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International Day for the Abolition of Slavery – Do you know the signs?

Sophia Paris

Sunday 2nd December marked the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Some people might be surprised to learn that slavery still exists – surely such an awful practice doesn’t happen anymore? Unfortunately, there are currently more people enslaved around the world today, on every continent, than at any other point in human history.  

Modern slavery takes many different forms – forced labour (people are coerced into working for someone through violence or intimidation), sexual exploitation, domestic slavery, bonded labour (working for free to pay off a debt), descent-based slavery (entire families or communities born into slavery because they belong to a class of “slaves” in society) and child labour. There is a common core to these various forms: in each case, someone is denying the fundamental freedoms of another person – their freedom to choose or refuse certain work or to stop working, their freedom to control their body and make decisions about it – so that they can be exploited. This freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, deception and an abuse of power.

Perhaps you are now asking, but how could it possibly happen? How could someone be tricked into being a slave? Wouldn’t the signs be pretty obvious? The truth is, there is no typical victim and many people around the world are simply looking for good jobs to provide and care for their families. These people may believe they are escaping poverty, limited opportunities at home, wars or unstable social and political conditions, but often the advertisements for work or traffickers’ promises sound legitimate and a fantastic opportunity. However, they are often, in fact, too good to be true. They might think that the work they have signed up for is honest and good but will often realise they have been deceived only when it is too late.

It is the daily reality for over 43 million people, estimated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around the world who are still being abused, exploited and denied their most fundamental freedoms. In the UK, the government is not sure how many people are currently enslaved; however, the Home Office estimates that it could be as many as 13,000 individuals across the country. The true number, though, they say is likely to be far higher.

The truth is we can never know the real figures of this abhorrent criminal activity because it remains so silent, hidden and unknown.

Many people do not know that those around them, people they interact with on a daily basis, could in fact be victims – some work in nail bars, some in construction, in agriculture, hotels and restaurants.

That is exactly what we are trying to change. We need to raise awareness of modern slavery, to try and educate and alert people of its widespread existence, and most of all, to provide effective support to the victims through considerate care and rehabilitation programmes.

Wonder Foundation’s SEE-ME Modern Slavery project is a cross-European project aimed at educating young people about the problem.

We’ve been putting young people in touch with experts in the field of human trafficking and modern slavery (police officers, professors, independent journalists and consultants). With their guidance, they are creating and designing their own original projects and campaign ideas that they will present to MPs at Parliament in February. You can find out more about getting involved in the SEE-ME project here.

But what can we be looking out for, day-to-day, to help put an end to modern slavery?

The first step to ending modern slavery is to KNOW THE SIGNS.