Every single minute there is someone in the world who is suffering—not from polluted water or hunger, not from lack of health care or illiteracy, but from something else we all thought had disappeared: slavery.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday, when I saw her sitting on a table with kids. At first, I thought she was their mother but a minute later, I realized that she was only taking care of them while their parents were eating and enjoying their time on the next table.
She was staring at them, hungry and tired, waiting till they finish their meal to eat the leftover.
Her brown eyes were brimming with uncontrollable tears. They screamed: “Look at me! I’m a person just like you, I don’t deserve to be treated this way.” She was a complete stranger in the country, forced to work in a house for more than 12 hours straight for less than a dollar per hour; her private life and freedom were taken away, she was not permitted to go out without her employers’ approval nor was she even able to talk to her family and friends without approval. In other words, she was a slave in a “modern way.”
It was a dreadful moment for me because I realized I was just like the majority of people: thinking that slavery doesn’t exist anymore.
The shocking and the unfortunate truth that is slavery did not end with the abolitionist movements of the 19th century. In fact, it is a practice that is still ongoing in almost every country in the world.
Today’s slavery—or what we call Modern Slavery—focuses on Big Profits and Cheap Lives. It is not about owning people like before, but about using them as completely disposable tools for making money. People are sold like objects, women are forced into prostitution, humans are trafficked. Children and adults are coerced into agricultural toil, domestic work, or factories, and entire families are forced to work for little pay—and at all times are at the mercy of their “employers.”
We live almost a century and a half after the passing of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and 60 years after the drafting of article 4 of the UDHR, which states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” In reality, there are more slaves now than at any time in human history. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 21 million men, women, and children are living as slaves today: of these 11.7 million are in the Asia Pacific region and 5.5 million are kids.
Those numbers are overwhelming. Yet, behind each one is a name and a story. Sadly, stories like the woman I saw at the restaurant are not fun to hear. Action is not easy. But we cannot just look at them and feel bad—we need to act! As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always ripe to do right.” We should also remember that dignity is an inherent value that characterizes every human being, and that all of us should be treated in light of our dignity. Therefore, we cannot wait for someone else to step up: we need to raise our voices, to defend our rights and theirs, and to show the world that these people are just like us. They deserve to live a dignified life, they deserve to be respected and treated in a better way.
By our regional intern, Faten Chibani, World Youth Alliance Middle East