World

Modern Bondage: Slavery is Very Much Alive Today

From Nigerian schoolgirls to sex trafficking in the US, the total number would fill California.

Modern Bondage JOSE CENDON AFP

JOSE CENDON /AFP

As anyone who has studied history knows, the man-made evils the world faces today – war, terrorism, abortion, poverty, and the rest – share an ancient provenance. Technology can increase or diminish the scale of these evils, and in some cases it can even introduce novel expressions of them, but on a fundamental level we moderns wrestle with the same moral pathologies, both personal and social, as our ancestors. Truly, “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

One enduring evil, present at all times and in every form of human civilization, is slavery. In May of 2014, the world was awakened to the reality of modern slavery when Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist terror group allied with al-Qaida, kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls (mostly Christian) in Chibok, Nigeria. According to Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, the girls were to be sold into sexual slavery.  

“Slavery is allowed in my religion,” claimed Shekau, “and I shall capture people and make them slaves.”

As of this writing, the fate of the Chibok schoolgirls is unknown, and every day that passes makes it less likely that they will ever be restored to their families.

Many Muslim leaders reject Shekau’s claim about the permissibility of slavery under Islam, but Boko Haram isn’t the only Islamist organization engaging in such practices. Reports have recently surfaced that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group has been abducting and selling Christian and Yazidi women into slavery. According to the Tunisia Daily, ISIS recently sold 700 Yazidi women at a public auction in Mosul.

Jemaah Islamiah, the Islamist terror organization that operates in the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelago, also engages in the slave trade, as do the Janjaweed militias supported by the Sudanese government in Darfur. In all these places, most women “sold at market” are forced into marriages, kept as concubines for Muslim men, or made to work as domestic servants. Abduction and slavery by radical Islamist groups often includes the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, including clitorectomy.

The involvement of Islamic terror groups in the slave trade gets the headlines, but slavery is a much wider modern phenomenon that most of us can imagine. Late last year, the “Walk Free Foundation,” an Australian anti-slavery group, published its first annual Global Slavery Index, which ranks “162 countries around the world, based on a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country.” The rankings closely mirror the findings of the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Human Persons report.

According to the Index, there are nearly 30 million persons in bondage around the world. That’s a population equal to our own State of California. If those 30 million people were their own country, it would be the 40th largest nation on earth, just ahead of Nepal. The definition of slavery used in the Index is broad. It includes outright chattel slavery, in which persons are bought and sold as property; forced labor, in which persons are threatened to perform work; and human trafficking, which suggests some initial level of abduction or deception, followed by coercion.

The countries with the highest prevalence of slavery are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Gabon. Look closely and one can see that five of these nations are clustered in the central portion of West Africa. Dig a little deeper and one discovers that Islam is the majority religion in four of the five. This, along with Nigeria itself, is Boko Haram’s market, and it is likely that at least some of the Chibok schoolgirls are now in bondage in one of these countries.