The Chains of Freedom

There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones – there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not – may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance – discourse flippantly from arm chairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field – sleep with him in the cabin – feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. Let them know the heart of the poor slave – learn his secret thoughts – thoughts he dare not utter in the hearing of the white man; let them sit by him in the silent watches of the night – converse with him in trustful confidence, of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and they will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves.” ― Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave

800px-Handcuffed_hands_(line_drawing)

The above quote, taken from the memoirs of a former slave in 1853 eloquently describes the attitude towards slavery of the time. This quote highlights perfectly the way slaves were treated and looked down upon as well their basic rights being taken away from them. The oppressor merely looking at the slave as his property rather than as his fellow human is clearly stated in this one paragraph. The story here is of a free black man in New York tricked and then sold into slavery in the South of the United States for 12 years. The sad reality of Solomon’s memoirs is the fact that like his own, many others have come out and released memoirs depicting their own experiences in slavery and are still doing so. The age old concept that occurred a mere 200 years ago is still alive and beating till this very day. In the age of modernization and globalization—the ways of the future many would think—the ways of the past are still alive and active now with even broader definitions and even broader consequences.

These consequences are now the problem of society as a whole and is a reflection of how we have evolved as a people and what is being done to eradicate social problems. In an advancing world, activities that many would consider ancient and immoral seem to be making a rapid comeback with little or nothing being done. The slavery children read about in their history books is still here and it is our job as one society to eradicate the practice for good.

Because slavery is such a broad concept, it’s important to understand a little bit of the history behind it including where the slaves come from to how much they are bought and sold for. It is estimated that a slave in the American South in 1850 like Solomon Northup, would have cost the equivalent of $30,000 today. Nowadays slaves can be bought and sold for up to 90$. Because of this cheap and accessible labor force, millions of economically and socially vulnerable people are being used as slaves.

Because slavery is such a broad concept, it’s important to understand a little bit of the history and the facts behind it including where the slaves come from to how much they are bought and sold for. It is estimated that a slave in the American South in 1850 like Solomon Northup, would have cost the equivalent of $30,000 today. Nowadays slaves can be bought and sold for up to 90$. Because of this cheap and accessible labor force, millions of economically and socially vulnerable people are being used as slaves.

It is estimated that almost 27 million people today are bought and sold as slaves with 800,000 people being transported across borders every year. The industry itself is worth $32 billion annually with all the profits going to the ‘slave owners’ or benefactors of the slave trade.

It is estimated that more than 250,000 children are currently being exploited as child soldiers in as many as 30 areas of conflict around the world. Many of the kidnapped girls who are made into child soldiers are also forced into sexual slavery. It is important to understand that when we say child, as according to UNICEF, is any individual under the age of 18.

The following statistics are from the UN GIFT (Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking):

  • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries)
  • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of which 98% are women and girls
  • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of which 56% are women and girls
  • Many trafficking victims have at least middle-level education
  • 52% of those recruiting victims are men, 42% are women and 6% are both men and women.

It is sad to think that a practice that occurred almost 200 years ago could still be happening until this very day under the noses of authorities and in plain sight with absolutely nothing being done. It seems that in the modern era, slavery is just another social problem that is being added to the list with not enough being done to eradicate it.

The above quote by Solomon Northup achieves one thing in the midst of all this evil. It gives hope, and allows those in captivity to dream of a brighter day even when all seems lost. Even though he gained his freedom, he highlights very clearly that it was never his to gain and that like the many slaves around him then and the ones now, he was always and will always be a free man.

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