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February 21, 2007
Column # 1,330
Advance for Feb. 24, 2007
The Fight Against Modern Slavery
by Michael J. McManus

There are actually more slaves in the world today than were extracted from Africa during 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

When William Wilberforce persuaded the British Parliament to shut down the slave trade exactly 200 years ago, February 23, 1807, 40,000 to 50,000 slaves were carried on British ships to America each year. Perhaps 12 million slaves were forcibly captured and sold.

Currently, 700,000 to 1 million slaves are trafficked annually, and there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today according to Kevin Bales, author of "Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy."

Modern slaves are not in chains. Slavery was officially abolished worldwide at the 1927 Slavery Convention.  Yet it continues to thrive thanks to the complicity of some governments and the ignorance of much of the world.

About 80 percent of these slaves are women or young girls sold for sex or labor. Most are tricked into slavery.  Girls in poor countries are asked if they'd like to be waitresses in the West.  They sign a contract to repay the cost of their transportation, in what is called "bonded labor." Then they are sold to pimps who rape them, steal their passports, and put them in brothels where they earn so little they can never pay off their loan.  If they try to escape, they are beaten or their families are threatened with violence.

Bales reports that one of the most shocking things about modern slavery is the ease with which slave holders get new slaves and dispose of old ones. The average working life of a female sex slave is only three to five years.  After that, they become sick with sexually transmitted diseases or AIDS , or simply become exhausted.

Brothel owners kick them out and the woman or girl returns to her hometown, where she is shunned by her society because they know what she was doing all those years, even if it was against her will. She ends up dying alone outside her hometown, without anybody to help her.  In some cases, as in Brazil, the brothel keepers kill the girls that become ill and dump their bodies in a river.

Other slaves are forced to work on plantations or as household servants.  Many are taken from one country to another where a different language is spoken.  Their passports are stolen, making it very difficult to escape and go home.

One man who has done something about this horror is Gary Haugen, who was recently given the "Wilberforce Award" for creating the International Justice Mission by Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship.

"It is difficult to imagine a recipient more suited to an award given in the name of William Wilberforce than Gary Haugen," said Colson. "On temporary assignment from the U.S. Department of Justice in 1994, attorney Haugen directed the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda. His job was to accumulate preliminary evidence against the perpetrators. There standing in the middle of several thousand corpses in a mass grave, Haugen stared into the swollen, machete-marred face of injustice."

When he returned to America, injustice had taken on a human face, one that God would not allow him to purge from his consciousness. As Haugen read through his Bible, the theme of justice leapt off page after page. For example, Isaiah wrote:"Seek justice, encourage the oppressed."  (Is 1:17).

But what could a suburban American Christian do about injustice halfway around the world?  A lot. He created the International Justice Mission in 1997 that now has 300 lawyers and criminal investigators who have fought for a rule of law against trafficking in many countries.

IJM joined others, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, persuading Congress to pass a law in 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It  requires the State Department to publish an annual report on what each nation is doing to combat modern day slavery.

Its 2007 report puts 39 countries on a "Special Watch List" because they showed little progress or had an increase in the number of victims. For example, it reports Egypt has had no criminal prosecutions.

By contrast, State reports that Malawi passed relevant labor and kidnapping laws and has convicted traffickers of children. The Ministry of Labor now inspects labor practices on tobacco and tea estates, to be sure children are not employed. And a new center now helps 50 victims of sexual trafficking.

Haugen is a modern Wilberforce whose powerful story will be told in a film, "Amazing Grace," opening this weekend across the country.  See it and become inspired on how you can fight injustice.

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