By Anir Senyah
The New Citizens Press
LANSING, MI — Some may have been shocked by the devastation of the tsunami in Thailand but were dumfounded when reports of human traffickers preying on the children left parentless and abandoned.
Anti-slavery week was observed in Lansing on Monday, February 28, 2005. International activist, Dr. Kevin Bales is the world’s leading expert on contemporary slavery and the President of Free the Slaves received the Human Rights Award in an award program at Lansing City Hall.
A professor of sociology at the University of Surrey, Roehampton in London and consultant to the UN on slavery and trafficking, Kevin has spent 8 years researching contemporary slavery, traveling to 5 continents.
While teaching at the University of Surrey, he picked up an Anti-Slavery International brochure. Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest human rights groups. They were founded in England to fight slavery in 1787.
Free the Slaves is the American sister organization to Anti-Slavery International.
Dr. Bales said, "American’s have slavery in their history in the way that the British don’t. The British didn’t fight a civil war. When Americans become educated they find it easier to do something about it."
Dr. Bales said, "It sparked my curiosity and I began to do research, and over time working in earnest for 3 years. I went Thailand, Brazil, India, Pakistan and Mauritania and studied slavery-based businesses in those countries. The most surprising
thing about contemporary slavery is that slaves are cheaper than they have ever been in human history."
Slavery is not dead. According to Dr. Bales, real slavery has increased dramatically across the world in the last 50 years. His conservative estimate is that there are about 27 million people in slavery in the world today.
Modern slavery involves holding a person against their will through violence, not paying them and forcing them to work. Modern slavery also involves human trafficking, debt bondage, child labor and forced prostitution.
Millions of economically and socially vulnerable people around the world are subjected to the possibility of slavery. An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money; today a slave costs an average of $90.00. Slavery is illegal but it still occurs all over the world.
Dr. Bales has published internationally recognized, groundbreaking research, including the book "Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy", which has been published in ten languages and has become the catalyst for the growing U.S. movement against slavery. His work is the subject of a documentary about modern day slavery, which won a Peabody Award and two Emmy’s.
A report on www.freetheslaves.net discusses the serious and widespread problem of forced labor in the United States. According to the State Department there are 20,000 who are brought to the United States. However, a study done by the United Nations indicates that there are about 100,000 held in forced labor today.
Dr. Bales said, "The company is called Free the Slaves because that is what is we do. We could have called it something else but a very clear statement works best for Americans."
Dr. Bales work will soon take him to Tokyo for almost two weeks. He said that there is a serious human trafficking problem in Japan.
For more information, please log on to freetheslaves.net. Dr. Bales may be contacted at email@example.com. Free the Slaves is located at 1326 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005. The toll free phone number is 866-324-FREE and the direct dial is 202-588-1865.
When Drissa was a teenager, he decided to leave his village in Mali to look for work. He was strong, healthy, and committed to working for a better life. There were many boys his age looking for jobs in and the around the village, and precious few jobs available. Although it was difficult to leave his family and friends, he decided it was worth it to try his luck elsewhere.
Drissa crossed the border into neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, where he heard there were many jobs available for people who did not mind working hard. When he arrived in Korhogo, he was pleased to be offered what sounded like a good job on a cocoa plantation. Drissa agreed on the payment and work arrangements, and then went with the employment recruiter to begin his new job.
Drissa’s new job suddenly turned into a nightmare. He became a slave.
Drissa and 17 other boys and young men on the cocoa plantation were forced to spend long days tending the cocoa plants and collecting the pods. Besides the back-breaking work, the heat was oppressive, the biting flies constantly swarmed around them, and they had to watch for snakes in the undergrowth. The slaveholder gave them little to eat, and many times only braised banana for months on end. Weak from hunger, they staggered under large sacks of cocoa pods. If they slowed in their work, they were beaten. At night the slaveholder locked them all into a small room with only a tin can to use as a toilet.
Drissa was trapped. He was more than 300 miles from home in a new country, far from any settlement, and he did not even know exactly where he was. One evening before being locked in, Drissa attempted to escape, but the slaveholder caught him and savagely beat him. He still has the scars from those beatings. The next day, Drissa was forced to work, even though the wounds from the beating were still raw. Flies feasted on his exposed flesh.
Drissa and the other slaves on that farm were eventually rescued by an official of the Malian government. After their rescue, Drissa and his friends were given medical care and a safe place to stay until they could return home.
Drissa’s story helped tell the world about slavery in the chocolate we eat. As a result, Free the Slaves and other human rights organizations helped convince the world’s chocolate companies to end slavery in cocoa production.
Naresh was only 4 years old when he became a slave. His father wanted only the best for his son. He wanted to give Naresh opportunities he himself never had. Instead, he was tricked into giving Naresh away into slavery.
Naresh’s family was struggling to survive in their village in Bihar, India. In desperation, his father took a job in another state, and he took Naresh with him. One day, a man approached his father and offered to take Naresh and give him food, clothing, a place to stay—and an education. Naresh’s father thought this might be his son’s only chance to be well-provided for, so he agreed.
Once Naresh went to stay with this man, he never saw his family again. Naresh explains what his life was like during the two years he was there:
"I would get up at 5am to make breakfast for the family. Once everyone had eaten they would go to their offices and I would mop the whole house, and then have my own breakfast. They locked the door and I was left on my own. Sometimes I would watch TV. When the family had visitors I would lay the table, wash the dishes for everyone. At first it felt like they loved me. I was getting enough food. But then one day I put too much water in the chapatis and some flour fell out of my hands onto the floor. The man beat me with his fists and shoes. I went up to the terrace above the house and slept there for the night. Then early the next morning I just ran away without taking anything. I was frightened of being beaten again. I don’t know where I went but it was very far."
Caught on the streets by the authorities, he spent the next six years in dismal detention homes. During a fight among the children at the detention home, Naresh ran away with several other children. They climbed out of a broken window and jumped over the wall. One of the children was hurt jumping over the wall, but the other children carried him to the train station. They rode the train to a neighboring state, where they saw a hotline number for children. Wanting to get their injured friend to a hospital, they called the hotline number, where they eventually got in touch with Bal Vikas AshramBal Vikas Ashram, one of Free the Slaves’ partners in India.
Bal Vikas staff realized the boys had suffered under child slavery, and took them in to their child slave rehabilitation center. At the center, Naresh and his friends are receiving medical care, counseling, literacy training and basic rights training. The center is helping the boys look for their families and will help them reintegrate into their villages.
Although he is still settling in at the center, Naresh says "I’m happy here, I won’t run away." He has never had the chance for education before, but now he loves learning to write, and is rapidly filling up his first notebook. He believes some of his family members will still be in his home village, although he has not seen them for 8 years: "I want to go home and find my family at any cost. Then I want to work in my own house and not in someone else’s house."