Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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...

  • Personalities Sports Book Pitches World War II as Lasting Part of Hank Greenberg’s Legacy

    Book Pitches World War II as Lasting Part of Hank Greenberg’s Legacy

    JNS.org – Baseball fans might most vividly remember Hank Greenberg for his chase of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1938 and his other impressive exploits on the field. The smaller universe of Jewish baseball fans may remember him for sitting out a crucial game on Yom Kippur decades before Sandy Koufax would do the same. But author John Klima wants readers of any background to know the unsung story of Greenberg’s World War II service. As indicated by its […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →