Slavery persists

International problem: Children, as well as adults, still held in bondage for their labor.

May 08, 2001

ON A DAILY BASIS, newspapers around the world have been carrying items about a ship, refused entry by various African ports, that was believed to carry 200 young slaves.

Confusion reigned even after the ship was allowed to dock. There were only a few dozen children on board.

Had the captain thrown the others overboard, eliminating the evidence of his crimes?

That isn't outside the realm of possibility, say those familiar with global trafficking of humans.

Today, evidence of this vile trade is seen in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East -- but also in the United States.

The U.S. State Department has recently begun to focus on the problem of natives of Southeast Asian and Eastern European countries being held as slaves here, mostly to perform domestic chores.

In the case of the ship off Benin, a UNICEF official speculated that the children were taken from their families for a small amount of cash and the promise of more. "People come and offer the families money and say their children will work in plantations and send money home," she said.

By one estimate, as many as 27 million people around the world are "forced to work under physical or mental threat, and where the owner or employer controls the person completely -- where a person is bought or sold." Most are women and children.

Like war, pestilence and famine, slavery has always been with us. In fact, it's those plagues and the heart-wrenching poverty they produce that further the trafficking of children in West and Central Africa, where a child can be purchased for less than $30.

The ugly persistence of the problem, however, doesn't mean that international attention, aid and pressure can't help reduce it.

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