When Do We Get to Celebrate the End of Slavery?

December 10, 2012 3:23 pm 0 comments

A schematic showing global human trafficking, with specific focus to women and children. Photo: Wikipedia.

This year marks the 150 year anniversary of President Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 1888, Brazil abolished slavery, marking the official end of the Atlantic slave trade.  But, more than a century later, unfortunately, it is difficult to argue that slavery has really ended.

The United States’ Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act was originally signed in 2000.  The necessary re-authorization, due since 2011, languishes in Congress.  The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children opened for signatures in 2000 and entered into force in 2003.  Nearly 40 countries have yet to ratify the protocol.  Although a signatory, Egypt’s new constitution dropped its ban on slavery, after Constituent Assembly members claimed that slavery and human trafficking simply do not exist in the country.  (The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 notes both forced labor and sex trafficking in Egypt.)  Domestic legislation throughout the world against human trafficking, when it exists, is frequently weak or simply ignored by authorities due to a lack of political will or a lack of resources.

In June, the International Labor Organization estimated that there were 20.9 million human trafficking victims in the world.  The limited media coverage of human trafficking tends to focus on reports of sex trafficking of women and girls.  Though horrific, these violations are merely the tip of the iceberg.  Forced labor in factories and plantations, debt bondage, and state-imposed forced labor make living unbearable for men, women, and children in every corner of the world.

The most distressing of failures, however, is the silence encountered from major human rights organizations.  In 2012, Amnesty International made no substantial references to human trafficking.  The passing references they did make followed the simplistic viewing of human trafficking as a subsection of violence against women and children.  While these abuses are obviously horrific and need to be exposed, the suffering of the 9.5 million men trapped in trafficking situations also must not be ignored.  In 2011, the only substantial reporting by Amnesty on human trafficking was their reports on forced labor and human trafficking of Nepalese.  The only substantial 2010 release on human trafficking was a 10 year review for the UN Human Rights Council of the UN Protocol.

Push factors such as poverty, abusive family situations, lack of social security, lack of educational or employment options, discrimination against women or minority groups, difficulty in gaining legal work permits, and rampant government corruption lead people from their homes.  The biggest pull factor is the hope of making a living and helping to support one’s family back home.  Adults are then held by force, fraud or coercion in exploitative situations from which they cannot extricate themselves.  Children, lacking the ability to consent, are automatically considered trafficking victims when found in similar exploitative conditions.  These underlying socio-economic, political, and cultural dynamics which permit human trafficking of Sri Lankan women into domestic servitude in the Middle East, for instance, are the same dynamics that lead inner-city American or Eastern European women into prostitution, Chinese men into sweatshops, Guatemalan men into farm labor, and children into all types of exploitative situations.  Human trafficking on the whole, and many of these underlying factors in particular, are ignored by human rights groups.

The underlying question is how can they possibly justify this?  The most reasonable answer is that AI and other NGOs that claim a human rights mandate do not set their agendas and priorities based on the realities of human rights concerns. Rather, they are motivated by ideology, public relations concerns, and the limits of their research capacity. As such, serious human rights abuses in closed societies, or in our case, human rights abuses that exist in the criminal world, go unreported, or under-reported at best.  Instead, these groups focus disproportionately on powerful Western countries like the United States and Israel.  Even in the West, they tend to ignore human trafficking in favor of issues that are easier to research and are more likely to get them press coverage.  Why discuss labor trafficking when sex trafficking is much more likely to horrify the public?  Why discuss human trafficking at all when “sexier” topics get you mentioned on the front page?

This cannot be tolerated.  The fates of more than 20 million people hang in the balance.  AI and other NGOs cannot continue to take the easy way out and ignore human trafficking.  Most people assume that the slaves were emancipated and that slavery was abolished.  We should be able to celebrate this on Human Rights Day.  Instead, the anguished eyes of more than 20 million men, women, and children stare at us, asking “when will emancipation come for us?”

Yael Israel is a researcher with Jerusalem based NGO Monitor.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.