Today is Anti-Slavery Day; a chance to remember those whose freedom has been crushed as a result of child trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Approximately 29.8 million people are in forced labour worldwide. Although it is difficult to establish an exact figure, conservative estimates suggest 44 per cent of these people have been trafficked. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most common worldwide – 58 per cent of all identified victims. Forced labour and
domestic servitude is the second most prevalent, accounting for 36 per cent of victims globally.
United Nations figures suggest that 800,000 people are trafficked annually in one form or another: indeed there are more people in slavery today than in the entire 350 year history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and 1 in 8 of those is in Europe.
Yesterday the Global Slavery Index was published. It is the first Index of its kind – providing an estimate, country by country, of the number of people living in modern slavery today. Of the 162 countries measured, the worst offenders are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Mauritania may only have a population of 3.8 million, but of those an estimated 151,000 (or 4 per cent) are in some form of slavery.
At the other end of the scale the UK is a the very bottom of the table in joint 160th place. This is a most welcome statistic and yet despite this news, here in the UK about 2000 men, women and children are rescued from trafficking in the UK each year, although these people are just the ones who have been discovered and saved.
There are thought to be at least 5,000 trafficking victims in the UK.Many people who end up being trafficked are looking for legitimate work. Traffickers prey on this desire and often deceive people into coming with them to another country with the promise of a good job. Only on arrival do victims discover the truth as they are forced into prostitution or harsh working conditions.
Most people trafficked to the UK come from Nigeria, Vietnam, Albania, Romania, China and Slovakia, but victims come from all over the world. The UK is also among the top 10 ‘source’ countries for trafficking victims in our own country. Gangs and groups are also trafficking British children. They groom them, developing relationships, often plying them with gifts, alcohol and drugs, before forcing them into prostitution in towns across the country. British men are also being trafficked within the UK for exploitative labour.
There is still much to be done to combat the modern slavery both in this country and internationally. A new generation of campaigners willing to rise up and follow the footsteps of William Wilberforce who dedicated his life to the eradication of the slave trade is needed just as much now as it was during the 18th and 19th centuries. Slavery in all of its modern forms is a despicable practice that destroys lives in an utterly humiliating and degrading way. If anything goes against the Christian principles of how we should treat our fellow humankind, then surely this is it. The Bible leaves no doubts as to what we should do:
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” (Psalm 82:3)
The Christian tradition of fighting slavery is long established and it is therefore welcome to see that of those 50 organisations officially supporting Anti-Slavery Day, 10 are explicitly Christian.
However one of the most welcome recent developments in this battle is the way the government has begun to tackle the issue head on. On Monday the Home Secretary, Theresa May wrote in the Metro:
‘The first essential step to abolishing this evil in our midst is… to recognise and confront it.
‘And all of us must act. Because modern slavery is an affront not just to the dignity and humanity of the people crushed by it but to every one of us.
‘I have made a commitment to publish a draft Modern Slavery Bill this session with the aim of making it law before the end of this Parliament. For the first time we will bring together all the offences that are used to prosecute today’s slave drivers, strengthen protection of victims and punishment of offenders.
‘The Bill will send the clearest possible message. If you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up.
‘All this is a good start, but it is only a start.’
May’s Anti-Slavery bill is a significant step forward. It will bring into a single Act the current array of human trafficking offences. It will ensure that there are serious punishments for these appalling crimes and it will give the authorities the powers they need to investigate, prosecute and lock up the perpetrators.
Nola Leach, Chief Executive of CARE, which is one of the Christian organisations supporting Anti-Slavery Day, has said:
“We welcome the proposed Modern Slavery Bill and commend the Government for its determination to eliminate trafficking and slavery in Britain. The Government has a responsibility to ensure the victims of this evil trade are fully protected and supported and that human traffickers are exposed and face proper criminal sanctions.
“This could be a Wilberforce moment for the 21st Century.”
As Archbishop Cranmer puts it in a recent blog post: ‘Rarely in recent years has a Bill before Parliament been so founded upon a clear scriptural principle – freedom for captives.’
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18,19)
There is much to do, but certainly in this country at least ,we should be thankful that our government along with a host of charities and organisations are fully committed to seeing these violations of human dignity eradicated. May God bless all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who seek to shine a light in the darkest places and who are working tirelessly to see the captives set free.