The media spotlight was turned briefly on slavery last week by the year-old Walking Free Foundation. Its first report, The Global Slavery Index 2013, turns old ground already ploughed by the U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization (ILO) while drawing headlines with the highest yet estimate of slaves worldwide – 30 million, equivalent to the population of Canada.
The brainchild of Australian mining tycoon Andrew Forrest, the report points to developing countries such as India, Nigeria and tiny Mauritania, where as many as 160,000 live in hereditary bondage, but it does not ignore slavery in the U.S. and other developed countries. It does miss the work being done by many Christian organizations, such as the evangelical Protestant International Justice Mission and the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking.
India has the most
Though people now associate modern slavery with the sex trade and forced marriages, the ILO estimates only about a third of its victims suffer that fate. It estimates that 44 percent of slaves have actually been bought and sold. Over half are hereditary or bonded into servitude for debts, most often in India, which has half the world’s slaves according to the Walk Free Foundation’s report – as many as 14.7 million. China comes next in absolute numbers, with as many as 3.1 million. In per capita terms, Haiti has more than anyone except Mauritania, and Pakistan comes third in both lists, with up to 2.2 million.
Out of 160 countries covered by the report, the United States comes 134th on a per capita scale, with 63,000 slaves or forced laborers, while Canada comes 144 with an estimated 6,200.
Trafficked for organ transplants
While China has long been reported to be harvesting body parts for transplants from its political prisoners, Britain has just reported its first known case: a young girl from Somalia. In Canada and the U.S. women and girls are more commonly smuggled in to work as domestic servants, prostitutes or second or third wives, while male slaves are usually forced laborers – a return to practices of the 18th and 19th centuries, when slavery was still legal in both countries.
Christian-led abolition movements gradually eradicated slavery, first in the British empire including Canada, and then in the U.S. where the movement triggered the 1860-65 Civil War. Christians were prominent as well in suppressing slavery in Europe’s African and Middle Eastern colonies. Now Christian organizations are leading the campaign again. The IJM proactively investigates slavery in the Global South and embarrasses governments there into prosecuting. The Catholic coalition asks missionaries and aid workers to identify slaves (when they are brought into clinics for health care, for example), rescue them, and inform the police.