Setting Captives Free

Slavery around the world is not diminishing, but increasing. Those who track its rise estimate there are more slaves today than ever before.

Astoundingly, some 27 million people, to be precise.

The figures are hardly exact, but even as a conservative estimate, they reveal an alarming trend in a 21st-century world. (See story on page 2.)

Let's be clear about the definition: Slaves are people forced to work for no money, held against their will, and often controlled by violence.

Much stronger attention needs to be given to an issue given only sporadic attention in the US.

Slavery remains a complex issue, borne by attitudes embedded in tradition and in need of high thinking about the universality of human rights. The issues are especially complex in a global economy, where the goods made by slaves can reach everyone, compelling more people to act to eradicate this ancient practice.

Any solutions should include bolstering democracy at the local level in countries where slavery persists, mainly to bring legal might against enslavers. More money should flow to private groups trying to turn around slave-owning communities so that they have other economic options. If those actions fail, then nations must consider trade sanctions against nations where slavery is acute.

It's no surprise that a main cause for the rise in slavery is largely economic - a desire for cheap labor and high profits. But more deeply, slavery reveals a need to grasp that freedom from want requires giving freedom to others. No one is enriched by the notions that people, especially women and children, are commodities.

The means of enslavement especially need to be attacked.

In the African nation of Mali, young men are enticed by promises of good pay to work in the cocoa farms in the neighboring Ivory Coast - then forced to stay as slaves. Children of northern Bihar in India are kidnapped and taken away to work at looms in the "carpet belt" of Varanasi.

UNICEF says 10,000 children have been kidnapped and forced to fight as child soldiers against the Ugandan government. In Sudan, at least 100,000 people are chattel slaves - where they are personal, moveable property.

There are some encouraging signs.

Attempts in recent weeks by prominent African-American leaders and civil rights activists as well as members of Congress to promote slavery as the next area of focus for the civil rights movement should be encouraged and applauded. Small organizations and individuals around the world are doing what they can to combat slavery; they need help.

Much more work is needed to end this most base of human conditions, move the global economy forward without slavery of any sort, and return dignity to all the world's people.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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