Slavery in the Middle East

798px-Marsh_Arab_girlThe Middle East, once at the forefront of slavery, is back in the spotlight again as now there are more cases emerging of contemporary slavery that are gradually catching up with the horrific events of the past. The many hot spots of the MENA region, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan and the UAE were pointed out as the countries that have the most number of slaves.

Those trafficked into the Middle East are often put into forced labor ; forced to work for long periods of time, sometimes up to 16 hours without pay. They are also often subjected to beatings, forced sexual relations and forced abortions. Most of these victims end up dead before ever gaining their freedom. The majority of trafficked victims knew their trafficker. They were a family member, a friend, a relative, or a neighbor.

Qatar for example now on the verge of hosting the 2022 World Cup is being accused of mistreatment of the workers employed to build the stadiums, or a form of slavery.

With over 150,000 slaves, Mauritania ranks first globally as the country with the largest slave population.

In Jordan, child labor is huge with some 30,000 children working, mainly in shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Even Israel is in on the act following in the footsteps of the likes of Lebanon with a huge human trafficking sector. Low-level skilled workers from China, Romania, Africa, Turkey, Thailand, and Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India face forced labor conditions. Many have had their passports confiscated by their “sponsors,” never receive wages due to debt bondages, and face threats and physical intimidation.

Women from Russia and former Soviet states are commonly trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

In Sudan women and children are taken captive, then enslaved, branded, and bred. Women chosen as concubines (a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives.) are genitally mutilated

In Lebanon human trafficking has developed into sex work. With Lebanon being one of the least conservative countries in the Middle East, brothels or ‘’whore houses” have found fertile ground in the spoils of the shadowy industry.

In analyzing the causes of slavery, it can be seen that it is often a by-product of poverty. Countries that lack education, economic freedoms and the rule of law, and which have poor societal structure can create an environment that fosters the acceptance of slavery. The majority of the trade is initialized in the developing world such as in Asia and Africa, where, the Middle East is merely another one of the drop-off points en route. Government corruption around the world allows slavery to settle into a norm. Countries within the Middle East and North Africa are infamous for being corrupt states with police bribes and even government officials themselves playing a big role.  Even though it is illegal, millions have become vulnerable to slave holders and human traffickers looking to profit from the theft of people’s lives. This new slavery has two prime characteristics: slaves today are cheap and they are disposable.

From deceiving maids to work for a wealthy family in Lebanon to trading slaves from one buyer to another as if they were products in South Sudan, slaves are a rare commodity that won’t die down anytime soon until the right methods are aimed at stopping this from growing.

It is easy to analyze the causes of slavery in the Middle East and all over the world and identify it as a problem, but it is even easier to find solutions to eradicate slavery. Firstly it’s important to state that this is only a plan of action that has to be adopted by all parties involved from the UN to members in society.

First plan of action is for governments to do more than they actually say. It’s the duty of the governments in the Middle East and all over the world to build a national plan to end slavery within its borders. They can do this by bringing together all relevant existing government agencies, and appointing an anti-slavery ambassador charged with coordinating their efforts and actively involving the local anti-slavery organizations in their countries that are closest to the problem.

Second plan of action is for the UN to get more involved by putting pressure on permanent members to provide funds and resources to special representatives to aid in the eradication  of slavery, The Security Council should appoint a committee of experts to review the existing conventions on slavery and recommend how to unify and clarify these conventions, and finally The Security Council should establish a commission to determine how the existing UN inspection mandate could be applied to slavery.

Third plan of action is to promote plans that promise slavery-free cities. For example, Public Awareness Raising which could involve conferences in schools and universities all over the region and the world, promote the use of social media networks, and encourage more research to be done, going down to the street level and educating those who don’t know about slavery on the issue, and finally go to your community level where we all can be a hero and tackle slavery as a mobile force.

These are a few steps that can be used to finally eradicate slavery but will only take place when society as a whole decides to come together as a united force in social mobilization from the bottom up with the aim at influencing those in power that there is a problem that needs to be tackled. Until then however, slavery will continue to go on right under our noses and in our back yards with no aim at ever stopping. The Middle East is only a small percentage of what has developed into a social problem that should have ended centuries ago.

Khalil Dagher is a regional intern of the World Youth Alliance Middle East.