reality. Such explanations provide
insight into the Indian government’s lagging enforcement of abundant legal restrictions of
human rights violations such as bonded labor.
Baak, Paul E. 1999. “About Enslaved Ex-Slaves, Uncaptured Contract Coolies and Unfreed
Freedmen: Some Notes about ‘Free’ and ‘Unfree’ Labour in the Context of Plantation
Development in Southwest India, Early Sixteenth Century-Mid 1990s.” Modern Asian Studies
Annotation: This article places Indian agricultural debt bondage in a wider context of the
practice in Asia, employing plantation labor in southwest India as a case study. The article is a
discussion of ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labor in a long-term historical context, from pre-colonial years
(early 1500s) to the post-colonial period (the 1990s). The author critiques two approaches that
have emerged in the literature—that plantation work was beneficial to, and knowingly chosen by
laborers, and conversely, that workers’ debt contracts and highly regulated labor environments
prove that coercion and poor conditions defined their plantation experiences. The author adds a
third perspective: that estate workers were, and are, simultaneously free and unfree, due to the
often conflicting strategies of laborers, planters, and the government. A multi-faceted, historical
understanding of agricultural forced labor requires a willingness to concede that abolition of
slavery in India and other legislation did little to clarify or improve laborers’ status and
Baland, Jean-Marie, and James A. Robinson, 2000. “Is Child Labor Efficient?” Journal of Political
Economy 108 4): 663-679.
Annotation: Child labor constitutes “a facet of poverty.” The authors argue that by precluding
children from obtaining an education, their human capital accumulation and future earnings
potential are impaired, and their social and cognitive skills are diminished. The labor that is
substituted for education also increases children’s health hazards. Child labor as an economic
choice made by families is not “pareto efficient” (no individual can be made better off without
another being made worse off) in two ways: when used by parents as a substitute for income, or
as a substitute for borrowing. Studies of policy implications show that an effective ban on child
labor may engender economic improvement because endogenous changes in wages may make
parents and companies better off.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
Bardhan, Pranab K. 1983. “Labor-Tying in a Poor Agrarian Economy: A Theoretical and Empirical
Analysis.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 98(3): 501-514.
Annotation: Based on empirical data and econometric analyses of rural India, it is determined in
this piece that agrarian bonded labor may intensify with the growth of capitalist agricultural
development. Technological advances in agriculture and the tightening of labor markets may
increase voluntary labor-tying contracts. However, the mechanization of some agricultural
processes, and the introduction of seasonal migrant labor, may help reduce employers’
dependence on bonded labor. Data collection problems may weaken the empirical evidence of
this study, such as a failure to recognize those who have entered into implicit contracts with
employers as bonded laborers, as well as a failure to recognize semi-attached (short-term)
laborers as bonded laborers. The article provides an alternative analysis to existing development
literature—in which supply and demand models fail to address significant segements of the labor
force—and challenges economists’ treatment of bonded labor as a signal of economic
Basu, Arnab K., and Nancy H. Chau. 2004. “Exploitation of Child Labor and the Dynamics of Debt
Bondage.” Journal of Economic Growth 9(2): 209-38.
Annotation: In the context of an agrarian economy with overlapping generations engaged in
debt bondage and child labor, the author examines the principal-agent interaction between
landlords and tenants. Studies identify reasons why households put children to work to service
outstanding debts, only to realize later that the children’s work has been exploited, and that the
household has been made worse off as a result. Debt bondage is often inherited by subsequent
generations, thereby contributing to the cycle of debt, bonded child labor, and poverty. Basic
labor rights, such as freedom of association and the right to organize, complement efforts to
eradicate forced labor. However, the use of standard disincentives to eliminate bonded child
labor such as trade sanctions on countries that condone it, ultimately generate negative impacts
on agrarian households.
Basu, Kaushik. 2000. “The Intriguing Relation Between Adult Minimum Wage and Child Labour.”
The Economic Journal 110(462): 50-61.
Annotation: The author tracks the impact of rising and falling adult wages in poor and
developing countries, where poverty and labor exploitation are the norms, on child labor. One
argument made is that if an increase in wages is achieved by means of a minimum wage law, it
can cause some adults to be unemployed and compel them to send their children to work, which
in turn displaces more adult labor and sends more children to work. The article serves as a
helpful companion to analyses of child labor that seek to understand the underlying economic
logic and policy options behind the practice of child labor in an economically developing state
such as India.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Beeman, Mark, and Geeta Chowdhry. 2001. “Challenging Child Labor: Transnational Activism and
India's Carpet Industry.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 575(1):
Annotation: The authors purport that transnational movements have become an important
component of an emerging international civil society. They examine the success, in particular, of
mobilization around the issue of child labor in India’s carpet industry. Although the intersection
of child labor with the carpet trade was utilized effectively by Indian and German activists to
bring about changes in child labor use, the more significant impact has been the creation of
Rugmark, a label that certifies child-labor-free carpets and provides services for the rehabilitation
and education of children who work in the industry. The authors document progress by citing
the carpet industry’s provision of schools, health care facilities, and improved working
conditions for laborers, but express concern that the factors that motivated the changes in the
industry’s child labor practices were linked more centrally to a fear of losing material benefits
than to norm-driven social responsibilities.
Bhukuth, Augendra. 2005. “Child Labour and Debt Bondage: A Case Study of Brick Kiln Workers
in Southeast India.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 40(4): 287-302.
Annotation: A study conducted in Tamil Nadu state’s brick kiln industry demonstrates that child
labor is extremely common in this sector. In the interlinked credit-labor market, employers do
not directly employ children, but they have implemented a system that compels parents to use
their children in order to improve productivity. In such an environment, parents use child labor
to improve their own bargaining power.
Brass, Tom. 1999. Towards a Comparative Political Economy of Unfree Labour: Case Studies and
Debates. London: Frank Cass.
Annotation: The author examines the relationship between bonded labor and economic growth
in the agricultural sector, through case studies of bondage in northeastern and northwestern
India, and in eastern Peru. The occurrence of unfree labor is much greater than generally
estimated, and it may be increasing in specific contexts; in certain scenarios rural employers
prefer a bonded workforce. The author focuses on how bonded labor contributes to workforce
composition and addresses the implications for the kinds of political action undertaken by rural
laborers. He does so by applying Marxist and neoclassical economic theories to the role of
bonded labor, and by looking at unfree labor in the context of debates over capital, modes of
production, and class struggle.
Breman, Jan. 2007. Labour Bondage in West India: From Past to Present. New Delhi: Oxford
Annotation: Contracted slavery during the British colonial era in the Gujarat state acquired the
characteristics of a patron-client regime that can be fairly described as “bondage” and not as a
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
relationship based on “indebtedness.” Halipratha, or bonded servitude, can be explained as a
relationship between master (dhaniamo) and servant (hali) that is motivated primarily by
economics—the master needs more labor, and the laborer needs to achieve some degree of
economic security, and to a lesser degree, the establishment of social status. Colonial authorities
viewed bonded labor as a natural social force. Despite later advances in the Gujarat economy
toward a more capitalist system, an increase in migrant labor, and the monetization of economic
exchange, a deeply embedded hierarchical culture of debt payment and domination governed the
social and economic interactions of master and servant and ensured that those of low
socioeconomic standing remained in that position.
Chandrashekhar, C.P. 1997. “The Economic Consequences of the Abolition of Child Labour: An
Indian Case Study.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 24(3): 137-179.
Annotation: Through an examination of the child labor-based industry of match production in
Tamil Nadu state, the author advances the uncommon argument that the abolition of child labor
would result in higher earnings for adult workers. In developing countries, banning child labor is
often viewed as practically infeasible because it would prevent economic activities that exist only
because of access to such labor. Abolition would reduce the earnings of poor households, whose
survival strategies in the context of adult unemployment depend on incomes derived from the
practice. In contrast, the author asserts that any adverse impact that a ban on child labor may
have on the viability of commercial production can be absorbed through a reorganization of the
industry concerned. However, the abolition of child labor could have adverse consequences for
those sustaining their households at near subsistence levels. State welfare expenditures to help
raise employment and wages would be necessary to overcome these constraints on eradicating
Cox, Katherine. 1999. “The Inevitability of Nimble Fingers? Law, Development and Child Labor.”
Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 32(1).
Annotation: Rising incidences of bonded child labor demonstrates that efforts to eradicate it
have been unsuccessful. The causes of child labor worldwide cannot be directly attributed to
poverty and underdevelopment, but must be considered in light of other educational, cultural,
and economic factors. Cultural attitudes favor child labor over compulsory primary education.
Furthermore, economic development will not result directly from a reduction of child labor. The
international community has responded pragmatically to child labor, recognizing that eradication
of the practice is a slow process. The international framework, while it recognizes the need for a
multi-dimensional solution, centers on economic development. In turn, governments resist
implementing real changes; they cite poverty and inequality as elements of a vicious circle
preventing labor and other human rights violations from being uprooted.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Dreze, Jean and Amartya Sen. 2002. “Democratic Practice and Social Inequality in India.” Journal of
Asian and African Studies 37(2): 6-37.
Annotation: The authors examine the role of democratic practice in contemporary India,
defining human rights as key to the integrity of democracy. The achievements and limitations of
Indian democracy are assessed in light of functional institutions, public participation, and equity,
with special attention given to the adverse effects of social inequality on democratic practice.
The authors argue that while the quality of democracy is often compromised by social inequality
and inadequate political participation, democratic practice itself is an important tool for
eliminating these obstacles. The paper’s relevance to practices of bonded and child labor
emerges in its discussion of human rights, violations of which compromise the integrity of
democracy. The authors draw particular attention to class discrimination as grounds for these
violations, and to the difficulty of bringing human rights issues into mainstream politics due to
Hanchinamani, Bina. 2001. “Human Rights Abuses of Dalits in India.” Human Rights Brief 8(1).
Annotation: A report on the oppressed social status of the “untouchable” Dalit class, members
of which typically comprise the bonded workforce, the article reviews the domestic and
international laws that govern their treatment. Despite the 1950 constitutional ban on
untouchability, Dalits, members of the lowest class in the traditional hierarchy, continue to
experience severe abuse and segregation by law enforcement officials and upper caste members.
Limited progress has been achieved by domestic anti-discrimination laws and “scheduled caste”
provisions—in particular, the 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act that outlaws forcing Dalits to
become bonded laborers. India is in violation of the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and the 1958 International Labor Organization Convention, among other global
agreements. Racial and socioeconomic differentiation and lack of mobility in Indian society are
symptoms and causes of bonded labor. The article includes a review of the legal norms that
should apply to discrimination against Dalits.
Human Rights Watch. 1996. The Small Hands of Slavery: Bonded Child Labor in India. New York:
Human Rights Watch/Asia. http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/India3.htm.
Annotation: The report adds “societal apathy” to a litany of conditions that allow debt bondage
to thrive in India, including a history of caste-based discrimination, a lack of social welfare and
employment opportunities, and an unequal education system. Existing Indian laws such as the
1976 Bonded Labour Slavery Abolition Act outlaw all forms of debt bondage and forced labor,
but are not enforced. The Indian government has failed to take meaningful and persistent action
toward the eradication of child labor practices. The report makes detailed policy
recommendations to the government, United Nations agencies, and international lenders
regarding ways to combat bonded child labor. It also enumerates a range of specific international
and domestic laws that have been developed since 1930, with which India mainly does not
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
comply. The prevalence of the bonded labor problem reinforces the need for a more updated
report following this 1996 survey based on two months of field research.
International Labour Organization. 2005. A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour. In International
Labour Conference 93rd Session. Geneva: ILO.
Annotation: This ILO conference paper, its second global report on forced labor, provides a
descriptive and analytical overview of forced labor based on commissioned studies and general
academic literature. The report includes estimates of forced laborers, broken down by region
(led by Asia and the Pacific) and form of forced labor; the ILO does not disaggregate any of its
estimated figures to the country level. The 92-page document details the legal domestic and
international frameworks addressing forced labor, degrees of law enforcement, ILO assistance to
member-states, and the creation of a Special Advanced Programme to Combat Forced Labor.
Bonded labor in India in particular, and South Asia in general, receives consideration with regard
to sectoral trends, poverty and caste discrimination, and laborer rehabilitation efforts. As the
only extant, empirically-based overview of forced labor worldwide, the report is a valuable
research tool. Although framed as part of the organization’s “fair globalization” initiative, the
report fails to present the continued proliferation of forced labor in the last thirty years as
explicitly linked to the globalized economy.
International Trade Union Confederation. 2007. Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards
in India. In WTO General Council Review of the Trade Policies of India. Geneva. http://www.ituccsi.org/IMG/pdf/India_report_final.pdf.
Annotation: As an up-to-date assessment of India’s participation in international labor law, and
as part of a regular series on monitoring labor standards in the context of trade, the World Trade
Organization report is helpful for the reader who is attempting to gain a clear understanding of
contemporary legislation and enforcement. Bonded labor, while prohibited by domestic and
international law, continues to be prevalent in India, and enforcement is lacking. The report
recommends a country-wide census and survey to obtain accurate data and identify the scope of
bonded labor and progress on its eradication.
Kambhampati, Uma S. and Raji Rajan. 2006. “Economic growth: A panacea for child labor?” World
Development 34(3): 426-445.
Annotation: Through an analysis of the National Sample Survey of India and state-level data, the
authors conclude that economic growth serves to increase rather than decrease child labor,
because the demand for child workers rises with higher levels of expansion. State-level net
domestic product (NDP), village wages, and household incomes are presented as the conduits
through which growth influences the supply side of the child labor market. The authors separate
out the effect of economic growth on the supply of child labor from its impact on the demand
of child labor, by including variables like average village wages, state NDP per capita, and
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
household incomes that directly capture these supply side effects. The article directly addresses
the consensus of some scholars and policymakers that poverty is the main cause of child labor.
Instead of a clear link between higher growth and reduced child work, an inverted U-shaped
relationship results wherein child labor initially increases with growth and subsequently declines.
Kanbargi, Ramesh and P.M. Kulkarni. 1991. “Child Work, Schooling and Fertility in Rural
Karnataka, India.” In Child Labour in the Indian Subcontinent: Dimensions and Implications,
edited by R. Kanbargi. Delhi: Sage Publications India.
Annotation: The authors test the applicability of the hypothesis that the economic value of
working children is a determinant of fertility behavior in developing countries in the context of
India. A study in rural Karnataka examines the interrelationship between child labor, schooling,
and fertility. The authors focus on the actual work inputs of children, the correlations between
children’s economic activities and their school attendance, and the effect of child labor and
school attendance on the population’s reproductive behavior. Results indicate that the gross
association between child labor and fertility is positive, but the association between child
schooling and fertility is negative. The direct effect of child labor on fertility is insignificant.
Universal education for Indian children may lead to lower fertility and smaller families, but the
likelihood of successfully implementing this policy—given the proclivity of even smaller families
to retain children at home for work—is low.
Khan, Ali. 2001. “The Dignity of Labor.” Columbia Human Rights Law Review 32(2): 289-382.
Annotation: Inspired by the human rights movement, positive law in recent years has attempted
to dismantle embedded Hindu ideologies that characterize child labor as a product of racial
servitude and caste discrimination. The author presents an unconventional interpretation of
children’s work, arguing that the new positive law should not seek to universalize the prohibition
of manual labor for every child, irrespective of his caste, class, or race. The author asserts that
current laws fail to recognize the inherent dignity of manual labor, and takes into account the
realities of poor classes and lagging educational access in India. The deconstruction in
international law of “traditional, fatalist concepts” that exclude the working child from
intellectual opportunities and confine children to manual labor is supported. Contemporary
positive law should discard the ancient prejudice against physical labor and affirm the inherent
dignity of labor. Furthermore, a manual labor ethic should be universalized and incorporated
into primary and secondary education, so that children develop a respect for manual labor in
their formative years.
Kovasevic, Natasa. 2007. “Child Slavery: India’s Self-Perpetuating Dilemma.” Harvard International
Review 29(2): 4.
Annotation: Bonded child labor in India amounts to commodification, viewing children as
goods—“assets that provide debased and dehumanized sustenance”—exchanged between a
child’s parent and employer. Entrenched social and economic causes of bonded child labor
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include the persistence of a traditional social hierarchy and the cyclical nature of poverty and
under-development. Alleviation of inequality and a lagging education system, as well as reform
of social relations, are required to eradicate child labor. Poorly enforced child labor laws cannot
trump long-standing practices that leave child laborers with no option but to work, regardless of
the conditions, their ages, and the law. Policy recommendations include India’s compliance with
international child labor laws, the creation of incentive and accountability mechanisms for
adherence to regulations by Indian industries and employers, and improved cooperation
between federal and state governments.
Lerche, Jens. 2007. “A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour? Unfree Labour, Neo-liberal
Globalization and the International Labour Organization.” Journal of Agrarian Change 7(4): 27.
Annotation: In this critique of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 2005 report, “A
Global Alliance Against Forced Labour,” the author analyzes the recent international focus on
combating forced labor. The ILO’s treatment of the subject is evaluated through the results of
empirical research in India and theoretical discussions of forced labor. Current unfree labor
relations are best understood in the context of neo-liberal globalization, labor relations in
general, and country-specific conditions. The analysis includes an extremely valuable, detailed
summary of various unfree labor practices in India and an insightful discussion of the influence
of globalization on the development of India’s anti-labor policies since the 1970s. Distinctions
must be made carefully among types of unfree labor relations, particularly in India. These types
of unfree labor relations include bonded labor, child labor, and forced labor, the latter of which
is defined by international (ILO) conventions as work “exacted from any person under the
menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
Majumdar, Manabi. 2001. “Child Labour as a Human Security Problem: Evidence from India.”
Oxford Development Studies 29(3): 279-304.
Annotation: Examining bonded child labor in India from the perspective of “human rights,
capabilities, and securities,” the author provides an alternative framework to the common,
economics-based approach to understanding child labor. The author nods to Amartya Sen’s
argument that human development is intricately linked to the protection and promotion of
human capabilities and the ability of individuals to choose what they do with their lives. Child
development—including emotional, cognitive, physical, and moral growth—is threatened by the
obligation to work. The article underscores the centrality of education reform, addressing the
lack of state-sponsored educational opportunities caused by child labor. The correlation between
poverty and child labor is not inevitable; the author challenges the belief that sending children to
work is a built-in economic necessity. Child labor as a consequence, as opposed to a cause, of a
defective school system in India is also explored. Ensuring the rights and human security of the
child is not only a parental but also a social responsibility.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Omvedt, Gail. 1980. “Caste, Agrarian Relations and Agrarian Conflicts.” Sociological Bulletin 29(2):
Annotation: Agrarian relations in India have historically been shaped by caste structure, a factor
at the root of twentieth-century agrarian conflicts in both colonial and independent periods. The
author’s analysis illustrates two major types of struggle: the antisamindari struggles of the middlecaste
cultivating peasants, and the struggles of the Dalit laborers for wages, land, and freedom
from forced labor (vethbegar). The struggles of the untouchable Dalit workers, while neglected in
most historical and sociological research, constitute a primary form of modern class conflict and
provide a basis for understanding the origins and persistence of bonded labor. Laborer demands
for pay and for cultivable land currently under government, village, or other jurisdiction are
complicated by problems of local-level organization. Although the author’s documentation of
class and labor struggles extends only until 1980, the article presents Indian agrarian workers’
struggles for land ownership and freedom as a key element of the history of modern slavery.
Pandhe, M.K., ed. 1979. Child Labour in India. Calcutta: Indian Institute for Regional Development
Annotation: Comprised of a series of official and semi-official reports on the status and legality
of child labor in India, this book provides a resource to researchers interested in an in-depth
investigation of laws and practices up to 1979. Dated information limits the book’s usefulness.
However, two reports on child labor in a variety of sectors in Delhi and Bombay illustrate the
pervasiveness of the practice through interviews with children and detailed observations of their
work and treatment. International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on minimum age of
employment, prohibition of night work, and required medical examinations are included in their
entirety, as are relevant excerpts from the 1959 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child, which India has not ratified. Government statutes on child labor in various industries are
summarized; Indian laws do not meet ILO standards, and in most cases the government does
not enforce them.
Prakash, Gyan. 1990. “Conclusion: Freedom Bound.” In Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labor
Servitude in Colonial India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Annotation: The value of studying the history of bonded labor in India is in uncovering a
colonial legacy of false freedom in the evolution and persistence of debt bondage as a legitimate
practice. The British colonialists’ abolition of slavery in 1843 ostensibly stemmed from a worldly
sense of progress and individuality, by that time guiding ideals in the minds of colonial
administrators. However, the lack of freedom that abolition purported to end did not have a
basis in the dependence between masters and slaves. The status of slaves was simply
“reconstituted” through the British-approved contractualization of labor relations between
landlords and laborers: the practice criticized as slavery nominally became debt bondage. The
author’s reading of history points to the relationships between capitalism and the abolition of
slavery, and between the appearance of legal rights and actual freedom.
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Ramanathan, Usha. 2000. “The Public Policy Problem: Child Labour and the Law in India.” Edited
by B. Schlemmer, The Exploited Child. London: Zed Books.
Annotation: Insufficient attention to adult wages and employment, the notion that poverty is
“self-inflicted,” and the perception that a child is an “asset” enable the persistence of child labor.
The minority status of child workers, coupled with illiteracy, makes children vulnerable to
exploitation. Abolition of child labor has not entered the sphere of public policy or legislation on
the part of the Indian government; creating and effecting deterrence through prohibitive law as
opposed to industrial regulation is imperative. If the objective is protection and freedom of the
child from “hazardous employment,” abolition is the only option that will restore legitimacy to
child labor law.
Singh, Manjit. 1997. “Bonded Migrant Labor in Punjab Agriculture.” Economic and Political Weekly
Annotation: According to the author, the capitalist system takes advantage of the disparities in
wealth and equality between the Bihar “hinterlands” and the productive Punjab, perpetuating a
cycle of bondage and poverty. Based on field research undertaken in two Punjab districts in
1980-81 and revisited in 1990-91, this short article provides a clearly outlined case study within
which to analyze common bonded labor practices. The author discusses the social relations of
production and the use of migrant slave labor to finance the growth of capitalist agriculture and
the “green revolution” in Punjab. The persistence of the system highlights an overall pattern: the
tendency of the capitalist system to rely on rural, socioeconomically inferior areas for growth.
The article is of value to those interested in the cultural and structural causes of agricultural labor
and socioeconomic transformations.
Sooryamoorthy, R. 1998. “Child Labour in Kerala: The Work and Working Ambience in the Capital
City.” Journal of Third World Studies 15(2): 31-52.
Annotation: Despite the Indian state of Kerala’s remarkable quality of life and demographic
trends, which include significantly higher life expectancy and literacy rates and a lower
population growth rate than the rest of the country, it has not been successful in preventing
child labor. Found most typically in the coir and fish processing industries, children in Kerala—
located on the southern coastal tip of India—form approximately four percent of the state’s
workforce. The author of this article undertook a detailed study on the work and working
environment of 734 child laborers in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1996. The result is a
comprehensive, nuanced report on working children, who are found to be older when they
begin work (age thirteen), and better educated, than those in other areas. Child labor is much
less prevalent in Kerala; the neat sample size and limited industry range permit an intricate
description of children’s types of work, hours, income and expenditures, family situations, and
school dropout rates.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Srikantan, K. Sivaswamy. 1991. “Demographic and Social Dimensions of Child Labor in India.”,
Child Labour in the Indian Subcontinent: Dimensions and Implications, edited by R. Kanbargi.
Delhi: Sage Publications India.
Annotation: Utilizing data from the 1981 Census of India, the author provides a decomposition
of working children by sector, location, and gender. Poverty alleviation is the government’s best
policy option to eradicate child labor—given the self-perpetuating patterns of illiteracy, inferior
or nonexistent education, and children’s work participation. Specific policy responses such as
that of providing families with government subsidies and incentives to withdraw children from
work encounter major obstacles in implementation and distribution. According to the author,
the Indian government should combine productive employment generation programs and child
labor reduction legislation to decrease the incidence of child labor. Exploitation of workers in
dangerous conditions and industries results in constraints on children’s health and development,
and solidifies their fates as unskilled, low-paid workers. The author stresses that a greater focus
on female education, as well as “improving the quality of children desired,” would precipitate a
decline in both fertility (viewed as a self-reinforcing cause and effect), and in children’s work
Srivastava, Ravi. 2005. Bonded Labour in India: Its Incidence and Pattern. Special Action
Programme to Combat Forced Labor. Geneva: ILO.
Annotation: Comprised of a compilation and assessment of the contemporary evidence on
bonded labor in India that has appeared in secondary sources, this report demonstrates that new
forms of bondage have emerged in modern agricultural and informal sectors of the economy.
Social movements, economic modernization, and state intervention have helped to engender a
reduction of bonded labor in traditional agricultural settings and in caste-based, long-duration
relationships. The report includes recent academic literature, data from the Government of
India, the National Human Rights Commission, other human rights organizations, and press
reports—all of which contribute to a widely varied bibliography. The review of Indian
constitutional law and Supreme Court rulings on the nature of bonded labor is exceptionally
specific. As an up-to-date survey of the incidence of labor bondage, a widely differentiated
practice that is difficult to quantify and verify, the report provides a clear and comprehensive
Swaminathan, Madhura. 1998. “Economic Growth and the Persistence of Child Labor: Evidence
from an Indian City.” World Development 26(8): 1513-1528.
Annotation: Examining features of child labor in an area of high economic growth in Gujarat
state in western India, the author demonstrates that growth over a fifteen-year period was
associated with an increase in the number of child workers. A detailed account of the activities
and occupations showed that children worked at manual, grueling, repetitive, and low-skilled
jobs. When economic expansion was accompanied by deregulation of the labor market, children
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were exploited. Income from child labor did not make a significant difference in the reduction of
household poverty, and the skills children gained were not specialized or useful in the long term
without a basic education. Legal definitions of hazardous labor practices fail to take into account
the damages to children’s development of all forms of work. For these reasons, the author
concludes that economic growth alone is not sufficient to eradicate child labor.
Thorner, Daniel and Alice. 1962. Land and Labour in India. Bombay: Asia Publishing House.
Annotation: This 1962 volume provides a comprehensive survey of the relationship between
agriculture and labor in India since 1760, and demonstrates its implications for the economy and
for workers. The authors discuss Indian bonded laborers as those whose bargaining power is
virtually non-existent, and who do not possess the right to refuse to work under their masters’
terms. The chapter on employer-laborer relationships in agriculture provides a detailed
categorization of seven types of agricultural laborers (four free and three unfree, based on
duration of work and type of contract), and articulates the importance of the distinction between
free and unfree labor as critical to an analysis of the market for agricultural labor in India. This
dry volume, considered somewhat seminal in its field, contains interesting, although outdated,
statistics and agricultural survey data. It is particularly helpful to the researcher of Indian labor
and agriculture, placing forced labor in broad economic and historical contexts.
Weiner, Myron. 1996. “Child Labour in India: Putting Compulsory Primary Education on the
Political Agenda.” Economic and Political Weekly. 9-16 Nov.
Annotation: An unspoken consensus exists among India’s political leaders that education should
not be made compulsory, since parents should have the right to use or sell the labor of their
children. This is a policy that is frequently suggested in order to end child labor in India. The
Indian government falls behind most other Asian countries in terms of spending on primary
education, having concentrated a disproportionate share of educational resources on higher
education, which has benefited the middle classes while leaving the rural and urban poor
“educationally impoverished.” No country has successfully ended child labor without first
making education compulsory; India has ninety million children outside of the educational
system. A move toward universal education must originate in the Indian legal framework, and
official attitudes must change in order to overcome profound class divisions. This shift would be
a means to achieving the government’s broad, free-market goals by building a human resource
base capable of supporting a more open and competitive economy.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
The Children of War
By Jennifer Plante
There are more than 300,000 child soldiers in the world today. Complex economic and
psychological factors have contributed to this large number; while some of these child soldiers
qualify as slaves, many do not. Although there are several United Nations (U.N.) conventions that
protect the rights of the child, many states have had difficulty implementing such protections. This
has led to the perpetuation of the child slavery problem. Unfortunately for the children involved,
their troubles do not end with the fighting. After the conflict, former soldiers must undergo the
oftentimes-painful process of rehabilitation and integration back into society.
For the militant groups that utilize them, child soldiers are often a necessity. In many countries,
particularly in Africa, the adult population is severely diminished due to war and disease, which
results in a large proportion of the population being comprised of children under eighteen years of
age. So, in order to fill the ranks, militant groups use children as soldiers. Additionally, the
prevalence of child soldiers has been aided by changes in weaponry from centuries past. Deadly
weapons are now small and light enough for even ten year-old girls to carry and use. Furthermore,
children make good soldiers because of their obedience and reported fearlessness in battle. This
combination of factors makes it all but impossible for armed militant groups to overlook the use of
children as a resource in war.
For militant groups, there are obviously significant advantages to using child soldiers. As a result,
they will use any method available to ensure the presence of children in their ranks. The media and
popular culture have made famous the plight of child soldiers who are orphaned and forcefully
drugged. For many children this is a reality, as these unfortunate children are forced to partake in
military operations and to commit atrocities against their own people. There is no question that
these children are victims of slavery.
Some children choose to join the ranks of militant groups, which also contributes to the
continuing use of child soldiers. In poor, conflict ravaged states, children find themselves without
families and without structure in their lives. Militant groups often fill this void by becoming a
surrogate family and by providing informal military training. Children also join militia groups for
revenge. Loved ones are murdered and children find themselves with few options. They often join
groups to exact revenge on those who destroyed their families.
Whether children want to directly participate in armed conflict or not, laws that protect them
from such participation have been only moderately successful at best. This lack of success is due to
two factors: ambiguous language in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and
difficulties associated with implementing Western ideas of childhood on non-Western states. The
CRC states, “Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the
age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities” and that recruitment of children between
ages fifteen and eighteen should begin with the oldest first. This ambiguous language does not
strictly prohibit the use of child soldiers and because of this, groups have continued to get away with
the use of child soilders in armed conflicts.
Many people advocate for more forceful language, as well as a stricter and more encompassing
definition of a “child.” While the CRC specifically defines a child as a person under the age of
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
eighteen years of age, the rules change in times of conflict; during these times it lists fifteen as the
acceptable age for participation. Humanitarian groups want to see the “straight-18” position
adopted, which would prohibit the use of children under eighteen in armed conflict. With the
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in
Armed Conflict, the age for recruitment is raised. Although the language is still weak in the Optional
Protocol, raising the age of recruitment makes it more difficult for militia groups to allege confusion
over the age of their soldiers.
These ideas about age and how to define what constitutes a child are difficult and complex; they
become even more so when Western ideas are imposed on non-Western states. Children in these
places lead hard lives, and are thrown, prematurely, into adult situations. It is difficult to say that a
child of fifteen cannot decide for him or herself whether or not to join a militia group when the
child has been on their own and making decisions alone for a while. Conventions that are in place to
protect children are not always feasible, and have proven difficult to enforce.
Rehabilitation and reintegration are also serious hurdles for child soldiers. The psychological
needs of each child are different depending on the child’s experience as a soldier. Girl soldiers are
often the victims of sexual abuse, and thus, require separate therapy to overcome particular
emotional wounds. Also, a child who is abducted and forced into service has different needs from
one who chooses to enlist as a means of revenge. Besides medical and psychological care, former
child soldiers also need training and education. They need to be taught skills in order to join the
workforce and to become productive members of society. Many states do not have the resources to
provide for such services, and former child soldiers often turn to crime to survive.
Unfortunately, there are children around the world who not only have to witness war, but who
also participate in it. Some child soldiers truly are victims of slavery, abducted and forced to commit
terrible crimes, all for the benefit of their captors. But, the reasons why children participate vary—
from coercion to revenge—and they are not all helpless victims. Child soldiers will continue to exist
even if states agree with and attempt to abide by a set of rules that strictly prohibits their use. The
problem will only cease when it is no longer beneficial for militia groups to recruit child soldiers, and
when children in poor states have other options besides joining these militant groups.
Achvarina, Vera, Ragnhild Nordas, Gudrun Ostby, and Siri Rustad. 2007. “Regional Poverty and
Child Soldier Recruitment: A Disaggregated Study of Sub-National African Regions, 1990-
2004.” Conference Papers - International Studies Association. International Studies Association
Annual Meeting: Chicago, IL.
Annotation: The authors of this paper seek to determine the relationship between poverty and
child soldering. While the assertion that the two go hand-in-hand has been made repeatedly, it
has not been subjected to systematic tests. Therefore, this is a study with disaggregated variables.
The authors generate indicators of absolute and relative regional poverty based on household
assets, education levels, and infant mortality rates. Then, they investigate whether poverty does
indeed lead to increased recruitment of children. Overall, the study was inconclusive, but
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
findings did indicate higher recruitment levels in regions with high infant mortality rates and
where refugee camps are present.
Andvig, Jens and Scott Gates. 2007. “Recruiting Child Soldiers.” International Studies Association
Annual Meeting: Chicago, IL.
Annotation: Drawing from child labor economics, child psychology, and conflict studies, this
paper examines the reasons why some militant groups recruit children while others do not. The
investigation about why children make effective soldiers is particularly informative. While they
do acknowledge other factors, the authors believe that by understanding the demand for child
soldiers, it is possible to explain the differences in child-adult soldier ratios across different
Bayer, Chrisophe Pierre, Fionna Klasen, and Hubertus Adam. 2007. “Association of Trauma and
PTSD Symptoms With Openness to Reconciliation and Feelings of Revenge Among Former
Ugandan and Congolese Child Soldiers.” JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association 298(5):
Annotation: This article presents the results of an investigation into the association between
posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and the openness to reconciliation in former child soldiers
from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The article presents a cross-sectional field
study of 169 former child soldiers with an average age of fifteen years. The study found that
more than one-third of the children interviewed met symptom criteria for PSTD. The report
also notes that these children were less open to reconciliation and had greater feelings of
revenge. The authors suggest the effect of physical trauma should be taken into consideration in
rehabilitation and reintegration programs.
Blattman, Christopher. 2007. “The Causes of Child Soldiering: Evidence from Northern Uganda.”
Conference Papers - International Studies Association. International Studies Association Annual
Meeting: Chicago, IL.
Annotation: In this paper, Blattman uses survey and interview evidence from former child
soldiers in northern Uganda to investigate an economic rationale for rebel recruitment. Young
adolescents, aged thirteen to fifteen, were three times as likely to be conscripted as a child of
nine or an adult of twenty-three by the Lord's Resistance Army. The economic logic behind this
finding is that these individuals offered the highest expected net benefit. In general, adolescents
make more effective guerrilla soldiers than do young children, and they are more easily
indoctrinated than adults. While this paper is still in the draft phase, it does offer very useful
information on child soldiers from an economic standpoint.
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Breen, Claire. 2007. “When Is a Child Not a Child? Child Soldiers in International Law.” Human
Rights Review 8(2): 71-103.
Annotation: In this article, Breen examines different attitudes and approaches to the use of child
soldiers, as well as the pitfalls of these approaches. Some time is spent discussing the realities
that child soldiers face, but the majority of the article focuses on defining “child” and addressing
the efficacy of international legal mechanisms for protecting children. This article does a nice job
of identifying and explaining the international laws in place to protect children, but the overall
conclusion is that such laws are ineffective as they currently are.
Cheney, Kristen. 2005. “Our Children Have Only Known War: Children's Experiences and the Uses
of Childhood in Northern Uganda.” Children's Geographies 3(1): 23-45.
Annotation: Through evidence found during sixteen months of fieldwork with children in
Uganda, this article examines national and generational causes of conflict. The article also
examines different concepts of childhood, and discusses how these concepts are used by
different groups of people. Cheney believes that children have difficulties with being
rehabilitated because of the stigma society places on former child soldiers. Governments and
activists need to re-evaluate their objectives and methods of helping children of war. She argues
that the rehabilitation of children will be more effective if programs focus on positive social
change as opposed to restoration and recuperation.
Cohn, Ilene. 1998. “The Protection of Children during the Liberian Peace Process.” International
Journal of Children’s Rights 6(2): 179-220.
Annotation: In this article, Ilene Cohn examines several peace processes, and presents
recommendations at each stage in the Liberian peace process that would promote measures to
protect and reintegrate children. The Liberian peace process is divided into four different parts;
Cohn describes how each one relates to children's issues. As children now play a relatively large
role in armed conflicts in some countries, the peace process should be more child-conscious.
Cohn makes several recommendations as to what can be done in Liberia, as well as making
general recommendations for similar situations.
________. 2001. “The Protection of Children and the Quest for Truth and Justice in Sierra Leone.”
Journal of International Affairs 55(1): 1.
Annotation: After conflict had subsided in Sierra Leone, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(TRC) was created to determine the war's impact on children and the role they played in
committing abuses. At the time the article was written, both the TRC and the Special Court for
Sierra Leone were in the planning stages. This was the first time that juvenile justice was brought
onto the international stage. Many human rights activists, lawyers, and child protection experts
disagreed on the best way to protect a child's rights without injustice.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
de Berry, Jo. 2001. “Child Soldiers and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science 575: 92-105.
Annotation: Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its
implementations are the primary focus of this article. The author argues that in order for article
38 to be effectively executed there must be a consideration of the contexts in which child
soldiers appear; the two contexts that are identified in the article are state crisis and the local
crisis, as each has particular contextual influences children's participation in armed conflict. The
author uses child soldiers in the Teso region of Uganda as an example of how these two
contexts have an impact upon the phenomenon of child soldiers.
Denov, Myriam, and Richard Maclure. 2007. “Turnings and Epiphanies: Militarization, Life
Histories, and the Making and Unmaking of Two Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Journal of Youth
Studies 10(2): 243-261.
Annotation: This article focuses on changing identities and actions of child soldiers during
militarization and demilitarization. The story is told through the eyes of two former Sierra
Leonean child soldiers, one male and one female, with regards to militarization. The two
children detail their lives as combatants in Sierra Leone's civil war, discuss how they took on a
militarized identity, and describe their efforts to reintegrate into civilian life during
demilitarization. While the experiences of these two former soldiers cannot be completely
generalized, they do offer significant insights for societies that have been affected by warfare.
Dickson-Gomez, Julia. 2002. “Growing up in Guerrilla Camp: The Long-Term Impact of Being a
Child Soldier in El Salvador's Civil War.” Ethos 30(4): 327-356.
Annotation: This article examines the long-term impacts of children's active participation in the
war in El Salvador. Dickson-Gomez does this by examining four young adults, three males and
one female. The four people in these case studies each experienced the brutal assassination of
family members, the subsequent fleeing of the rest of their families, and finally their admission
into the guerrilla ranks. The combination of such terrible events in their lives made the children
unable to trust others and unable to identify themselves outside of the cause for which they were
fighting. The psychological trauma suffered as children, along with difficult economic
conditions, have made the transition to productive adulthood difficult for these former soldiers.
Druba, Volker. 2002. “The Problem of Child Soldiers.” International Review of Education / Internationale
Zeitschrift fur Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l'Education 48(3/4): 271-277.
Annotation: In this article Volker Druba looks closely at the legal protection that is supposed to
be afforded to children everywhere. The author examines positive attributes and downfalls of
the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols I and II, and the Convention on the Rights
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
of a Child, among others. Through the use of a handy chart, it is easy to see to whom each
convention refers, whether there are age limitations to recruitment, and whether or not direct or
indirect participation in armed conflict is prohibited.
Faulkner, Frank. 2001. “Kindergarten Killers: Morality, Murder and the Child Soldier Problem.”
Third World Quarterly 22 (4): 491-504.
Annotation: Sierra Leone is the case study used in this article to examine the issue of child
soldiers. Faulkner examines international law for protocols on ending this problem, while also
questioning why the enforcement of current legislation has proven problematic. He also
examines the conditions under which children become soldiers, and addresses the long- term
effects of combat on children. Faulkner is pessimistic about the ability of current laws to help
solve the problem and views the lack of political will to stop the use of child soldiers as the main
problem that needs to be overcome.
Fonseka, Bhavani. 2001. “The Protection of Child Soldiers in International Law.” Asia-Pacific Journal
on Human Rights & the Law 2 (2): 69-89.
Annotation: Although the main focus of this article is the protection of child soldiers under
international law, it also gives a nice overview of the problem in general. Bhavani Fonseka
provides a detailed history of international law, discussing how it is geared towards protecting
citizens, and children in particular, in armed conflicts. This article is unique because it includes
the problems of boy and girl soldiers, and addresses, at length, the problem of child soldiers in
Asian countries. Fonseka believes that in order to reduce the number of child soldiers, it is more
important to provide children with alternative options to joining militant groups.
Fox, Mary-Jane. 2004. “Girl Soldiers: Human Security and Gendered Insecurity.” Security Dialogue
Annotation: This article explores the link between human security and the insecurity of girl
soldiers. During her research, Mary-Jane Fox focuses primarily on girls in non-state militant
groups. She does so because these groups have a higher presence of girl soldiers than state
militaries, and because these groups also have the most extreme cases of child rights and genderbased
abuses. Girls serve not only as combatants but also as porters, cooks, and sex slaves. Girl
soldiers pose a double insecurity crisis, in that they highlight the state’s inability to protect them
from being enlisted into militia groups, and make apparent the failure of the state and the
international community in realizing that they too need to be reintegrated into society.
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________. 2005. “Child Soldiers and International Law: Patchwork Gains and Conceptual
Debates.” Human Rights Review 7(1): 27-48.
Annotation: In this article, Mary-Jane Fox reviews the development of international
humanitarian law and evaluates how it relates child soldiers. She examines the Geneva
Conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Optional Protocol to
the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is a fascinating debate between a universalist
approach and a contextualist approach to the problem of child soldiers. Although she describes
the laws that have been written to protect children as “patchwork,” she is optimistic that the
remaining holes in the system will be filled.
Francis, David J. 2007. “‘Paper Protection’ Mechanisms: Child Soldiers and the International
Protection of Children in Africa's Conflict Zones." Journal of Modern African Studies 45(2): 207-
Annotation: The arrests of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor and Congolese warlord
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo have created the expectation that international bodies that protect
children in conflict situations will now have more enforcement powers. However, there are still
major problems with the implementation and enforcement of the conventions that protect
children's rights. One of the major obstacles is the application of a Western-centric view of
childhood, and the problems that arise when it is imposed on African societies. Another
problem is that war-torn African communities have difficulties incorporating international laws
into their domestic laws.
Hart, Jason. 2006. “The Politics of ‘Child Soldiers.’” Brown Journal of World Affairs 13(1): 217-226.
Annotation: Jason Hart discusses the growing concern with children involved in armed conflicts.
Hart asserts that although many papers and reports have detailed the exploitation of children by
military groups, there is not much evidence to support it. Hart also examines the debate
regarding the definition of a child, and whether or not children can and should be held
responsible for their sometimes-brutal behavior. He uses David Rosen's book, Armies of the
Young to support his ideas.
Kanagaratnam, Pushpa, Magne Raundalen, and Arve E. Asbjornsen. 2005. “Ideological
Commitment and Posttraumatic Stress in Former Tamil Child Soldiers.” Scandinavian Journal of
Psychology 46(6): 511-520.
Annotation: This is a psychological study of the impact on present ideological commitment on
posttraumatic stress syndrome in former Tamil child soldiers who are living in exile. Twenty
former soldiers participated in the study, eighteen men and two women, who joined Tamil
between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. Knowledge of psychology is helpful when reading
this article, as it is heavy in psychological terminology and analysis. Present ideological
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commitment seems to predict better mental health when exposure is less intense. The study also
found that time has a negative impact on ideological commitment.
Khalil, Doris Deedei. 2006. “Abuses of the Girl Child in Some African Societies: Implications for
Nurse Practitioners.” Nursing Forum 41(1): 13-24.
Annotation: This article focuses on the general plight of girls in Africa. The article identifies and
explores the potential areas of abuse of girls, naming specifically: female circumcision, child
slavery, rape, child prostitution, child soldiers, teenage pregnancy, and arranged marriages. This
article was written primarily for healthcare professionals and provides strategies that could be
implemented in situations where girls are abused. While the section discussing girls and their role
as soldiers is relatively short, this article does provide a broad picture of the adversities that many
girls in Africa face.
Kuper, Jenny. 2005. Military Training and Children in Armed Conflict. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff
Annotation: This book aims to determine whether there are ways in which military officers can
be trained that would improve the protection of children in armed conflict situations. In order to
do this, the legal obligations of military personnel with regards to the treatment of children, and
especially the obligations of officers of national armed forces, are examined. The author
intended for this book to be used primarily by people who are involved in the training of
national armed forces, such as officers and members of government. This book contains
information about laws and policies pertaining to child rights and how they relate to armed
Machel, Graca. 1996. “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.” United Nations.
Annotation: This report was commissioned by the United Nations in 1993 to evaluate the
effects of war and armed conflict on children. This was one of the first comprehensive reports
on the status of children in states fraught with armed conflict, and it has served as a resource for
many human rights and children's rights activists. In addition to her findings, Machel also
includes recommendations for the protection of children during such conflicts.
________. 2001. The Impact of War on Children. New York: Palgrave.
Annotation: This is a review of progress made since the United Nations Report on the Impact
of Armed Conflict on Children that was published in 1996. This is a very comprehensive review
of child soldiers, their exploitation, and the effects that war has on children. Machel also includes
chapters on education, communications, and weapons, and discusses how they relate to the
problem of child soldiers. She also provides recommendations for raising the standards of child
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protection along with a summary of the recommendations she presented to the International
Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000.
Mann, Howard. 1987. “International Law and the Child Soldier.” The International and Comparative
Law Quarterly 36(1): 32-57.
Annotation: This article was written two years before the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) was put into effect. Howard Mann examines both state and non-state use of child soldiers
and the reaction of the international community about such usage. Furthermore, he provides an
overview of international law as it pertained to the protection of children in armed conflict, both
as participants and civilians, prior to the CRC. His critique of the CRC, which was in drafting
phase at the time this was written, is that it is completely inadequate in addressing the problem
of child soldiers.
Maslen, Stuart. 1998. “The Use of Children as Soldiers: The Right to Kill and be Killed?” International
Journal of Children’s Rights 6(4): 445-451.
Annotation: The article analyzes the scope of the problem, detailing the number of children
acting as child soldiers, as well as pointing to some of the places in which they are most
prevalently used. Malsen also discusses the need to end the use of children as soldiers, and
elucidates the efforts that are already being made to do so. He briefly touches on the legal
framework that is in place, as well as the work that NGOs are doing to prevent and stop the use
of child soldiers. While the article does provide a nice synopsis of the problem of child soldiers,
it does not offer any suggestions for possible solutions.
Mazurana, Dyan, and Susan McKay. 2001. “Child Soldiers What about the Girls?” Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists 57(5): 30.
Annotation: The largely unknown plight of young girls involved in armed conflict is the subject
of this article. While girls have been forced to join the ranks of armed combatants in more than
twenty countries, their participation oftentimes goes unnoticed. The authors of this article
discuss the roles girls play in armed conflicts as both soldiers and as sexual property. The
problems of pregnancy and child-birth are discussed at length. Reintroduction into society is also
mentioned; the authors believe that the focus of reintroduction programs is on boy soldiers,
while the girls are oftentimes left to fend for themselves. Short anecdotes from girls across the
world are employed in order to illustrate the atrocities these girls go through.
Mitchell, James A. 2006. “Soldier Girl?” Humanist 66(5): 16-18.
Annotation: In this article, James Mitchell tells the story of a sixteen-year old Sri Lankan girl,
Sundari, who was abducted and forced to join a resistance army called the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The article primarily focuses on Sundari's experiences and her hope for
the future, but it also provides basic information about the conflict in Sri Lanka and about the
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activity of the LTTE, which has been around since 1983 and is considered to be one of the more
successful terrorist groups. Although the article is not extremely detailed, it does allow for the
story of one of war's often overlooked groups, girl soldiers, to be told.
Peters, Krijn, and Paul Richards. 1998. “‘Why We Fight’: Voices of Youth Combatants in Sierra
Leone.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 68(2): 183-210.
Annotation: This very enlightening article contains excerpts from nine interviews by former
child soldiers in Sierra Leone, each with a very different background and perspective. At the time
of the interview, each former soldier was undergoing reintegration training through one of two
programs in Freetown. The interviews support the authors’ view that children who participate in
armed conflict have a wide variety of reasons for doing so, ranging from revenge, to the desire
for food and a warm bath, to the need for some form of education. This article is most valuable
because it provides an opportunity to hear details from the perspective of those who
Rosen, David M. 2005. Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism. New Brunswick:
Rutgers University Press.
Annotation: David M. Rosen challenges the popular notion put forth by human rights activists
that children are passive victims of armed conflict. He uses historical examples from Sierra
Leone, Palestine, and Eastern Europe to support his argument that the issue of child soldiers is
more complicated than just child exploitation. He examines the complex legal question of what
constitutes a child soldier, and addresses the problems that arise with these definitions.
Furthermore, he argues that children oftentimes make conscious choices to take up arms; in
some cases, this may be the necessary course of action.
________. 2007. “Child Soldiers, International Humanitarian Law, and the Globalization of
Childhood.” American Anthropologist 109 (2): 296-306.
Annotation: Rosen investigates the development of laws and treaties that regulate the use of
child soldiers. He further addresses the political, social and cultural contexts in which these
developments are rooted. He argues that the problem of child soldiers has developed from use
of different age categories by international, regional and local groups to advance certain political
and ideological positions, which he calls “politics of age.” Furthermore, he believes that the
notion of childhood put forth in legal documents is too limiting to be effective in protecting
children all over the world.
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Shepler, Susan. 2005. “The Rites of the Child: Global Discourses of Youth and Reintegrating Child
Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Journal of Human Rights 4(2): 197-211.
Annotation: This article is the result of eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Sierra
Leone. The main focus of this article is the implication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) in the process of reintegrating child soldiers after armed conflict. There is a thorough
examination of how the different notions of childhood impact reintegration and reconciliation
efforts. Finally, Shepler concludes that new meanings of childhood are emerging in Sierra Leone as a
result of the involvement of local members in society and of former child soldiers who are
participating in the process of national reconstruction.
Singer, P. W. 2003. “Fighting Child Soldiers.” Military Review 83(3): 26-31.
Annotation: This short article focuses on the use of child soldiers in Iraq’s armed forces. At the
time the article was written, half of the Iraqi population was under eighteen, so in order to keep
control of society, it was militarized. By indoctrinating children into the military, it allowed the
regime to tighten its grip on society. Singer even goes so far as to compare the Saddam Lion
Cubs to the Hitler Youth group of child soldiers. He also provides policy suggestions on how to
deal with child soldiers in war situations. He suggests that children should be subjected to the
same inspection scrutiny as adults, and that the United States should consider using non-lethal
weapons in situations when children are involved.
________. 2005. Children at War. New York: Pantheon Books.
Annotation: This book breaks the issue of child soldiers into three parts: “Children at War,”
“The Process and Results of Child Soldiers,” and “Responding to the Child Soldier Problem.”
The first section describes the scope of the child soldier problem. The second part details the
causes for using children as soldiers and describes how they become soldiers. The last section
discusses prevention, dealing with child soldiers in battle, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Lastly,
it addresses potential courses of action for the future. In the appendix, Singer also includes the
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children
in Armed Conflict.
Van Bueren, Geraldine. 1994. “The International Legal Protection of Children in Armed Conflicts.”
The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 43(4): 809-826.
Annotation: While this article is more than ten years old, it is useful because it discusses the
international legal protection of children who are directly involved in armed conflict, as well as
civilian children. Van Bueren examines the question of whether the involvement of children in
armed conflict is justifiable or not, and whether, in terms of international law, military concerns
overshadow the safety of children. The article brings up the issue of children voluntarily
enrolling in the military, and questions when they can make that decision for themselves. She
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contends that instead of changing treaties, the only effective way of ending the problem of child
soldiers is to give children alternatives to military life.
Wessells, Michael. 2000. “How We Can Prevent Child Soldiering.” Peace Review 12(3): 407-413.
Annotation: Wessells discusses the worldwide proliferation of the use of children in war. He
presents four priorities which must be addressed in order to prevent the use of child soldiers.
The first prevention priority he discusses is the need to address issues of poverty and wealth
distribution. He names the construction of more effective legal and human rights standards,
improved care and protection of children who are in immediate danger of becoming soldiers,
and the implementation of effective programs to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers as his
three other prevention priorities.
________. 2005. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace.”
Theory Into Practice 44(4): 363-369.
Annotation: Wessells writes this article from the viewpoint that all children become victims
when they are coerced into armed conflict. In the first section of this article, Wessells discusses
the reasons why children become soldiers. Abduction, revenge, and glamour are all cited as
reasons for participation. In the second section, Wessells focuses on reintegration and on the
effectiveness of peace education. He outlines three stages used in peace education, and finally he
employs the example of Sierra Leone, where peace education was interwoven into the
reintegration process, to discuss its effectiveness.
________. 2006. Child Soldiers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Annotation: Michael Wessells writes comprehensively about children involved in armed conflict.
He provides general information about the topic before delving into children’s lives as they enter
and serve in militant groups. Much of his information comes from personal interviews that he
conducted with more than 400 former child soldiers from various nations. He also looks at the
impact that armed conflict has on such children, as well as addressing their integration back into
society, and finally, preventive measures.
West, Harry G. 2000. “Girls with Guns: Narrating the Experience of War of Frelimo’s ‘Female
Detachment’.” Anthropological Quarterly 73(4): 180-194.
Annotation: West provides an anthropological account of the experiences of girls who fought
for the Frent de Libertacao de Mocambique (FRELIMO) during the campaign for Mozambican
independence. Although the fight took place between 1964 and 1974, this article still provides
insight into the lives of female fighters through its narratives from former girl soldiers.
FRELIMO believed female emancipation was central to their ideology. They could therefore not
afford to allow half the population go unutilized in their fight. These two ideas, taken together,
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compelled FRELIMO to recruit girls, who joined the fight out of fear and respect. Although
many women have had difficulty reintegrating back into society, they experienced a previously
unknown sense of empowerment while they were fighting with FRELIMO.
Zack-Williams, Tunde B. 2006. “Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Problems of Demobilisation,
Rehabilitation and Reintegration into Society: Some Lessons for Social Workers in War-torn
Societies.” Social Work Education 25(2): 119-128.
Annotation: This article is the product of three short fieldwork sessions in Sierra Leone in 2001.
Zack-Williams focuses on the social reasons that cause children to join armed social movements.
He sees political and economic crises as the causes for the destabilization of the Sierra Leonean
family, which ultimately results in children looking for surrogate families, for which they often
turn to armed militant groups. He evaluates demobilization and reintegration, utilizing Ferdinand
Tonnies’ dichotomy: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. This article views the problem of child soldiers
from a social worker’s point of view, and is meant to be relevant to social work practice even in
Zia-Zarifi, Saman, Anna Niestat, and Jo Becker. 2007. “Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ use of
Child Soldiers in Nepal.” Human Rights Watch,
Annotation: Although peace talks have been in development in Nepal since November 2006, the
Maoists’ military group, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has continued to recruit children.
This report provides information on the methods the PLA uses for recruitment, and the impact
such recruitment has on Nepali families. This information is based on interviews with twentyone
former child soldiers who were recruited by the Maoists. In addition, Human Rights Watch
also provides recommendations for Maoists, the Nepalese Government, the United Nations
Security Council working group on children and armed conflict, and others, regarding what they
should do to ensure that this problem is eradicated.
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Contemporary Slavery and International Law
By Jessica Bell
Contemporary Slavery Defined
In this essay, the definition of contemporary slavery is derived from Kevin Bales in his book,
Disposable People, which states that contemporary slavery is “The complete control of a person, for
economic exploitation, by violence, or the threat of violence.” Contemporary slavery includes the
slave labor of men, women, and children, forced prostitution, pornography involving both children
and adults, the selling of human organs, serfdom, debt bondage, and the use of humans for armed
During the twentieth century, significant efforts were made to address issues of contemporary
slavery through international law. Prior to these efforts, conflicts repeatedly arose between states
regarding enslaved persons. As a result, states came to the realization that a system of laws was
needed to provide an infrastructure that would manage conflicts and disputes over slavery. Related
anti-slavery initiatives started to take form.
Transnational conventions and organizations established in the twentieth century, such as the
League of Nations and the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Slavery, have brought
issues of contemporary slavery to the forefront. They have been instrumental in defining,
combating, and solving issues of contemporary slavery through the creation of conventions and
international laws. However, due to lack of enforcement and regulation of these conventions and
laws, the identification and means of addressing contemporary slavery continue to pose dilemmas
for those working towards a world in which slavery is not defined concurrently.
League of Nations
The League of Nations, created in 1919, was the first international body to assemble major
conventions regulating contemporary slavery. It was an international organization that was focused
on mediation, disarmament, and the prevention of war in pursuit of global welfare, but also was
responsible for initiating steps toward the eradication of slavery. It provided a basic definition of
slavery, which stood as a model for many states. Importantly, the League of Nations was responsible
for the initial creation of conventions that focused specifically on slavery. These conventions were
sanctioned following the findings of the Temporary Slave Commission.
Temporary Slave Commission
In 1924, the Temporary Slave Commission was established. It was responsible for the worldwide
exploration and appraisal of the existence of slavery. Upon the completion of its appraisal, the
Temporary Slave Commission found the existence of slavery to be internationally prevalent. Based
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
on these findings, the Temporary Slave Commission encouraged the League of Nations to create an
international convention, the sole focus of which would be the issue of slavery. As a result, the
League of Nations sanctioned the creation of the Slavery Convention of 1926.
The Slavery Convention of 1926
The Slavery Convention of 1926 provided a definition of contemporary slavery, which
established a basis by means of which states could measure slavery within their borders. The
definition asserted that slavery consists of a situation in which an individual is under the complete
control of another, as if this individual was the property of the other. In conjunction with a basic
definition of contemporary slavery, the main concern of the 1926 Convention was to monitor
efforts towards its prohibition.
Despite the definition and outline provided by the 1926 Commission, a governing body
responsible for the evaluation and monitoring of human rights violations in the form of
contemporary slavery did not exist. Additionally, there was an absence of a universal set of laws and
protocols that would abolish contemporary forms of slavery on an international level. In 1930, an
Advisory Commission was created to address some of these failings, but was limited in its effect due
to confidentiality agreements with states that dictated what could and could not be publicly revealed.
In 1945, the United Nations was established as the successor of the League of Nations. Three
years after its establishment, Article Four mandated the prohibition of all forms of slavery. However,
it was not until the 1953 Slavery Convention that the United Nations was authorized to regulate
issues of contemporary slavery. The 1953 Slavery Convention expanded upon the 1926
Convention’s definition of slavery to involve international cooperation in addressing the economic
and social factors that supported the existence of contemporary slavery.
1956 Supplementary Convention
Additional conventions followed the 1953 Slavery Convention. These conventions led to
worldwide efforts to enforce the eradication of all forms of slavery. Established in Geneva in 1956,
the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and
Practices Similar to Slavery expanded the definition of contemporary slavery to include debt
bondage, serfdom, the selling of women by their families for marriage, certain forms of abuse of
women, and the buying and selling of children for labor or prostitution.
The Role of the Economic and Social Council
The Economic and Social Council within the United Nations was instrumental in monitoring the
1926 and 1956 Conventions, in addition to dealing with other issues of contemporary slavery. The
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Economic and Social Council was responsible for the establishment of the Sub-Commission to
explore ways in which the 1926 and 1956 Conventions could be carried out. Eventually, the Sub-
Commission realized the need for a governing body that would be solely responsible for exploring
the information available on slavery. Then, based on that information, the Commission would create
effective proposals on ways to address the issues uncovered. In 1974, the Sub-Commission,
alongside the Economic and Social Council, went on to establish the United Nations Working
Group on Slavery.
United Nations Working Group on Slavery
The Working Group was established in order to see that the agreements of the Conventions
were carried out. In addition, the Working Group was responsible for receiving information on
slavery from states, along with researching and monitoring the existence of slavery globally. It
continues to expand ways of addressing contemporary slavery by building upon present information
through continual documentation, interviews, and work conducted by other organizations.
From the groundwork laid by the League of Nations to the 1926 Convention to the 1956
Supplementary Convention, the United Nations Working Group on Slavery expanded the defining
factors of slavery, creating a broader distinction of what comprises contemporary slavery. Parallel to
the existence of the Working Group, there have been numerous campaigns, intergovernmental
organizations, and non-profit organizations that also have been directed toward researching and
monitoring the existence of contemporary slavery. However, contemporary slavery remains difficult
to identify across international boundaries and cultures. Although new policies and international
laws have been proposed and created, there has yet to be an effective method established for the
proper identification of contemporary slavery, nor an effective means created by which international
law can be enforced. This is, in part, a consequence of the lack of an international governing body,
with the requisite political power over sovereign states to properly enforce the international laws on
contemporary slavery mandated by international conventions and the Working Group on Slavery.
Aitken, Jonathan. 2007. “The Broken and Crushed.” American Spectator 40(5): 56-57.
Annotation: The author discusses the differences between slavery in the eighteenth century and
the ways in which it exists in its contemporary forms. The Dalits, who are considered
untouchables in India, are discussed as an example contemporary slavery’s existence. The author
provides estimates of how many Dalits are enslaved. Details of the different forms of slavery the
Dalits face are provided and the importance of educating others about the existence of
contemporary slavery is discussed. This is a good article if an example of contemporary slavery is
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“American Slavery and the Conflict of Laws.” 1971. Columbia Law Review 71(1): 74-99.
Annotation: This essay examines the origins of laws pertaining to slavery and slave distribution
in America. An assessment is made of the social context in which slavery existed in the
nineteenth century. The role of law during this time is also discussed. This article is beneficial if a
historical context of slavery and corresponding legal issues is needed.
Altman, Andrew. 2004. “International Law and Crimes Against Humanity.” Conference Papers-
Midwestern Political Science Association. Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.
Annotation: In this piece, a background of the creation of international laws pertaining to crimes
against humanity is given. These laws address subjects such as torture and slavery. Aspects of
punishment towards those committing crimes against humanity are provided, as are details on
international criminal norms.
Azmy, Baher. 2002. “Unshackling the Thirteenth Amendment: Modern Slavery and a Reconstructed
Civil Rights Agenda.” Fordham Law Review 71(3): 981-1061.
Annotation: The author of this article challenges existing societal notions that assert the nonexistence
of slavery. Documentation is given for existing forms of slavery in the United States
and globally. The original purpose and brief history of the Thirteenth Amendment is also
provided in relation to slavery and its role discussed. The author also addresses slave labor in
Latin America and the United States.
Bales, Kevin. 1999. Disposable People. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Annotation: This seminal book provides a detailed and thorough account of contemporary
slavery around the globe. Slavery in a historical context is compared to its existence in
contemporary forms. The connection between contemporary slavery and world economies is
Bales, Kevin and Robbins, Peter T. 2001. “No One Shall Be Held in Slavery or Servitude: A Critical
Analysis of International Slavery Agreements and Concepts of Slavery.” Human Rights Review
Annotation: The authors of this article discuss in detail the construction and evolutions of the
definition of slavery. They begin with the origin of the term and progress to a discussion of how
it exists in the twenty-first century. Background information on and definitions of international
laws relating to slavery are discussed, as are the organizations from which they were created. An
in-depth discussion of the various types of slavery can also be found. The acknowledgement is
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made that contemporary slavery is still improperly addressed, even with the establishment of
certain international laws.
Beydoun, Khaled Ali 2006. “The Trafficking of Ethiopian Domestic Workers into Lebanon:
Navigating Through a Novel Passage of the International Maid Trade.” Berkeley Journal of
International Law 24(3): 1009-1045.
Annotation: The author explores issues of migrant workers in the domestic field from Ethiopia
to Lebanon. International law and definitions regarding the trafficking of persons for slavery are
discussed. Notions of contemporary slavery are explored within a historical context. An
explanation is given of the “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons,
Especially Women and Children.” This is a good article for understanding issues of the domestic
slave trade in human beings.
Blagbrough, Jonathan. 1997. “Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour- a New International
Standard.” International Journal of Children’s Rights 5(1): 123-127.
Annotation: The author highlights the necessity of reexamining child labor laws. Present
expectations of child labor laws are summarized and the contributions of human rights
conventions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are discussed with regard to child
labor and slavery. Aspects of the more difficult and dark hazards of child labor are emphasized.
Statistics are also provided regarding the number of children who are working as slaves or under
conditions that are not endorsed by the conventions of the United Nations.
du Plessis, Max. 2003. “Historical Injustice and International Law: An Exploratory Discussion of
Reparation for Slavery.” Human Rights Quarterly 25(3): 624-659.
Annotation: A background of international law and slavery is discussed with regard to
reparation. Aspects of international law and the gaps in it are acknowledged and proposals for
reparation are given. This is a brief but informative article.
Fleck, Fiona, Nicole Gaouette, and Farhan Bokhari. 1999. “Chipping Away at Child Labor.”
Christian Science Monitor 91: 145.
Annotation: The authors of this article provide information on a variety of topics related to
contemporary forms of slavery, including specific countries where the practice is prevalent, the
economic impact of the practice on these countries, and the sensitivity that must be used when
confronting countries on this issue. Work done by the former President Bill Clinton and
organizations such as Save the Children is also discussed.
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Herzfeld, Beth. 2002. “Slavery and Gender: Women’s Double Exploitation.” Gender & Development
Annotation: The author gives clear, concise definitions of contemporary slavery. Also
highlighted are the ways in which contemporary slavery can affect people of all ages and races.
An in-depth discussion is provided of gender-related forms of contemporary slavery, with regard
to their existence in West Africa, along with crimes associated with them. Also discussed are the
steps being taken to eradicate slavery, as are pertinent conventions and organizations. Additional
focus is given to issues affecting the enslaved, such as poverty and marginalization. The topic of
trafficking is also touched on briefly. On the whole, this is a very well-rounded and wellorganized
Lerner, Natan, ed. 2003. Group Rights and Discrimination in International Law. London: Kluwer
Annotation: This book contains a description of the United Nations conventions that pertain to
human rights and slavery. International law is discussed regarding human rights. The UNESCO
Convention is discussed along with the International Labour Organization Conventions. Issues
of racism, migrants, and genocide are presented. This is a good book for an outline and
explanation of the conventions and international laws surrounding human rights abuses, which
“Modern Slavery.” 2004. Economist. 370(8363): 81-82.
Annotation: The focus of this article is on displaced persons from Sudan in the context of the
difficulties created by the war. Due to the vulnerability of displaced people of Sudan, the
common practice of enslavement is highlighted in the article as an issue of concern. A case study
is provided of the issue that tells the stories of individuals who have been enslaved and survived.
The importance of anti-slavery campaigns is emphasized.
O’Shea, Andreas. 2002. Amnesty for Crime in International Law and Practice. London: Kluwer Law
Annotation: This book discusses in depth a series of treaties, crimes and trials pertinent to
international human rights law. Human rights as a concept is defined. The practice of these
treaties and laws is discussed, as are amnesty laws. Propositions for further development of laws
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Povoledo, Elisabetta. 2007. “One Woman’s Crusade Against Modern Slavery; Using Her Nightmare
to Help Others Escape.” The International Herald Tribune, September 22, 3.
Annotation: A woman’s story of how she was enslaved is told through her experiences as a
slave. These experiences are described in detail, and the horrible things she encountered as a
slave are briefly mentioned. Her case is generalized in a discussion of the ways in which people
come to be enslaved, as well as ways to escape slavery. The impact of the law is also given.
Quirk, Joel. 2006. “The Anti-Slavery Project: Linking the Historical and Contemporary.” Human
Rights Quarterly 28(3): 565-598.
Annotation: Past and present forms of slavery are discussed coherently in order to illuminate
issues surrounding contemporary slavery. The role of the United Nations and human rights
conventions is raised. The grey area that defines what are and are not considered forms of
slavery is acknowledged as a potential dilemma for addressing slavery as it exists today. This is a
short but helpful article.
Rauxloh, Regina E. 2007. “Too Pure an Air: Law and the Quest for Freedom, Justice, and Equity:
Essay: No Air to Breathe: Victims of Sex Slavery in the U.K.” Texas Wesleyan Law Review 13
Annotation: The author discusses notions of slavery in terms of human rights violations. The
impact of enslavement on an individual who is enslaved in the sex industry is discussed. Forms
of abuse related to slavery and the sex industry are explained. Some of the ways in which the law
addresses slavery are explained in addition to the ways in which the law fails to properly address
it. An exploration of what is being done today regarding the issue of slavery is also provided.
Transnational Law Associates. 2005. “Political Question Doctrine.” International Law Update 11:109-
Annotation: This is a short article that explores specifically a case involving international law and
the sexual enslavement of “comfort women” in Japan. The case examined gives a good overview
of the ways in which international law works regarding this aspect of contemporary slavery.
Complications with laws pertaining to contemporary slavery issues between states are made
apparent, as is the need for the implementation of more laws regarding the oversight of human
van den Anker, Christein, ed., 2004. The Political Economy of New Slavery. New York: Palgrave
Annotation: The book consists of different writings on the issues surrounding contemporary
slavery around the world. An emphasis is placed on several aspects of contemporary slavery,
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
such as the role of international law, globalization, migrant workers and slavery, and
development. This is a good book for an overview of several facets of contemporary slavery.
Weissbrodt, David S. 2002. Abolishing Slavery and its Contemporary Forms. New York: Office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Annotation: The existence of contemporary slavery is discussed by giving examples of
contemporary forms of slavery. Methods for the abolition of contemporary forms of slavery are
proposed. This book is not very helpful for readers concerned with aspects of international law
in relation to contemporary slavery. However, it is very helpful if readers are concerned with the
subject of contemporary slavery in general.
Wise, Steven M. 2005. Though the Heavens May Fall: The Landmark Trial that Led to the End of
Human Slavery. Cambridge: Da Capo Press Books.
Annotation: This book provides a history of slavery, beginning in Africa. A discussion of the
slave trade in England, as well as the abolitionist movement and important people involved in it.
Featured in this book is a discussion of the creation of the law dealing with the issue of slavery,
accompanied by subsequent court cases from that time.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
Contract Enslavement of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates
By Romina Halabi
Slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
until 1963. It is unsurprising, then, that contract slavery of domestic servants continues to thrive in
much of the Persian Gulf, where local economies prosper on the immigration of foreign workers.
Economic incentives on the part of the sending and receiving nations encourage the migration of
female workers from their home countries to Saudi Arabia and to the UAE. These incentives,
coupled with restrictive contract systems, bind the female domestic worker to her employer and
create an environment conducive to exploitation and involuntary servitude.
The surge of migrant workers into the Middle East began in the early 1970s, when increased
petroleum production brought with it a demand for skilled and unskilled labor. As living standards
rose for nationals, opportunities in the service sector for female labor expanded. It is no coincidence
that once the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) started raising oil prices, oilimporting
states began sending migrant workers to the Gulf. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the largest
recipient of migrant domestic labor, with the UAE close behind with over seventy-five percent of its
population classified as migrant workers. Today, domestic workers primarily emigrate from Sri
Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines, choosing to leave their families and migrate for a number of
economic and social reasons.
Contrary to what may be understood traditionally, the women who migrate to the Middle East
do so willingly. Many are educated and skilled and are not on the edge of abject poverty; in fact,
many of these women come from lower-middle class families and take a proactive role in leaving the
household in search of work. Although there is a key financial incentive to migrate, many women
also do so because they are seeking adventure, independence, training, and upward social mobility.
Pushed by these factors, women often incur substantial debts and pay recruitment agencies
exorbitant fees to finance their migration. Relying on employment agencies and brokers, migrant
domestic workers enter contractual bondage with employers whom they have never met before,
leaving themselves vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Because slavery is illegal, slave-holders often use contracts as a means to legitimate and disguise
the practice. In order for a migrant to work in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, she must first secure a visa
through a method of sponsorship known as kafala, which legally binds the worker to her employer.
Although both the sponsor and worker are capable of breaking contract, this ostensible equality is
merely a ruse, because if the worker breaks her contract, she must pay the cost of her return ticket (a
charge that would have otherwise been paid by the sponsor). She may also be fined or forced to pay
debts to the recruitment agency. Through this system of sponsorship, the fate of the migrant worker
is entirely dependent upon the goodwill of an employer who, at any time, can threaten her
deportation if unsatisfied. Once in their host countries, these migrants are immediately required to
surrender their passports to their employers. Thus, even before the worker steps foot in her host
country, the systems of exploitation are already in place.
Lacking documentation and in a foreign country, migrant domestic workers find themselves
under the charge of their female employer. Because Middle Eastern households often consist of
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
extended families, work can be arduous. It oftentimes includes tasks such as cleaning, washing,
cooking, tailoring, and taking care of children and the aged. Working hours are long, between eleven
and twenty hours a day, with the maid subject to work both day and night at the whim of her
employers. Since foreign maids can easily influence the upbringing of the children, cultural conflicts
are numerous, and are complicated further by the potential for sexual relationships between the
maid and the husband or adult male relatives. Racial discrimination and symbolic forms of prejudice
against the migrant worker are also common.
Due to the individualized working environment of household labor, female domestic servants
are the group most vulnerable to exploitation in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Domestic workers are
often denied freedom of movement, and are either locked inside or forbidden to leave the home
without permission. Violence against maids includes physical attacks ranging from rape to slapping;
other forms of violence include overwork, including forcibly working in more than one household
and the refusal of days off, non-payment of wages or a reduced salary. Maids also often experience
poor living conditions, such as lack of food and privacy. Physical violence is usually perpetrated by
the female employer, or madam of the household. Most workers have reported suffering from more
than one type of violence during the course of their employment, and many are so traumatized by
the experience that it even negatively affects their ability to reintegrate into society upon returning
For foreign domestic servants, there are few options available to deal with abuse. If escaped
maids file police complaints against their sponsors, they are often arrested for running away, or are
accused of lying. Government-run shelters for “runaway” domestics are a common destination for
migrant women in Saudi Arabia. However, this supposed charity is only provided until their cases
are settled—either by returning the women to their sponsors or by deportation. Reminiscent of the
fugitive slave laws in the United States, Saudi newspapers run bounty ads for “escaped” domestic
workers. Since the employers hold the migrant’s passport, changing jobs is a nearly impossible task.
Thus, fearing the termination of their employment, domestic servants often endure continued
exploitation and mistreatment rather than complain and face deportment.
Due to the seemingly voluntary nature of migrant labor, it is an unfortunate reality that many of
these women effectively enslave themselves abroad in hopes of improving their economic situation
at home. This is not to suggest that migrants are to blame for their plights; once the choice has been
made and the contract signed, all future choices are restricted or nonexistent. Most of these
domestic servants are unaware of what they are getting into, expecting to be paid the equivalent of
$800 per month and instead finding their pay to be $100 a month, if anything at all. This deception,
combined with the contract system, limits the mobility of the migrant domestic worker and leaves
her at the mercy of employers who may also beat or sexually assault her. Because many of these
migrants incur substantial debts to emigrate, it is common for women to return to the Gulf after
their contract expires, thus continuing the sequence of exploitations and contract slavery.
The recruiting agencies sending the domestic servants to the Persian Gulf are well aware of the
abuses these women face, as are the labor-sending countries themselves. Despite this knowledge,
countries such as the Philippines, with growing populations and economic instability, continue to
send female domestic workers abroad because the financial benefit of remittances cannot be
ignored. For these countries, sending workers to the Middle East and to the Persian Gulf reduces
the number of unemployed, and lowers the danger of social dissatisfaction. In Sri Lanka, domestic
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
service workers are the most lucrative “export commodity.” This commodification of the
transnational “maid trade” provides a cheap and flexible labor force willing to endure low wages—
an attractive feature for both sending and receiving countries—and also reduces migrants to mere
objects to be bought and sold in the global marketplace.
In comparison with other forms of slavery, the involuntary servitude of migrant domestic
workers is difficult to eradicate because it is so deeply embedded in the global markets of the laborsending
and receiving countries. The women who migrate to the UAE and Saudi Arabia do so
voluntarily, submitting themselves to their sponsors with the hope of bettering both themselves and
their families. Unfortunately, survival itself becomes the greatest hurdle, and thoughts of visiting
family and sending remittances become fantasies. Without international pressure, the exploitation of
migrant domestics is certain to persist.
Globalization and Economic Reasons for the Maid Trade
Anti-Slavery International. 2006. “Trafficking in Women: Forced Labour and Domestic Work in the
Context of the Middle East and Gulf Region.” Anti-Slavery International.
Annotation: In this detailed report, which is comprised of an analysis of over seventy scholarly
reports and field interviews, the author confronts the issues of forced labor and domestic
servitude in the Middle East, primarily of migrant workers. Interspersed with horror stories from
exploited women, this article examines the various “push and pull” factors associated with the
enslavement of migrant workers and identifies possible responses and preventative strategies.
Although the article mentions cases of enslavement in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates, the main focus is on trafficking, especially in the Horn of Africa. The article concludes
with an analysis of trafficking in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Sudan, and Yemen.
Brochmann, Grete. 1993. Middle East Ave: Female Migration from Sri Lanka to the Gulf. Boulder:
Annotation: With a theoretical, detached tone, Brochmann analyzes the dynamics of the
“migration connection” of foreign labor between Sri Lanka and the Persian Gulf. The author
compares the status of women in Sri Lanka to that of Sri Lankan women in the Gulf,
underlining the working conditions and maltreatment that these housemaids often face when
they migrate to the Middle East. Primarily a socioeconomic study, the author focuses on the
surge of foreign labor in the Gulf and its effects on both the Arab community and the domestic
servants. While well-researched and informative, this study addresses the suffering of female
migrants with scientific neutrality for the sake of understanding migration—not understanding
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Buijs, Gina, ed. 1993. Migrant Women: Crossing Boundaries and Changing Identities. Oxford: Berg.
Annotation: An analysis of case studies from around the world, this book is an intriguing
anthropological examination of gender dynamics among migrant women. As the title suggests,
the focus is on how transnational migration affects women in the world, especially in such areas
as Peru, Chile, West Berlin, and Britain, and how their experiences shape their identity. While
useful to anyone interested in exploring gender issues tied to transnational migration, there is no
particular mention of migrants in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.
Chin, Christine. 1998. In Service and Servitude: Foreign Female Domestic Workers and the
Malaysian “Modernity” Project. New York: Columbia University Press.
Annotation: Focusing on what Chin calls “the maid trade,” this book covers the domestic
servitude of Filipina and Indonesian women in Malaysia, using field research to outline the
relationship between contemporary domestic service and development. Unlike many other
researchers, Chin, a scholar and Malaysian, has personal experience with domestic servitude and
the mistreatment migrant workers are forced to endure during their employment. From this rare
perspective, the author analyzes both sides of the issue and portrays domestic servants in a
sympathetic light, while also explaining how the employers themselves view their maids. This
study is useful for anyone eager to understand the role of domestic servitude in modernity and
globalization, but unfortunately does little to illuminate how migrant domestic workers are
treated in the Middle East.
Cremer, Georg. 1988. “Deployment of Indonesian Migrants in the Middle East: Present Situation
and Prospects.” Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 24(3): 14.
Annotation: This article, while nearly two decades old, offers an interesting analysis of labor
migration in the Middle East. When this article was written, international migration to the
Middle East was a relatively new phenomenon; the author analyzes the causes and effects of the
surge of Indonesian migrant workers. In 1988, the majority of Indonesian workers in the Middle
East were housemaids and drivers. The author analyzes the Middle East’s push to hire more
skilled migrants, and even describes how many Indonesian women were treated like slaves in
Saudi Arabia. While not particularly useful on its own, this article, when compared to more
contemporary studies, offers an intriguing historical perspective on Indonesian migrants in the
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild, eds. 2003. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex
Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Annotation: This collection of essays offers a comprehensive analysis of the role of female
domestic workers around the world, and discusses how globalization drives the trend for women
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
to leave their home countries in search of work. Most of the essays are built around interviews
with migrant women and, as a result, there are many insights into how migration changes gender
roles in the villages the women leave behind, as well as the effect of migration on families. Many
chapters deal with issues of slavery and abuse, but none explore the region of the Middle East in
great depth, instead concentrating on countries of origin and receiving nations such as the
Harzig, Christiane. 2006. “Domestics of the World (Unite?): Labor Migration Systems and Personal
Trajectories of Household Workers in Historical and Global Perspective.” Journal of American
Ethnic History 25(2/3): 26.
Annotation: The author of this article discusses the system of “international debt politics” that
creates incentives for women to migrate, and evaluates how migration into domestic service
tends to be “invisible” to both sending and receiving governments. Framed from a historical
perspective, the article goes on to examine gender issues associated with migration, including
how the four major migration trends (one of which is South Asia to the Gulf) emerge and are
maintained. Slavery and specific case studies are not mentioned, but the article remains useful
for understanding the underpinning forces driving labor migration.
Ismail, Munira. 1999. “‘Maids in Space’ Gendered Domestic Labour from Sri Lanka to the Middle
East.” In Gender, Migration and Domestic Service, edited by J. Momsen. New York: Routledge.
Annotation: This compilation of case studies is a conscientious analysis of migrant women,
encompassing research on the experience of domestic workers across continents. Ismail’s study
of domestic workers from Sri Lanka is of particular interest, going into great detail about the
social and economic reasons why the women migrate to the Middle East and what type of
exploitation they endure. The research is based on interviews of migrants before they depart to
the Middle East and after they return to Sri Lanka. The study draws clear conclusions that
contractual bondage often leads to exploitation, yet the author doesn’t paint the migrants as
victims. Instead, these migrants are portrayed as women who make difficult choices to emigrate
for the sake of their families.
Khalaf, Sulayman, and Saad Alkobaisi. 1999. “Migrants’ Strategies of Coping and Patterns of
Accommodation in the Oil-Rich Gulf Societies: Evidence from the UAE.” British Journal of
Middle Eastern Studies 26(2): 28.
Annotation: Drawing on globalization theory and case studies from both Asian and Arab
migrant groups, this ethnographic article analyzes the differing political economies of laborsending
and labor-receiving countries in order to explain differences in coping strategies among
migrants. Although the article was published in 1999 and does not link the exploitation of
migrants to slavery, the fact that the authors are an anthropologist and sociologist in the United
Arab Emirates and not Western observers adds a compelling perspective to the topic of
globalization and its effect on workers migrating to the Gulf.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Lan, Pei-Chia. 2006. Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan.
Durham: Duke University Press.
Annotation: Although the central aim of this book is to analyze the transnational migration of
Indonesian and Filipina domestic workers to Taiwan, the author’s ethnographic study—
outlining how economic disparities, immigration policies, race, ethnicity and gender intersect in
the relationship between migrant workers and their employers—is applicable to the Middle East
as well. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and peppered with vignettes, this book builds an
informative study on the institutional mechanisms that organize migration between Taiwan and
the labor-exporting countries. The book also compares the case of Taiwan to other host
countries such as Saudi Arabia. Although the author does not frame her study of migrant
workers as an investigation of slave-like practices, she does outline how contract laborers are
often exploited under the transnational maid trade.
Moya, Jose. 2007. “Domestic Service in a Global Perspective: Gender, Migration and Ethnic
Niches.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33(4): 20.
Annotation: Taking a historical perspective, this article offers a definition of domestic service
and discusses how the occupation has transformed significantly, both socially and economically,
in the past two decades as a result of capitalism and industrialization. What was once slavery and
bonded labor became contractual agreements and wage labor. In great detail, the author analyzes
issues of gender, migration, and ethnic niches from a global perspective. While the role of maids
in the Middle East is briefly addressed, the article does not delve into slavery, and it is useful
only for its historical and sociological view on domestic service.
Parrenas, Rhacel Salazar. 2001. Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Annotation: Drawing on interviews collected between 1995 and 1996, this book offers a
comparison on the dislocations migrant Filipina domestic workers face in Rome and Los
Angeles, the two cities with the highest percentages of Filipina migrants in Italy and the United
States, respectively. The author discusses the role of transnational agencies, class mobility,
gender relations, and the effects of migration on the family. This study does not delve into the
actual work that migrant domestic servants do, nor does it discuss the abuses they may face at
the hands of their employers. Instead, the author examines the perceptions of non-belonging
among migrant Filipinas.
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
________. 2001. “Transgressing the Nation-State: The Partial Citizenship and ‘Imagined (Global)
Community’ of Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers.” Signs 26(4): 28.
Annotation: In this article, the author argues that Filipina workers have come to constitute a
“female labor diaspora” and blames the export-led development strategy of the Philippines, the
feminization of the international labor force, and the demand for migrant women in low-wage
service work, as the cause of this trend. Because the author describes Filipina workers in
countries throughout the world, much of this article is irrelevant to the topic of household
slavery in the Middle East. However, this article is useful for anyone who wants to understand
the situation of migrant work from a Filipina perspective.
Shah, Nasra M. 2004. “Gender and Labour Migration to the Gulf Countries.” Feminist Review 77(1):
Annotation: In this short article, the author briefly describes the surge of female migration into
the Gulf in the past thirty years, especially in the domestic service sector. The “Asianisation” of
the Gulf labor force is also analyzed, as well as the lack of government restrictions in sending
nations, making migrants vulnerable to exploitation. The insufficiency of labor laws in the laborreceiving
Gulf states is only obliquely mentioned. Although this article fails to go into substantial
detail, it remains a good introduction to the topic of female migration in the Middle East.
Silvey, Rachel. 2006. “Consuming the Transnational Family: Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers
to Saudi Arabia.” Global Networks 6(1): 18.
Annotation: In this article, Silvey analyzes the effects of Indonesian women’s transnational
migration on their families from an anthropological perspective. While Silvey does refer to the
abuses migrants face in Saudi Arabia (rape, torture, sexual assault, overwork, and non-payment
of wages), the reference is brief. The primary focus is on the women workers themselves and
their motivations for migration, using fieldwork to evaluate the ramifications of “how women
migrants frame, oppose and rework the meanings of motherhood and consumption.” This study
is useful to anyone interested in gender and transnational migration research, but contributes
little toward understanding the practice of domestic slavery in Saudi Arabia.
United Nations. 2003. “The United Nations on Levels and Trends of International Migration and
Related Policies.” Population Development Review 29(2): 5.
Annotation: The goal of this article is to provide information on international migration levels,
trends, and policies, in order to better understand the causes of the flows of international
migration and their relationship to development. Using charts and graphs, this article illustrates
the size and growth of migrant populations worldwide between 1990 and 2000. According to the
article, while the United States has the largest population of migrants, the United Arab Emirates
has the highest percentage. While the article does not discuss human rights abuses against
migrants, it offers a useful comparison of migrant populations between countries and also
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
describes the conventions and protocols adopted by the international community that protect
Wickramasekera, Piyasiri. 2002. “Asian Labour Migration: Issues and Challenges in an Era of
Globalization.” In International Migration Papers. Geneva: International Labor Office.
Annotation: This report analyzes the causes and origins of labor migration, identifying many
economic and structural factors that give migrants an incentive to leave their home nations. It
additionally deals with trends and patterns associated with migration. Women migrants in the
field of domestic service and entertainment are given particular attention, as well as irregular
migrants who are undocumented. Of notable interest is the section of the report where the
author seeks to dispel common “myths” regarding migrant workers. Although the Middle East is
not discussed in detail, this article is useful for its description of the feminization of the migrant
Winckler, Onn. 2002. “The Demographic Dilemma of the Arab World: The Employment Aspect.”
Journal of Contemporary History 37(4): 22.
Annotation: This article takes a historical approach to the population explosion in the Middle
East, the oil boom, and the consequences on the labor markets. While the article does address
the reliance on foreign workers and the wage gap between foreigners and nationals, the author
fails to make any relevant assessment of worker abuse, and does not broach the topic of slavelike
practices in the Middle East. Instead, the author focuses on the effect of population growth
on unemployment within various demographics.
The Recruitment and Migration Process
Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. 1999. “The Migrating Woman’s Handbook. Bangkok:
Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women.”
Annotation: Written by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Alliance Against
Traffic in Women (GAATW), this manual provides recommendations to female migrant
workers in an effort to help these women know and protect their rights while traveling abroad.
The manual describes the process of immigration in great detail, outlining such issues as work
permits, detention and deportation, contracts, and travel documents. Although this is not a
scholarly report and no specific states are mentioned, the information is concise and offers an
NGO’s perspective on how to protect female migrant workers from becoming victims of
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
Human Rights Watch. 2006. “Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant
Construction Workers in the UAE.” http://hrw.org/reports/2008/bhr0208/3d.htm.
Annotation: Drawing on over sixty interviews, this extensive report from Human Rights Watch
describes the exploitation of migrant construction workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE),
explaining the recruitment process, the confiscation of passports, the safety and health hazards,
and the low or unpaid wages in particular. The article begins with recommendations to both the
sending and receiving nations of migrant labor, and continues on to analyze UAE labor law and
the government’s human rights requirements under international law. Although the article does
not address domestic servitude, it does represent another group of migrant laborers in the
Middle East—a group equally subject to abuse and exploitation.
Longva, Anh Nga. 1999. “Keeping Migrant Workers in Check: The Kafala System in the Gulf.”
Middle East Report 211(Summer).
Annotation: In this short article, the author examines the international labor migration of
workers from the Middle East and Asia into the “Gulf Cooperation Council” (GCC). The
primary focus of this article is to describe the system of recruitment and Kafala (sponsorship)
that allows migrants to work in the GCC. This article is useful in understanding the
underpinning laws and social systems that make migrant workers subject to discrimination and
Pearce, Natasha. 2003. Migrant Workers’ Rights: The Passport Issue. London: Kalayaan.
Annotation: Citing case studies and statistics, this report examines the withholding of the
passports of migrant domestic workers by employers, particularly in the United Kingdom. It is a
practice also common in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates. The report features
many testimonies from migrant workers worldwide, the passports of whom have been withheld,
sometimes for several years. It also exemplifies the havoc that the loss of identity and status
wreaks on these workers’ lives. The author provides many recommendations on how the
practice can be mitigated by the intervention of governments, embassies, NGOs, trade unions,
and other groups.
Zachariah, K.C., B.A. Prakash, and S. Irudaya Rajan. 2003. “The Impact of Immigration Policy on
Indian Contract Migrants: The Case of the United Arab Emirates.” International Migration 41(4):
Annotation: Examining the immigration policy of the UAE, this brief case study addresses the
impacts of these policies on Indian contract workers from the 1990s onward. Data was collected
from officials in the UAE as well as from Indian migrant workers themselves. The first half of
the article explains the cause of the surge in Indian migrants, while the second half addresses the
resulting impact of immigration policy on Indian expatriates. Slavery is not directly addressed;
the main focus is on the reduction of wages and the misuse of the sponsorship system for
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
exploiting workers. While this article does not mention slavery, it is a rare description of Indian
migrant workers in the Middle East.
Forms of Abuse and Framing Exploitation as Slavery
Chammartin, Gloria. 2002. The Feminization of International Migration. International Migration
Programme: International Labour Organization.
Annotation: This article focuses primarily on how the opportunities of migrant women differ
from those of men, citing gender-biased migration policies and sex stereotypes as root causes of
discrimination. Female domestic workers are the group most vulnerable to discrimination and
abuse, due to individualized working environments and to the role of intermediaries such as
brokers, agents, and recruiters. This article offers a good summary of what migrant domestic
workers face in the Middle East, but does not go into great detail.
Degorge, Barbara. 2006. “Modern Day Slavery in the United Arab Emirates.” European Legacy 11(6):
Annotation: In this article, Degorge uses the UAE as a case study to examine three types of
slavery in the Middle East: the use of children as camel jockeys, the sexual enslavement of
women, and the migrant workers who “enslave themselves.” Framing the article from a
historical perspective, the author identifies the situations of these various groups as examples of
slavery and concludes that what is needed is a deeper awareness of the scope, nature, and forms
of modern day slavery, if there is any hope of abolishing it. The author’s definition of slavery
and her explanation of the related U.N. Convention make this article a valuable, succinct read.
International Labour Office. 2005. A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour. In International Labour
Conference. Geneva: International Labour Office.
Annotation: This report from the 2005 International Labor Conference provides a
comprehensive account of forced labor around the world. Part I begins with definitions of the
various characteristics of forced labor: the terminologies, the legislation, and the differences
between forced labor and slavery. Part II focuses on the situation of forced labor in selected
nations, while Part III proposes the ILO global action against forced labor. Unfortunately, the
scope of this report is expansive, and as a result, no subject is covered in detail. However, the
report excels in quantifying statistics in charts and graphs, presenting hard data clearly and
concisely. This report is useful to anyone interested in understanding the full scope of forced
labor around the world.
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Jureidini, Ray, and Nayla Moukarbel. 2004. “Female Sri Lankan Domestic Workers in Lebanon: A
Case of ‘Contract Slavery’?” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 30(4): 27.
Annotation: Drawing on over seventy interviews with Sri Lankan women in Lebanon, the
authors argue that the situations of these domestic workers fall under the category of “contract
slavery” as defined by Kevin Bales. This categorization is based on the workers’ living
conditions, how they are treated by employers, and how the legal and administrative
arrangements have facilitated the entrapment they encounter. Although the study deals with
contract slavery in Lebanon, it is clear that the same situation exists in Saudi Arabia, the United
Arab Emirates, and elsewhere. This provocative study is essential reading for framing the abuses
of domestic servants as slavery.
Kaur Gill, Amardeep. 2007. “Today’s Slavery.” Canadian Dimension 41(3): 4.
Annotation: In this brief article, the author succinctly outlines the differences between popular
conceptions of contemporary slavery and its realities, pointing to such issues as environmental
degradation, conflict, economic violence, societal oppression, and the marginalization of the
poor as common factors that drive the impetus for many people to take serious risks and work
“illegally.” Also discussed are the strategies of deceit and manipulation used to entrap workers,
especially migrant domestic servants, into slavery. The article is peppered with brief narratives
from exploited workers, and although the article does not go into any detail about specific
regions, it offers a good overview of contemporary slavery.
Sabban, Rima. 2001. Migrant Women in the United Arab Emirates: The Case of Female Domestic
Workers. In Series on Women and Migration: International Labor Office. Geneva: International Labor
Annotation: A working paper from the ILO, this article uses fieldwork conducted in the years
1995 and 2001 in order to illustrate examples of domestic slavery in the UAE. The author
interviewed both domestic workers and their employers in real situations of employment. In
great detail, the author describes the reasons why female domestic workers emigrate to the UAE,
under what conditions they work, the types of abuse they endure, and the legal framework
responsible for perpetuating these abuses. The author, while careful to analyze the issue from
many perspectives, fails to draw any substantial conclusions on what is to be done about these
abuses. Despite this omission, the article is an informative study.
Schwenken, Helen. 2005. “Domestic Slavery versus Workers Rights: Political Mobilizations of
Migrant Domestic Workers in the European Union.” The Center for Comparative Immigration
Annotation: Although this article doesn’t examine the treatment of migrant domestic workers in
the Gulf region, instead focusing on the exploitation of migrants in the European Union, its
analysis offers an intriguing comparison between the two labor-receiving regions. The article
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
describes the role of NGOs and their political mobilizations as they strive to improve the living
and working conditions of migrant domestic workers in the European Union and discusses
political efforts to frame these abuses in terms of slavery and human trafficking. Of interesting
note is how the abuses migrant women face in the European Union are nearly identical to those
faced by migrants in the Gulf.
Sherry, Virginia N. 2004. Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia,
edited by W. Brown and J. Saunders. Human Rights Watch.
Annotation: This lengthy report from Human Rights Watch describes abuses against migrant
workers in Saudi Arabia, covering all sectors of the workforce, not just domestic labor. The
author interviewed migrant workers in their home countries after they had recently returned
from Saudi Arabia. This report depicts in often-chilling detail the level of exploitation,
discrimination, and abuse these migrants face by their employers and by the Saudi criminal
justice system. Sherry’s disgust with the treatment of these migrants is obvious. The author
begins her report with set recommendations on how the Saudi government should act in
response to these abuses. Despite not visiting Saudi Arabia, the author’s investigation is
thorough and invaluable to the study of forced labor in the region.
Sunderland, Judith, and Nisha Varia. 2006. “Swept Under the Rug: Abuses against Domestic
Workers Around the World.” Human Rights Watch.
Annotation: An inverse to Sherry’s report detailed above, this comprehensive article focuses on
the issue of domestic labor throughout the world, and follows a similar format. Relying on
interviews from domestic workers, the author assesses: (1) the scope of criminal abuses against
domestic workers as a whole; (2) the exclusion of domestic workers from labor laws; (3) the
forms of child labor; and (4) the recruitment, training, and abuse of migrant domestic workers.
Each section concludes with the author’s special recommendations for correcting each crisis.
Although the report examines the plight of domestic workers worldwide, a great deal of
emphasis is placed on Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular.
Tomppert, Leigh, and Sameena Nazir, eds. 2005. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North
Africa: Citizenship and Justice. New York: Freedom House.
Annotation: An excellent comparative study, this book is indispensable for understanding
women’s rights in the Middle East as a whole. Comprised of twenty months of research
gathered from field consultations with women’s rights leaders in the Middle East and with focus
groups, the researchers seek to analyze the changing attitudes, obstacles, and opportunities for
women in the Middle East and in Africa. Each country has its own chapter dedicated to its
unique situation, including both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The various Middle
Eastern and African countries are ranked relative to their neighbors in graphs that clearly
illustrate how women are treated with regard to access to justice, autonomy, civic voice, and so
H UMAN R IGHTS & HUMAN W ELFARE
forth. Attention is placed on the laws that protect women; while most consideration is given to
nationals, migrant women who work as domestic helpers are mentioned as the group most
vulnerable to abuse.
U.S. Department of State. 2007. Trafficking in Persons Report.
Annotation: Although this report from the U.S. State Department concerns human trafficking,
enough emphasis is put on slavery to make it useful for the analysis of domestic slavery in the
United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia. Both countries are discussed in this report and Saudi
Arabia is ranked as a Tier 3 offender, a title bestowed upon nations who do not comply with the
minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVP). The report gives an
overview of almost all types of modern slavery, including involuntary domestic servitude,
sponsorship laws, and forced servitude. The majority of the report is dedicated to country
narratives, describing the unique trafficking situation in each nation.
Legal Recourse and Redress for Abuses
Abu-Habib, Lina. 1998. “The Use and Abuse of Female Domestic Workers from Sri Lanka in
Lebanon.” Gender and Development 6 (1): 6.
Annotation: This brief article analyzes possible reasons why international NGOs fail to take
action against the abuses faced by female domestics from Sri Lanka in Lebanon. Drawing on her
own experiences and observations from direct contact with domestic workers, the author details
the role of employment agencies in treating these women like property. Also addressed is the
fact that many NGOs either deny the existence of abuses, or demonstrate a lack of interest in
the problem. Abu-Habib goes on to explain that many Lebanese nationals scoff at any reports of
abuse and contend that these women migrate of their own volition. Although this article does
not deal with Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, the issues are easily transferable.
Amnesty International. 2000. “Saudi Arabia: Gross Human Rights Abuses Against Women.”
Annotation: This lengthy and informative report focuses on the human rights violations women
face under the Saudi justice system, in addition to addressing the plight of migrant domestic
workers, who are both foreign nationals and women. More than forty domestic workers from
Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka were interviewed by Amnesty International for this
well-researched report, which helpfully outlines the various international human rights and labor
conventions that Saudi Arabia has approved. Narratives from both female nationals and
domestic workers who have witnessed discrimination, arbitrary arrest, torture, and other human
rights violations are interspersed throughout the report.
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________. 2000. “Saudi Arabia: A Woman Migrant Worker Sentenced to Death.” Amnesty
International Women’s Rights Action 2000,
Annotation: Illuminating the many inadequacies of the criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia,
this brief article describes the imprisonment of a migrant domestic worker from the Philippines
after she was found guilty of murdering her female employer, despite being barred from
providing a viable defense. According to the article, those without access to money or influence
are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Because many domestic
workers do not speak or read Arabic, they are often unaware of the laws and can be easily
tricked into signing confessions.
________. 2000. “Saudi Arabia: Gross Human Rights Abuses Against Women.”
Annotation: This lengthy and informative report focuses on the human rights violations women
face under the Saudi justice system, in addition to addressing the plight of migrant domestic
workers, who are both foreign nationals and women. More than forty domestic workers from
Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka were interviewed by Amnesty International for this
well-researched report, which helpfully outlines the various international human rights and labor
conventions that Saudi Arabia has approved. Narratives from both female nationals and
domestic workers who have witnessed discrimination, arbitrary arrest, torture, and other human
rights violations are interspersed throughout the report.
Center for the Study of Human Rights. 1996. Women and Human Rights: The Basic Documents.
New York: Columbia University.
Annotation: This book is a comprehensive compilation of declarations and conventions over
time regarding the human rights of women. The scope is historical and encompasses aspects
such as marriage, health, education, and of particular interest in the study of slavery—
employment and trafficking in persons. Also covered are the components of the International
Bill of Rights and other instruments of human rights legislation.
Human Rights Watch. 2007. “Saudi Arabia: Migrant Domestics Killed by Employers.” Human Rights
Annotation: This article from Human Rights Watch describes the killing of two Indonesian
migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, and discusses how government inaction in Saudi
Arabia leaves migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by their employers. Along with
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summarizing the types of abuse migrant domestic workers face, this article also delves into how
the Saudi criminal justice system prevents migrants from seeking redress and often works against
them as employers bring up countercharges.
Mowbray, Joel. 2003. “Maids, Slaves, and Prisoners: To be Employed in a Saudi Home.” National
Review 55(3): 5.
Annotation: Addressing the slave-like abuses migrant domestic servants face at the hands of
Saudis both in Saudi Arabia and also on American soil, this article details how these women are
treated under Saudi law, and addresses the actions they take in attempting to escape their
bondage. These actions oftentimes include accessing government-run shelters or using the
“underground railroad.” The author goes on to scrutinize how the U.S. State Department
willfully fails to hold Saudi diplomats accountable for the involuntary servitude of domestics in
America (for fear of angering the “politically connected”), and how their treatment in America is
often equally as atrocious as in Saudi Arabia.
Ofreneo, Rene, and Isabelo Samonte. 2005. Empowering Filipino Migrant Workers: Policy Issues
and Challenges. In International Migration Papers. Geneva: International Labour Office.
Annotation: This report by the International Labour Office addresses ways in which Filipino
migrant workers can redress abuses they face in their host countries. In great detail, the authors
describe the general problems migrant workers face and the challenges NGOs must overcome in
order to empower Filipinos. The report concludes with the case studies of Filipino migrant
workers in Japan and in Hong Kong. Although not particularly useful in the study of domestic
slavery in the Middle East, this report is valuable for understanding what measures are being
taken to reverse the exploitation of migrant workers.
U.S. Department of State. 2007. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Saudi Arabia.
Annotation: This report by the U.S. State Department offers an all-encompassing view of
human rights in Saudi Arabia and puts the issue of domestic slavery in perspective. The report
begins with an overview of Saudi Arabia’s governing system, and then goes into greater detail on
each human rights violation, ending with the country’s strict limitations on workers rights,
especially as pertaining to foreign workers. Discrimination, societal abuses, and human
trafficking are addressed in section five, which compares Saudi law to practice. Of particular
interest is how the report mentions that racial discrimination is illegal in Saudi Arabia, while
discrimination based on nationality is not.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
________. 2007. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: United Arab Emirates.
Annotation: Much like the U.S. State Department’s report on Saudi Arabia, this report details
the human rights abuses most common in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While Saudi Arabia
is deemed a Tier 3 nation by the U.S. State Department, the UAE is on the Tier 2 Watch List, a
lesser category. The introduction of the report gives a brief overview of the structure of the
UAE government and is useful to anyone unfamiliar with the Emirates. According to this report,
the UAE has made progress since 2005 in addressing the problem of human trafficking and
repatriated children who had been used as camel jockeys. The rest of the report is an analysis of
UAE law and human rights from a U.S. perspective.
Wickramasekera, Piyasiri. 2004. Rights of Migrant Workers in Asia: Any Light at the End of the
Tunnel? In International Migration Papers. Geneva: International Labour Office. www.forumasia.org/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=51.
Annotation: This comprehensive report from the International Labour Office outlines the key
features of the Asian labor migration, migrant worker rights in practice, the international legal
instruments for protection of migrant workers, and what is currently being done by NGOs, the
ILO, and other organizations to resolve human rights issues. The slave-like conditions many
migrant workers face in the realm of domestic service in the Middle East is addressed at length,
as are human rights abuses in other labor-receiving nations. This report is of particular utility to
anyone seeking a broad understanding of forced labor of migrant workers.
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The Dark Side of Labor in China
By Karine Lepillez
With a population of 1.3 billion and a gross domestic product growing at an impressive rate of
10 percent per year, China has quickly become one of the largest contributors to the global market.
Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of the late 1970s and early 1980s vastly improved the country’s standard of
living and made economic development possible; unfortunately, China’s remarkable growth has a
dark side: the forced labor of men, women and children. The country’s unique combination of
Communist ideology and decentralized economic power has contributed to the use of both statesanctioned
and unsanctioned forced labor, the latter of which is perpetuated through ineffective
policies, corruption, and a lack of legal enforcement. Systematic statistics on the extent of forced
labor are not available due to China’s repressive political system. However, news articles, reports,
research, and the testimonies of past forced laborers attest to the severity of the situation.
State-sanctioned forced labor is widely promoted and justified by the government through the
Communist doctrine of “reform through labor.” The philosophy extols the virtues of labor as a way
to transform dissidents into new socialist men and women; however, in practice it has led to the
creation of a vast network of prison labor camps known as Laogai across the country.
Since its inception, the Laogai has been used to suppress and indoctrinate petty criminals,
political dissidents, religious adherents, and others who are seen as threats to governmental and
social stability. Inmates are used to produce cheap commodities, which, although officially
prohibited from exportation, are often indistinguishable from factory goods and continue to find
their way into the global market. Prison labor is no longer as profitable of an enterprise as it once
was—due in part to international concern and to the inefficiencies of prison-run businesses in
general—yet it remains a cornerstone of China’s “reform through labor” policy.
Reeducation-through-labor policies also affect school age children through the sanctioned use of
juvenile work camps, “work study” schools, and school-related contracted work programs. A
prominent example is the 2001 explosion that killed over forty people in an elementary school, the
majority of which were third and fourth graders. The explosion was attributed to fireworks that the
children were being forced to assemble. In rural institutions especially, students can be asked to
work in order to make up for the budget or to pay teachers. Some schools also employ their
students in factory work as a form of job training. In these situations, however, much of the work
done is tedious and unskilled rather than career orientated.
In China, as in many areas of the world, poverty is a key player in modern slavery, propelling
peasants into positions of bonded labor and young children into dangerous and tedious jobs.
However, government policies concerning urban migration and public education also play a large
role, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of migrants and children instead of protecting these already atrisk
For migrants, China’s household registration system has increased the risks involved in finding
jobs in the city. Peasants seeking to move to the city for a job must obtain a permit to leave their
village, a temporary residential permit to live in the city, and a work permit to begin their job.
Applicants are often required to pay for their permits in a lump sum, which is usually lent to them
by their employer. The cost and interest is then deducted from their future pay. It is also common
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
practice for employers to collect and keep worker permits, further trapping laborers in their
workplace. Low pay, check withholdings, abuse, long hours, and physical restrictions are all tolerated
because employees want to pay back their debt, are no longer in possession of their permit, or
because they have been promised their withheld pay in the future. These practices and policies
promote a system in which the employee is at the mercy of the employer.
Government policies have also supported ever-increasing fees on public education while
simultaneously decreasing subsidies to local schools. According to the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on the Right to Education, although China’s schooling is meant to be free and
compulsory, fees for public education have been privatized, resulting in families paying for almost
half of the cost of their child’s education. For struggling rural families, the extra fees make schooling
virtually inaccessible. Instead, children are often put to work, since a child’s salary can contribute
significantly to family income. Poverty is a root cause of much child labor. However, governmental
policies concerning education have drastically reduced access to schooling for the neediest children,
and have increased the likelihood of their exploitation.
Corruption, made possible by economic decentralization, has also led to forced labor abuses.
Decentralization of power in favor of regional control has encouraged economic growth and
entrepreneurship while creating an environment in which local officials and business owners can
pursue financial incentives to the detriment of vulnerable populations. Not only is there a lack of
legal enforcement; those responsible for the law’s implementation are oftentimes its worst abusers.
For example, police officers double as factory guards, so that when workers are abused and
exploited in bonded labor, they have no authority to which they can turn for protection. Business
owners make deals with state officials to turn a blind eye to the use of forced and child labor. State
officials practice land theft and institute arbitrary tolls to raise extra funds from already struggling
peasants. Over the summer of 2007, such corruption was blatantly exposed as 568 forced laborers
were freed from kilns that were being run under the protection of local officials. Without
government accountability, the very institutions created to protect the people become sources of
China has made significant efforts to reduce and penalize unsanctioned forced labor by ratifying
the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor and by
establishing consequences for employers who use forced labor. The state has also been cooperating
with the international community through projects and forums designed to eradicate contemporary
forms of slavery. However, forced labor will persist as long as the systems and policies that enforce
it are still in place. China’s reform-through-labor programs, household registration system, and
educational policies must be examined, and the widespread corruption of local officials and
businessmen must be addressed if the country is going to meet the needs and vulnerabilities of its
growing workforce in the years to come.
Aikman, David. 1997. “The Laogai Archipelago.” Weekly Standard, September 29, 4.
Annotation: Appropriately named to reflect the similarity between the Chinese Laogai and the
Russian Gulag, this article offers a brief overview of China’s prison reform camps, including
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their history, extent, purpose, the underlying philosophy behind them, and their effect on the
Chinese population. In addition to addressing the suppression and exploitation of dissidents
through the reform system, the author also reveals a disturbing practice recently associated with
prison camps: the illegal sale of organs of executed convicts. Aikman inserts a short, emotive
biography of Harry Wu, the most influential spokesman against the Laogai system, and echoes
Wu’s claims that the tragedy of the Chinese Laogai is on the scale of the Russian Gulags.
Barboza, David. 2007. “U.S. Group Accuses Chinese Toy Factories of Labor Abuses.” New York
Times, August 22.
Annotation: Barboza’s article provides a helpful synopsis of the labor abuses exposed by the
press over the past year in China. It mentions most prominently the August 2007 report by
China Labor Watch detailing the illegal and abusive practices in eight investigated Chinese toy
factories, which supply brand-name toy makers including Walt Disney and Hasbro. The article
mentions the case of the Chinese companies using child labor to make merchandise for the 2008
Beijing Olympics, in addition to addressing reports of labor violations by contracted Chinese
companies under Apple and McDonald’s. The article notes the prominent role of nongovernmental
organizations in exposing and holding multinational corporations accountable for
Birdsall, Nancy. 1998. “Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World.” Foreign Policy 111 (Summer).
Annotation: Birdsall’s article and related notes imply that not all child labor is bad, and that
banning it could actually make children workers worse off by rendering them legally invisible if
they end up working anyway. The author reviews the causes of inequality, citing factors such as
history and bad economic policy. She furthermore explains remedies of the problem that are
currently in use, and presents suggestions for alternatives. Her final recommendations include
worker-based growth, education, and integration of the state’s economy into the global market.
Birdsall’s views on poverty and its consequences come off as harsh and privileged, but her
insights are educated, informed, and worth considering.
Bodeen, Christopher. 2007. “China Train Station Hub for Forced Labor.” Washington Post, June 19.
Annotation: This Washington Post article offers a snapshot of the exploitation of migrants in
the Henan province. It mentions the story of 568 forced laborers who were freed from kilns
over the summer of 2007, and notes that the illegal operations were being run under the
protection of local officials. Bodeen speculates that corruption runs much deeper than the
ensuing arrest of 168 people. Government response to the kiln operation grants hope to many
by illustrating that with enough international and internal pressure, forced labor will continue to
be reported and addressed.
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Chan, Anita. 1998. “Labor Standards and Human Rights: The Case of Chinese Workers Under
Market Socialism.” Human Rights Quarterly (20): 886-904.
Annotation: Although this piece is almost ten years old, it is key to understanding the role of
international law in the issue of labor rights in China. It gives a clear and concise account of
which international human rights documents China has signed and is accountable to, which
labor abuses occur in the country, and which laws are violated. It also outlines the players in the
international and national field that have been and are making a difference in the area of labor
rights in China. This is a solid piece that provides a foundation for understanding labor abuses in
light of international human rights law.
———. 2001. China’s Workers Under Assault. London, England: East Gate.
Annotation: This collection of case studies and reports puts a human face on the issue of forced
labor in China. It examines 23 cases around the country over a period of seven years, through
Chinese articles, reports, and interviews. The book focuses in particular on migrant workers—
who are argued to be the group most vulnerable to abuse—and affirms the importance of noncore
labor rights to the goal of heightening labor standards. Anita Chan’s writing is accessible
and compelling, and while many of her case studies are grim, she remains optimistic about the
role of international and local organizations in advocating for forced laborers in China.
China Labor Bulletin. “As China’s Economy Grows, So Does China’s Child Labor Problem.”
Annotation: According to recent reports, child labor is found most prevalently in toy
production, textiles, construction, food production, and light mechanical work. This online
article by the China Labour Bulletin briefly addresses the causes of child labor and cites recent
cases, such as in 2004, when a headmaster was found to be employing 35 students between the
ages of eight and sixteen in a toy factory that he owned. The author expresses concern at the
lack of awareness and understanding of the general public in China, but believes the rise in child
labor can also be attributed to poverty and to a rise in school fees. The article is short and
informative, and treats the subject of child labor with compassion.
China Labor Watch. 2005. “Blood and Exhaustion: Behind Bargain Toys Made in China for Wal-
Mart and Dollar General.” http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/upload/Huangwu.pdf.
Annotation: This document is a case study reporting on the grueling work hours, low wages,
strict rules and fines imposed to regulate behavior, and banning of workers’ unions that
characterize the work environment at the Huangwu Toy Factory. The Huangwu enterprise, used
by Wal-Mart and Dollar General to produce cheap toys, is but one of many in which employees
work in what some would arguably call bonded labor.
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China Rights Forum. 2005. “Reform of the Reeducation Through Labor System.” China Rights Forum
Annotation: This short article reports on the changes made to the Reeducation Through Labor
system imposed on minor felons. The reforms are intended to reduce the maximum term for
prisoners and to lessen the restrictions on them within the camp. The author downplays these
small tokens of change and claims that genuine reform can only come through complete
eradication of the prison labor system. Among the reasons given for the reforms, the journal
cites the condemnation of the Chinese labor camps by the international community and by
human rights organizations.
Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. 2007. Individual
Observation concerning Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) China (ratification: 1999)
Geneva: International Labor Organization.
Annotation: This document, published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), deals
largely with child labor. The Committee establishes a tie between education and child labor, and
claims that China’s decreased enrollment in primary and secondary schools can be linked to an
increase in child employment. Significantly, it criticizes China for the extreme secrecy
surrounding its child labor cases, in addition to noting statistics that make it very hard to
determine the extent of the problem. The document also includes China’s response to the
criticism, giving the reader an indication of the measures taken by the state to address the issue
of child labor. This text is important for a general understanding of child labor in China,
including potential causes and recommendations.
———. 2007. Individual Observation concerning Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999
(No. 182) China (ratification: 2002). Geneva: International Labor Organization.
Annotation: This 2007 document contains observations and recommendations made by the
International Labor Organization (ILO) concerning the use of child labor in China. The main
areas of concern at the time were the alleged role of Chinese authorities in trafficking children
from and through China, the exploitation of child labor through school-run factories and labor
camps, and the use of disabled children as professional beggars. Chinese laws already prohibit
the use of child labor, so recommendations focused on imposing higher penalties for violators,
and on strengthening the government’s monitoring and law enforcement systems. This
document is essential to understanding China’s efforts in the area of child labor and its
relationship and cooperation with the international community and the ILO.
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Dittmer, Lowell. 2001. “Chinese Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: A Realist Approach.”
The Review of Politics 63 (3): 421-459.
Annotation: In this lengthy article, Dittmer answers the question, “can realist means be used in
support of idealist ends?” More specifically, can human rights goals be met using economic
sanctions? After an extensive survey of U.S. foreign policy, the author comes to the conclusion
that China’s economic modernization is more likely to bring about improvements in the state’s
human rights record than will economic sanctions. This article is pertinent in light of recent
disputes between China and the United States over the communist state’s exportation of goods
made by children or forced laborers.
Edmondson, Gail, Kate Carlisle, Inka Resch, Karen Nickel Anhalt, and Heidi Dawley. 2000.
“Workers in Bondage.” Business Week. November 27.
Annotation: In 2000, Europe witnessed an appalling series of raids, which exposed large
numbers of forced laborers trafficked in from China and Eastern Europe. Illegal Chinese
immigrants form the largest target group for forced labor and trafficking in Europe; many
become bonded or indebted to the mob bosses that enabled their passage to Europe. This article
reveals the international side of forced labor in China, and explains the increasing financial
incentive for gangs involved in trafficking and forced labor in China and in Europe. A disturbing
piece of reporting, it reveals the widespread influence of the black market, which is globalizing
and facilitating the use of forced labor.
French, Howard W. 2007. “Fast-Growing China Says Little of Child Slavery’s Role.” New York
Times. June 21. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/21/world/asia/21china.html.
Annotation: This 2007 New York Times article brings to light the most recent child labor
incidents in China: hundreds of forced laborers freed from a brick kiln, a fifteen year-old
crushed to death in a cotton gin, seventy girls brought by their teacher to work in a processing
plant for sixteen hour shifts, and a fourteen year-old boy killed in an explosion at a chemical
factory. The author notes the revisions of children’s rights laws made by President Hu Jintao,
but remains pessimistic that without enforcement, no change will occur. Rather, local officials
will continue to evade responsibility by taking advantage of overlapping jurisdictions.
Gutmann, Ethan. 2004. Losing the New China. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books.
Annotation: A former journalist for the Asian Wall Street Journal, Gutmann uses his book to
expose the compromises made by American businesses in China, also exposing their costly
consequences. Although Gutmann does not deal directly with the issue of forced labor in China,
his personal accounts of Chinese and American business relations set the stage for readers to
understand the type of environment in which corruption and human exploitation can occur.
Gutmann’s easy-to-read book is as much a comment on human nature as it is on the nature of
business in China.
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Holmes, Leslie. 2006. Rotten states?: Corruption, Post-Communism, and Neoliberalism Durham,
NC: Duke University Press.
Annotation: Holmes’ well-researched book is a comparative analysis of corruption in China,
Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Russia. His central thesis is that there is a connection between
communism and corruption; however, he finds that “examples of corruption can be found in all
the political institutions of the contemporary state.” Holmes outlines the scale, impact, causes,
and the measures used against corruption. He acknowledges the important role of international
organizations, and suggests that they work with civil society rather than with the state in keeping
institutions and individuals accountable and transparent. In conclusion, Holmes argues that a
state’s approach to economic reform is significantly linked with corruption.
Human Rights Watch. 1991. Forced labor exports from China [microform]: update no. 1. New
York: Human Rights Watch.
Annotation: This September 1991 follow-up to the April report published by Human Rights
Watch (HRW) records China’s reaction to the accusation that they export forced labor goods,
and offers new evidence to support the organization’s views. Accordingly, HRW claims that
forced prison labor and the exportation of prison-made goods is and has been a part of the
Chinese government’s policy. This older document illustrates the international aspect of prison
labor in China and shows that it has been an issue of contention between the United States and
China for several decades.
———. 1991. Prison labor in China [microform]. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Annotation: This 1991 report by Human Rights Watch is one of the organization’s only pieces
on forced prison labor in China. It uses a series of internal Chinese documents to prove that the
state was using forced prison labor products for export, and that in fact, the country was heavily
dependent upon prison-made goods to meet its increasing export quotas. The purpose of this
document was to discourage the U.S. government from giving China Most Favored Nation
Kapstein, Ethan B. 2006. “The New Global Slave Trade.” Foreign Affairs 85 (6): 103-115.
Annotation: Kapstein’s article addresses the issue of slavery around the globe, the methods that
have been used to abolish it, why such methods have not worked, and recommendations for
state action. He also includes a short section on the definition of contemporary slavery. Kapstein
is a proponent of criminalizing prostitution worldwide, and of using the power of Western states
to influence perpetrators of trafficking and forced labor. He argues for an aggressive and public
strategy towards the problem of slavery, rather than one that works behind closed doors. This
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recent article is a fundamental addition to the understanding of the nature of slavery in a
Kwong, Peter. 2007. Chinese Migration Goes Global. YaleGlobal Online, July 17.
Annotation: China’s booming economy has sparked urban as well as international migration.
Kwong’s article explains the challenges faced by China’s growing migrant community. As
competition for jobs in the city increases, many are willing to pay the price of being sent
overseas—$30,000 to be smuggled into the United Kingdom and $70,000 for the United States.
Illegal immigrants are at a high risk of exploitation, not only by their employers, but also by the
trafficking rings through which they are smuggled. This article brings attention to the plight of
illegal Chinese migrants.
Li, Cheng. 1996. “Surplus Rural Laborers and Internal Migration in China.” Asian Survey 36 (11):
Annotation: Although somewhat outdated, Li’s article addresses the effects of the ongoing and
increasing internal migration in China. The author outlines the reasons behind the migration and
the characteristics of this “floating population,” and makes a series of policy recommendations.
He optimistically predicts that China’s two hundred million internal migrants will further the
country’s development, industrialization, and liberalization, and will contribute to the expansion
of civil society.
Mattioli, Maria C., and V. K. Sapovadia. 2004. “Laws of Labor.” Harvard International Review 26 (2):
Annotation: In this article, Mattioli strongly emphasizes the relationship between labor
standards, investment, and ultimately, stable growth. Although the article does not deal directly
with China, it deals with the issue of forced labor and child labor in general. Mattioli explains
that while violating labor laws may initially cut costs and increase profit, it removes the incentive
to invest in people or in new technology, and eventually hinders growth. This article is simple—
almost simplistic—in its analysis of labor violations, but does highlight essential aspects of the
problem: there is a correlation between a state’s stable economic growth and investment, and
forced and child labor.
Oi, Jean C. 1995. “The Role of the Local State in China’s Transitional Economy.” China Quarterly
Annotation: Jean Oi’s article on the nature of the Chinese economy contributes to an
understanding of the role of the local state in business. Termed local state corporatism, this
state-led growth explains how local officials have become similar to board directors or CEOs in
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local enterprises. Although not dealing with the ways in which the system is vulnerable to
exploitation, this article lays the foundation for an understanding of the role local officials play in
the corporate world, and how easily a conflict of interest can form, resulting in corruption or
Seymour, James D. 1998. New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labor Reform Camps in China.
Armonk: ME Sharpe, Inc.
Annotation: Seymour’s book about prison labor camps in China is built upon fieldwork in three
Chinese regions, on public and private documents, and on interviews with prisoners, guards, and
local officials. The author disagrees that prison labor is a lucrative source of income for the
Chinese government. Rather, he claims that the Laogai system is inefficient and unprofitable,
especially since international scrutiny on forced labor exports has increased. A well-documented
work, Old Ghosts, New Ghosts counterbalances previous reports on the Laogai system by
Human Rights Watch and by Harry Hongda Wu.
Sun, Yan. 2004. Corruption and Market in Contemporary China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Annotation: Corruption has always been present in China’s political and economic system;
however, Sun remarks, its intensity and frequency have changed since the state’s economic
reforms were implemented in the late 1970s. Sun uses published casebooks of economic crime
to reveal a connection between decentralized power and the opportunities for corruption.
China’s economic reforms have facilitated the means for abuse and have decreased its
The Solidarity Center. 2004. “The Struggle for Worker Rights in China.” In Justice for All.
Washington: The Solidarity Center.
Annotation: The Solidarity Center’s report deals with workers’ rights in China in general, but
devotes several chapters to the issues of child labor and forced labor. Acknowledging the lack of
transparency in China that prevents us from knowing the full extent of forced labor and child
labor in the country, the author nonetheless testifies to the gravity of the problem with
references to news articles, reports, and personal testimonies. Solutions mentioned revolve
around education and rule of law. They include: the immediate banning of manual labor used by
schools to raise funds or supplement teachers’ pay, education of the most vulnerable groups
(migrants, women, children) to raise awareness of forced labor and trafficking, and enforcement
of laws already passed in China to ban forced labor.
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
Tong, Xiaojun, and Shizhen Lu. 2004. “China.” In Child Labor: A Global View. Edited by Elizabeth
KimJin Traver, Cathryne L. Schmitz, and Desi Larson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Annotation: The third chapter of this book provides a holistic look at child labor in China,
taking the reader through the history of child labor in the country, its place in politics and
society, and its probable future. The authors praise the Chinese government for its legislation
and hard stance against child labor, and blame the exploitation of child workers on poverty and
the current business structure. A lack of effective enforcement is also listed as a cause for the
continuing occurrence of child labor in China. The authors see a link between child labor and
education, and recommend that China strengthen its educational programs as a way to counter
and reduce the occurrence of child labor.
UNESCO Bangkok. 2006. “Getting Girls out of Work and Into School: Policy Brief.” Bangkok.
Annotation: This policy brief by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization deals specifically with the plight of girls and labor in the Asia-Pacific region. It lists
the international instruments developed to deal with child labor, the type of children most at
risk, and the specific barriers to full school enrollment. As relates to China, the report gives a
snapshot of one of the innovative practices used to get girls out of work and into school:
assistance to cover all school-related costs and promotion of education and skills training
relating to gender equality, public health, and hazards such as trafficking and forced labor. The
document offers a number of recommendations, including collaboration in the area of research,
data collection, and monitoring and evaluation.
United States. Congress. House. Committee on International Relations. Subcommittee on Africa,
Global Human Rights, and Operations International. 2006. Human rights in China: improving
or deteriorating conditions?: hearing before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights,
and International Operations of the Committee on International Relations, House of
Representatives, One Hundred Ninth Congress, second session, April 19. Washington: U.S.
Annotation: A 2006 hearing before the Committee on International Relations, this document
addresses the subject of human rights abuses in China. Most pertinent to the focus on forced
labor is a statement made by Ms. Thea Lee, Director of Public Policy at the AFL-CIO. Lee
approaches the issue from the perspective of American interest, arguing that the repressive labor
environment, which includes child labor, forced labor, and prison labor, creates an unfair trade
advantage and contributes to the United States’ $202 billion trade deficit with China. Her
statement is brief, and is focused on the ineffectiveness of the current Bush Administration’s
stance towards the Chinese government.
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United States. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. 2005. Forced labor in China:
roundtable before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, One Hundred Ninth
Congress, first session, June 22. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.
Annotation: This 2005 Congressional Roundtable responds to concerns that China is violating
the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights
at Work, of which China is a signatory. Statements were made by Jeffrey Fielder of the AFL-
CIO, Harry Wu, founder of the Laogai Research Foundation, and by Gregory Xu, a member of
Falun Gong with personal experience of China’s forced labor camps. The statements focused
mainly on the issue of prison labor, and heatedly recommended that the United States take a
hard line against the importation of any prison labor products. Fielder especially urged that in
cases where forced labor products are indistinguishable from legal products, the United States
should ban the product entirely, and import it from another, more reliable country. This
document highlights the Committee’s concern about forced labor in China, and makes clear the
speakers’ frustration over the United States’ lack of action in the matter.
United States. Department of Labor. 2007. “China.”
Annotation: The U.S. Department of Labor’s brief online page about child labor in China lists a
number of industries in which child labor has been shown to exist: fireworks, garments and
textiles, toys, sports equipment, and games. It cites the national and international laws and
conventions that China has ratified, and briefly mentions the judicial steps taken in relation to
child labor. China has accordingly set up 2,763 courts to deal with child labor cases, in addition
to seventeen provincial committees for the protection of children. The tone of the article,
however, is tentative; it argues that there is no way to assess the true extent of child labor
because of China’s lack of statistics and repressive political system.
Wan, Ming. 2007. “Human Rights Lawmaking in China: Domestic Politics, International Law, and
International Politics.” Human Rights Quarterly (29): 727-753.
Annotation: In this article, Ming Wan looks at China’s gradual acceptance of International
Human Rights Law and norms. He attributes this development not simply to international
pressure, but also to economic pressure within the country. Wan speculates as to whether
International Human Rights laws will begin trumping national laws, especially in cases where the
two are in conflict—for example, in China’s practice of reeducation through forced labor. In
general, the author is optimistic that even though China remains a non-democratic, communist
state, there are signs of improvement and openness in the area of human and civil rights.
Wang, Jun. 2003. “Prisons Not Profits.” Beijing Review 46 (37): 24-25.
Annotation: This government-approved article from the Beijing Review shows the Chinese
government acknowledging and seeking to address the corruption in their prison labor reform
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
camps. The author explains the changes that will be made with the reform plan; most
importantly, the operating costs of prisons will no longer be met by income brought in by
prisoners’ work, but rather will be covered fully by central and provincial governments. At the
time of the writing, this reform was to be undertaken by six provinces. While acknowledging the
downfalls of the current prison labor system, the article dutifully touts the benefits of prison
labor in helping prisoners develop responsibility, good work habits, and a “spirit of teamwork.”
Wu, Harry. 1997. “China’s Gulag.” Harvard International Review 20 (1): 20-23.
Annotation: Harry Wu’s article makes a moral appeal for dismantling China’s prison reform
system. Wu explains how the legacy of Deng Xiaoping’s market-oriented Chinese communism
precipitated the abuse of the labor reform system. He uncompromisingly declares that China’s
business practices make it impossible for democracy to take root. Comparing China’s Laogai
(“reform through labor”) to the Soviet gulag and to Nazi concentration camps, Wu appeals for
universal condemnation of ‘‘the world’s most extensive system of forced labor camps today.”
Wu, Hongda Harry. 1992. Laogai - The Chinese Gulag. Translated by T. Slingerland. Boulder, CO:
Annotation: Originally written in Chinese, this groundbreaking book by Harry Wu—a former
Laogai prisoner—offers an insider’s view of China’s institutionalized labor reform system. Wu
outlines in detail the structure of the system, its regulations, its breadth, and how it has been
used by the Communist government to contribute to China’s growing export market. There is a
substantial Appendix with the names, locations and descriptions of almost one thousand work
camps around the country. Prisoners in these camps are forced to work as part of their
reeducation. Their work conditions constitute human rights concerns: grueling twelve-hour days,
physical abuse, scarce food, and dangerous work environments. Wu provides first-hand insight
as well as primary research on China’s forced labor camps, emphasizing the need for advocacy
and structural reform.
Xiaobo, Lu. 2000. “Booty Socialism, Bureau-preneurs, and the State in Transition.” Comparative
Politics 32 (3): 273-294.
Annotation: Xiaobo’s article focuses on the role of the state in China’s economic development;
in particular, it highlights the predatory behavior of state agencies, which take advantage of the
opportunities for corruption that are made possible by the state’s decentralizing economic
reforms. Xiaobo examines the concept, patterns, and impact of organizational corruption in
China. He concludes that state power can facilitate corruption, but that it can also be its most
effective remedy by promoting coherence and accountability.
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Xiaolei, Jing. 2007. “Child Labor Disgrace.” Beijing Review. July 12, 2007.
Annotation: This article was a top story in the July edition of Beijing Review, an official
government magazine in China. It highlights the events surrounding the Shanxi child labor
scandal, in which a man named Heng Tinghan was found to be using forced labor as well as
child labor in his mines and kilns. This event was under international scrutiny, and thus the
article is focused on explaining how the Chinese government has been addressing the issue.
Unlike many other articles concerning forced labor in China, this piece lists statistics on the
spread of child labor in the Jiangxi Province, the Zheijang Province, and the Henan Province.
Yun, Gao. 2004. Chinese Migrants and Forced Labour in Europe. In International Labor Standards,
Geneva: International Labour Office.
Annotation: This extensive working paper by Chinese lawyer Gao Yun was written in response
to the International Labor Organization’s rising concern about international migration, forced
labor, and human trafficking. Concentrating primarily on Chinese migrants in Europe, Yun
outlines the progression by which many people become trapped in situations of forced labor as a
result of the human trafficking process. Yun adds a pertinent section on Chinese legislation, and
speculates that among the reasons for its ineffectiveness are a lack of enforcement, high profits
and low risks, and the indistinguishability in Chinese law between trafficking victims and
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
The Economic Foundations of Contemporary Slavery
By Justin Guay
“Slavery existed before money or law” (Hochschild 2005). Indeed the “peculiar institution” is
one of humanity’s oldest. It has, however, evolved and manifested itself quite distinctly in different
periods of history. In contrast to historical views of slavery that are associated with Chattel Slavery,
numerous forms fall under the umbrella term of contemporary slavery. The United Nations (U.N.)
Working Group recognizes such radically new forms as: child labor, children in conflict, trafficking
in persons, sexual exploitation, and the sale of children. The International Labor Office (ILO)
approaches the topic through the lens of forced labor. The ILO recognizes slavery and abductions,
compulsory participation in public works projects, forced labor in agriculture, domestic workers,
bonded labor, forced labor imposed by the military, forced labor in the trafficking of persons, as
well as some aspects of prison labor and rehabilitation through work. A linking factor between these
varied forms of contemporary slavery, according to the U.N. Working Group, is the role that
poverty plays in creating vulnerability. This link is echoed in the work of Kevin Bales, arguably the
world’s foremost expert on contemporary slavery. According to Bales, contemporary slavery is “the
complete control of a person, for economic exploitation, by violence, or the threat of violence.”
Using this definition, it is possible to explore the economic links that all forms of slavery, despite
their unique characteristics, share.
Economic conditions are decisive in the formation of slavery. Chattel slavery emerged as a
disturbing manifestation of a push for labor-intensive goods created in the new world. Slaves were
seen as property—as a form of investment. The ensuing ownership created a myriad of costs for
slave traders and owners. These costs included cargo, shipment, and insurance during delivery, as
well as the costs of maintaining the investment (food, medical treatment, and clothing) on behalf of
the slave owner. Nearly forty million Africans lost their lives due to horrific conditions on slaving
vessels (Anti-Slavery International 2005). Massive slave insurrections significantly added to the costs
nations incurred in enforcing the trade. These economic realities, coupled with strong domestic
opposition, eventually led slave traders and politicians in Great Britain to re-evaluate the desirability
of the trade. This ultimately led to slavery’s abolition in Great Britain and in subsequent countries
around the world.
A new set of economic forces arose from the ashes of the Trans-Atlantic trade, as slave traders
demonstrated their ability to adapt to a changing environment. During the post-abolition era, the
colonial holdings of the world’s imperial powers began to display an evolution towards slave-like
practices. Forced labor by the state, debt bondage, and prison labor emerged to take the place of
chattel slavery. These forms were markedly different for exactly what they lacked—namely, the
immense costs and direct legal involvement in a trade that had been officially abolished. Imperial
powers found these advantages to be economically and socially attractive. However, two devastating
wars and the era of decolonization all but ended this period by the 1970s.
Economic factors have been shown to precipitate the rise and fall of different forms of slavery.
The modern set of economic conditions, on which slavery now firmly rests, have arisen through the
monolithic pillars of capitalism and free trade. Massive inequality and poverty have set the stage for
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the most profitable form of slave trading ever seen. Slaves today are, in purely economic terms,
short term, low-capital investments with incredibly high rates of return. For example, slaves in the
U.S. Antebellum South cost, in real terms, around $40,000; today, a slave goes for around $90 (Bales
1999). This is due to the enormous supply of slaves on the market today. In contrast to chattel
slavery, ownership is now officially avoided. However, illegitimate contracts are used to keep victims
in subjugation. Although a dizzying array of slave-like practices are recognized, the dominating form
of slavery today is debt bondage.
It is estimated that a staggering fifteen million of the world’s slaves can be found in India, Nepal,
Pakistan, and Bangladesh combined (Bales 2000). The primary method of enslavement in these
countries is debt bondage. This involves a person using his or her labor as repayment for a loan.
Unsavory accounting, astronomical interest rates, and violence then combine to keep the person in
bondage that can last the rest of their life, and in many cases is passed on to generations of their
A common link in many forms of contemporary slavery is the use of illegal contracts. Domestic
servants in the Philippines, textile workers in the United States, and sex workers in Thailand are all
examples of contract slavery. The vulnerability of the world’s poor is a key ingredient to the
successful implementation of this type of slavery. Slave traders offer desperately poor people, usually
in rural areas, employment through illegitimate contracts. Once the victim has been subjugated, the
contract is used to keep the slave convinced that the arrangement is valid. The contract is also used
to flaunt anti-slavery laws in case of problems with authorities. Despite the illegality of the practice, a
lack of international enforcement allows the problem to persist.
Perhaps most disturbing is the mass exploitation of children. According to the ILO, currently
over 100 million children are being exploited for their labor. Children are especially attractive to
slave traders because they are easy to coerce psychologically and physically. They are also valued for
their small physical statures, which allow them to work in cramped conditions. The U.N., through
the ILO, has committed itself to the abolition of the worst forms of child labor. These forms have
been defined by the ILO as work, which by its nature, or the circumstances in which it is carried out,
is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. This work includes most forms of slavery
or slave-like practices (the sale of a child, trafficking of children, bonded child labor, forced or
compulsory labor including child soldiers), the commercial sexual exploitation of children
(prostitution, pornography, forced child marriage, and child domestic work), and the use, procuring,
or offering of a child for illicit activities (drug trade) (Child Rights Information and Documentation
The economic power wielded by the modern age slave holder is due to the seemingly unlimited
supply of slaves in the world. According to the U.N., half of the world’s six and a half billion people
survive on less than two dollars per day. It is from this mass of desperately poor people that the
world’s slaves are culled. Never in history has there been a segment of society that is as vulnerable as
The ideological push for the “science” of free trade has unleashed enormously destructive forces
for social and cultural change that have wreaked havoc on the populations of developing countries.
Rapid urbanization and restructuring of agricultural activities, upon which people have depended for
centuries, has spelled disaster. In rural areas, the loss of common land combined with the switch to
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
the production of cash crops from subsistence farming, has in effect destroyed people’s livelihoods
(Bales 2000). Heaped on top of this suffering is the destruction of the communities upon which
people have depended for support.
As opposed to the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when slavery was confined to
colonies and peripheral territorial holdings, contemporary slavery has permeated countries at every
level of development in the global economy. Conservative estimates put the number of modern
slaves alive today at 27 million (Bales 1999). Some human rights organizations have the number as
high as 200 million (Free the Slaves 2007). This is more than all of the slaves who were captured and
forced into slavery during the entirety of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The direct value of slave
labor in today’s economy is estimated between thirteen and twenty billion dollars (Bales 2000). It
must be pointed out that these figures are strictly estimates. It is nearly impossible to discern any
kind of verifiable, quantitative information on modern slavery, since slavery exists in the shadow of
the global economy and thrives on the purposeful ignorance of states, multi-national corporations,
A market-based approach aimed at addressing the underlying factors involved must be
implemented in order to combat the growing problem of contemporary slavery. Obscene profit,
immense vulnerability, and lack of enforcement are the targets of such an approach. The supply and
demand relationship is a good place to begin. Informing the public about goods that are produced
by slaves will serve to reduce demand. On the supply side, multi-national corporations need to be
held responsible for their labor practices and product sourcing. These objectives must be enforced
by strictly adhering to existing laws on local, national, and international levels, thereby driving up the
costs incurred by slave traders. Finally, governments and international organizations need to
counterbalance the immense wealth disparity that is created by liberal economic policy. This can be
achieved through economic policies aimed at human rather than economic development, including
full employment and social welfare. This approach, aimed at reducing demand by developed
countries, driving up the costs incurred by slave traders, and bringing up the income level of the
majority of the world’s poor, must be implemented globally in order to combat the ghastly effects
that the slave trade has on humanity.
In order for us to end the reality of lives of servitude, which millions of people face today, and
which millions more will face tomorrow, it is vital that we act now. The marriage of life and slavery
may seem absolute, but it need not be. The future is defined by the actions of the present. In the
words of Maya Angelou, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with
courage, need not be lived again.”
Anti-Slavery International. 2005. “1807-2007: Over 200 Years of Campaigning against Slavery,”
edited by Mike Kaye. http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/resources/PDF/1807-2007.pdf.
Annotation: This article details the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, including the
various factors that led to the eventual abolition of slavery in the Great Britain. It begins with a
brief history of slavery in Africa, and with a discussion of the significant change that chattel
slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade introduced. The factors in the decline of the trade that
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are discussed by the author include the massive loss of life, slave insurrections, and a diminishing
domestic support of the trade.
Anti-Slavery International. 2007. “The History of Anti-Slavery International.”
Annotation: This brief piece gives the history of Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest
human rights organization. The organization is responsible for the abolition of slavery in Great
Britain. Today, it remains the world’s foremost advocate for human rights protection and slavery
abolition. The brief account of the history of the organization is supplemented by a link to a
document that contains a more detailed history of the organization and its fight to end slavery.
Anti-Slavery International. 2007. “Take Action on Cocoa.”
Annotation: This article demonstrates the success and failure of an anti-slavery campaign in the
cocoa industry. The efforts of NGOs, corporations, and governments culminated in the Cocoa
Protocol, which was meant to initiate fair trade practices in the cocoa industry. However, a lack
of oversight and enforcement has led to a resurgence of the problem.
Anti-Slavery International. 2007. “What is Modern Slavery?”
Annotation: This short article found on the Anti-Slavery International website gives a basic
overview of contemporary slavery. It defines six different forms of modern slavery including:
debt bondage, forced labor, and trafficking. It also looks at the characteristics that define
modern slavery. It is a useful place to start research on the topic, although the information is by
no means exhaustive.
Bales, Kevin. 1999. Disposable People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Annotation: The book advances the view that contemporary forms of slavery are markedly
different from historical forms of slavery. These new forms have arisen specifically due to
economic changes in the form of globalization. The author argues that the abundance of people
on the planet now makes the modern slave trade extremely profitable. The author goes on to
discuss how various forms slavery have emerged in countries such as India, the United States,
TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY
________. 2000. “Expendable People: Slavery in the Age of Globalization.” Journal of International
Annotation: The author defines contemporary slavery in the context of globalization. The article
begins by defining three widely recognized forms of modern slavery: chattel slavery, debt
bondage, and contract slavery. It then contrasts the economic features of these modern forms of
slavery with those of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
________. 2002. “The Social Psychology of Modern Slavery.” Scientific American 286(4):80.
Annotation: The author describes contemporary slavery and debt bondage in particular. He
discusses the areas of the world in which human trafficking is organized through criminal rings.
Finally, the article looks at psychological mechanisms that are used against victims in
________. 2006. “Understanding Global Slavery.” (February).