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...

  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Education Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    JNS.org – Low enlistment rates in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). High rates of poverty. Communal resistance to traditional schooling. Difficulty finding employment or a lack of motivation to be employed. These conditions are shared by two sectors of the Israeli population that the casual observer likely wouldn’t group together: haredi Jews and Bedouin. Through its operation of schools for each population, however, the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network seeks to give haredim and Bedouin a brighter future in the Jewish [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that is a cause of great concern to him: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds him captive. Tony, who is [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.