Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable.
Today, 27 million people are enslaved, more than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.
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For those who escape servitude, the road to freedom can be uncertain. A UN fact sheet on contemporary slavery hints it may be easier to free the body than the mind: "Even when abolished, slavery leaves traces. It can persist as a state of mind - among its victims and their descendants and among the inheritors of those who practiced it - long after it has formally disappeared."Skip to next paragraph
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To see what happens when a country does no more than liberate its slaves, says Bales, look at the US. "It had one of the largest botched emancipations in human history. Four million people dumped into the economy without any kind of tools, capital, education, political participation, rehabilitative care. Nothing. And we're still paying the price."
Rehabilitation, as crucial as it is, is still an infant science. Lone individuals like Vivek and Vidyullata Pandit in northern India, a husband-and-wife team, have developed their own system of rehabilitation for bonded laborers. But more universal treatment protocols are perhaps years off. Currently, programs adapt models used for victims of torture or domestic violence.
"Bondage can be compared to living in a prison or a mental institution," Bales writes in "Disposable People." "Those who get out have to learn about living in the 'real world.' "
And sometimes, freed slaves do return to their slaveholders, unable to cope outside the strict confines of their former existence.
"The three most important things people need to fight bonded labor," says Vidyullata Pandit on the website of the Unitarian Universalist Church, which funds their work, "are knowledge of the law, self-confidence to bring about change, and ... conviction to ensure they don't go back to bonded labor once they are released."
• Next Tuesday, Sept. 7: An inside look at how Brazilian antislavery police break up a logging ring in the Amazon rainforest.
NEW YORK - Next to laughing bathers on Coney Island where he works as a lifeguard, Simon Deng tells the story of his past - a story from a different universe. As a child, Mr. Deng was a slave for two years.
Born into a large family in southern Sudan, Deng was raised Christian. He describes his village of Tonga as a "peaceful farming community," yet he remembers frequent raids by Muslim Sudanese in army trucks from the north, burning huts and scattering livestock.
"One of the first things I was told ... if the Arab men come, just run, run for your life," Deng recalls.
One day, at the age of 8 or 9, Deng was helping a stranger from the north load packages onto a boat. The next thing he knew, he was captive in a small cabin as the boat headed for Khartoum, the nation's capital. There, the stranger sold Deng and several other boys to wealthy families.
Deng spent the next two years with the family about 200 miles northwest of Khartoum. As a domestic servant, he tended their donkeys and goats, cleaned, washed dishes, and hauled massive barrels of water up from the river several times a day. He slept in straw in the corner of the kitchen, was rarely given enough food, and endured regular beatings.
Like the majority of families in northern Sudan, Deng's "owners" were Muslim, and they often urged him to convert to Islam. They told him that if he did so they would accept him as their own son, but he refused. At the age of 11, Deng escaped with the aid of a man he knew from his hometown. He went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and later to become a national swimming champion.
Today, Deng still has scars from boyhood beatings (although the marks on his face are cosmetic). He devotes his time to working with worldwide antislavery groups. He says he cannot remain silent. "I thought I could forget and forgive," Deng says. "But villages are still being burnt, women are still being raped, and people are being sold into slavery."
- Carly Lucille Baldwin