Many of us today seem to have forgotten the existence of slavery and the extent of its grimness and gruesome practices. Although slavery was abolished in the 19th century, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 21 million slaves worldwide generating billions of dollars for "employers" currently... a phenomenon I prefer to call, “modern day slavery”
Modern day slavery does not occur exactly how you may remember slavery from your history lessons in school. Like everything in the world today, it too has evolved in its right. Documented sources portray slaves in shackles, working fields for the profit of their masters and suffering inhumane treatments such as being fed to wild animals like alligators, being severely whipped for daring to stand up for themselves and being denied the basic privilege of freedom.
In putting modern day slavery in juxtaposition to slavery that existed centuries ago, one of the very few things that have changed is that modern day slavery has been shrouded in secrecy whereas slavery in the past was a blatant status quo. The exploitation of another human being for maximum monetary profit is still the primary motivation of slavery in modern times.
The industry brings in an astounding US $150 billion annually, $51 billion from economic exploitation and $99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation, according to the ILO.
Back in the days of slave trade, slaves were regarded as having no rights. No international treaties and conventions had been signed that made slavery an abuse of human rights and dignity.
The same cannot be said today.
Laws and acts have been enacted, treaties and agreements signed, conventions and summits have been held yet still, the rights of millions of people across the world are being violated and disregarded.
Today, similar to times before the abolishment of slavery, practices persist which deny many men, women and children the right to consider themselves truly free. Although slightly more humane, the conditions and treatment given to these modern day "slaves" are just as appalling as history reveals that time to be. Yet in this present day and age, with all the technological advancements, infrastructural development and scientific breakthroughs we have been able to achieve, modern slavery resonates and thrives across various cultures and industries with the purpose of bringing wealth, comfort and some sort of advancement for these "employers".
The forms of slavery that exist today include forced and bonded labour, forced commercial sex trade, human trafficking, descent-based slavery, child labour, slavery in supply chains, child marriage and the exploitation of migrant workers in horrifying conditions.
Slavery in one or more of these forms is more common than you may think. Presently, children are ordered to perform risky and dangerous acts that impede on their rights and may come with serious health implications. Such children either have to forfeit school altogether to earn money to support their families or the families with whom they live. Some have the privilege of basic education but take on the difficult task of juggling school work with trades such as fishing, hawking or house helping, which often leads to truancy, neglect of school work and a lackadaisical attitude towards education altogether. A result of this consequently, is the never-ending cycle of poverty.
Child labour in Ghana is often conceptualised within the margins of the fishing industry. However, another aspect is much closer. It is either happening in your neighbour’s house or even yours.
I have visited friends and been surprised by the new presence of another house help, or a “boy-boy” or ”house girl”.
Women and girls are either sold or forced to give up their bodies to make money for people who exploit them. Adult men and women are lured away by questionable job opportunities into foreign countries where they end up living and working in restricting conditions they cannot escape because of binding contracts and the confiscation of their passports. Little children and the elderly are forced to work in sweatshops under unfavourable working conditions to produce products for highly profitable companies while earning very little.
In July, the Daily Graphic reported on the rescue of five children in the Volta region of Ghana who had been sold into slavery. Four of the boys were sold by their biological father for GHC 500! The other child had been sold by a family member when he was only 3 years old!
These five boys have been rescued but there are millions of people within Ghana who have their rights taken away simply for financial gains.
Is the need to capitalise on human resource so dire that one would resort to selling another human to make a little money?
What do you think when you see child hawkers on our roads openly exposed to free flowing traffic? What do you think when you see children of school-going age performing chores and tasks at peak hours of the day instead of being in school? What do you think are the conditions surrounding a child's stay in a home in a city far away from their own family? Do we ever stop to think of the dealings and mechanics behind the things we see every day?
Over the years, I have become desensitised to these things due to my exposure to them in the capital.
It is even easier to cry out in outrage and to demand justice when we hear of atrocities of slavery outside our own domain and yet, we do not delve deep enough into our own circumstances or surroundings simply because we have become "normalised" to it.
I have been working for ActionAid’s Greater Accra/Volta Region team for over a month now and have come to the realisation that we need to pay more attention to issues of our society and to question all that happens around us.
But most importantly, we need to fight poverty.
The root causes of human rights abuses are most of the times tied to poverty and marginalisation. This is what ActionAid is doing.
Through its campaigns, projects, meetings and authentic relationships with people living in poverty in Ghana, ActionAid is making a difference in the lives of people who have been marginalised.
I am happy I was a part of it… if only for such a short time.
Intern, Greater Accra/Volta Region Local Rights Programme (LRP)
Baena is a student of the University of Ghana, studying for a B.A. in Social Work.