21st Century Slaves 21st Century Slaves
The Dark Shadow of Slavery Today Over 21 million people are hidden in plain view of the world, trapped in slavery: From Bangladesh to... 21st Century Slaves

The Dark Shadow of Slavery Today

Over 21 million people are hidden in plain view of the world, trapped in slavery: From Bangladesh to Beijing and from Brazil to Berlin, from Texas to Tel Aviv. Most of them are trapped by debt; all of them are exploited and manipulated via poverty. It is estimated that this industry generates 13 billion dollars annually. They serve as prostitutes, and as factory workers all over the world.

In the broken ex-states of Moscow, $2000 US can fetch a young girl; with hard bargaining, you can get two for the price of one. These women’s sole purpose is to work in the brothels of places such as Greece and Italy and they range in ages from 11- 24.

Contemporary slave labor contributes to the production of at least 122 goods from 58 countries worldwide.


The largest forced exodus of people in history.
The gross perpetuated barbarity and de-humanizing of a people to beast of burden, chattel.
Its duration – approximately four centuries those victimized: African men, women and children
the intellectual legitimization attempted on its behalf – the development of an anti-African ideology and its legal organization, the notorious Code noir. This affects perception of African or Black people today even in places where Africans have no social-history.
As a commercial and economic enterprise, the slave trade provides a dramatic example of the consequences resulting from particular intersections of history and geography. Making it the first form of globalization.
The legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade still continues to create disadvantage for African people (Diaspora especially and Africans who were not directly affected by the trade).Crime, poor education, poverty, self-hatred, cultural values, prison system, broken homes plague people of African descent globally and testify to the untreated legacy of enslavement.


Slavery was known in almost every other ancient civilization, including Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, Assyria, Abyssinia, West Africa, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. Slavery in antiquity was a mix bag: debt-slavery, punishment for crime, the enslavement of prisoners of war.


The African Holocaust is also sadly not confined to history or to external influences. Darfur, the Congo, Sierra Leon and Rwanda are testimony to some of the horrors today. And although the legacy of Colonialism is clearly at the root of these problems it would be immoral not to see that Africans, like everyone else, are capable of unspeakable brutality. Just as in the European-European Holocaust during WW2.

Slavery in Africa

Modern slavery in Africa can be seen as a continuation or outgrowth of slave-trading practices in the past. Africans have stepped into the b

slavery-holocaust9oots and habits of the retreating colonizers. Forced labor was used to an overwhelming extent in King Leopold’s Congo Free State and on Portuguese plantations of Cape Verde and San Tome. But the majority factor is abject poverty, if the poverty is fixed it will automatically fix the slavery.slavery-holocaust2

In Sudan and Mauritania and parts of Mali and Chad the slavery vacated by the abolition of what is called Arab slavery still continue in pockets of the country (explained in the video by Ali Mazrui). It is often cited that the Arab slave trade is still an ongoing activity, especially in places such as Sudan and Mauritania. And this is true, despite it being legally outlawed. But what is not mentioned is slavery goes on all over the world. Continuously targeting Muslim countries and dishonestly involving the Islamic faith causes a political shut down in those countries. It does not help the issues it does not allow for a clean dialogue when anti-slavery is riding the back of Islamophobia and the Western agendas of demonizing countries it does not favor in its hegemony. Slavery is an embarrassment for any country, our first priority is to end it, and to do that must mean not disturbing national or religious pride.

But while slavery in South Africa, West Africa etc are disconnected from Atlantic and African systems, the Arab slave trade is politically connected to the modern trade in the Muslim world.

The truth is none of them are disconnected. The retreating colonialist left systems of servitude which were exploited by African groups taking over in the post-colonial era. Indigenous slave systems also never died out (Trokosi ) and are continued.

The politics of the word continuation is the only difference between the Arab slave trade and the native African slave trade. Both of them are scattered and infrequent in Africa. The social remnants of color-class and inferiority are still challenges in Mauritania as well as Sudan. The inferiority of the Bayaka, for example and other so-called Pygmy people, is also another social dilemma of internal “racism.”


Another issue with 21st century slavery is it is easy to lose the word “slavery” in the linguistic technicality of what is and what isn’t  slavery. The lines are blurred and in some cases it is hard to determine if it is a human rights issue or a labor rights issue: A case of bad labor rights regarding how people are treated by their employers. Does it stop being slavery if someone is paid $1 a week? And what is the definition of paid, as payment can be in exchange for food and board. Then the only consideration is “freedom,” but freedom in itself is problematic. Are you free to leave your masters home when you have no family, shelter or security outside of their walls? Clearly people can leave but by doing so they put themselves in greater harm. So again “freedom” is a matter of perspective.


Today in the Congo the indigenous people are usually victims of their Bantu neighbors, who have replaced the positions once held by Europeans. Ethnic hatred against vulnerable groups such as the so-called Pygmies (Bayaka) is neglected because it is not as sensational as Darfur or Rwanda. But these people are dehumanized and treated as 2nd class citizens by the Bantu Settlers. The uncomfortable reality is an aspect of the African Holocaust has to be ‘self-inflicted’ horrors which cannot be escaped via the smooth language of evasion.

Sex slavery is a major problem in South Africa. Women seeking refugee status in South Africa from other African countries are trafficked by other refugees. An estimated 1000 Mozambican girls are trafficked to Johannesburg each year and sold as sex slaves or as wives to the Mozambican mine workers. When identified by police in South Africa victims of trafficking are deported as illegal immigrants with no treatment for being victims of sex slavery. Victims are afraid of law enforcement and do not trust the police to assist them. South Africa shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. It has 72 official ports of entry “and a number of unofficial ports of entry where people come in and out without being detected” along it’s 5 000 km-long land borderline. The problem of porous borders is compounded by the lack of adequately trained employees, resulting in few police officials controlling large portions of the country’s coastline.

Religious Slavery ( Trokosi ) in modern Ghana is the continuing tradition of giving of virgin girls to the gods for religious atonement or payment for services. This was part of many ancient religions in this region with some connection to Vodun practices. In West Africa the practice has gone on for at least several hundred years. Similar practices using similar terminology were found in the royal court in the 18th and 19th centuries. Wives, slaves, and in fact all persons connected with the royal palace of Dahomey were called “ahosi”, from “aho” meaning “king”, and “si” meaning “dependent” or “subordinate.”

In Ethiopia, children are trafficked into prostitution, to provide cheap or unpaid labor, and to work as domestic servants or beggars.

The sad reality of this beautiful world that we live in, is that it is anything but beautiful for most of the earth’s inhabitants. People cut out a near pointless existence without any hope of escaping their misery.
Holocaust TransAtlantic

They are victims of their own impoverished conditions bounded by survival above pride. In India, families and husbands sell their women folk as prostitutes to escape debt, a debt, which incurs deafening interest rates in the hand of evil money-sharks. Sometimes entire families are committed to pay off these debts, which actual appreciate as opposed to depreciate. Lack of voice, lack of education and lack of food means these people have to accept their condition and the debt burden is unquestionable inherited from generation to generation.

How do you become a 21st century slave? When you have no money, you are at the whims and wishes of others. Poverty creates 21st century slavery without exception. The US government’s destructive policies such as the free trade agreement mean that local economies are destroyed with an influx of cheap low quality products. The local economies are ruined in the process leaving many out of work and desperate. The free market allows America to set-up their factories on foreign soil with promises of employment for tax exemptions. The aim of these companies is literally to achieve a near slavery condition by paying labourers as little as they possible can for maximum work. When cheaper labour markets come into being, companies pack-up and move on leaving thousands unemployed (see documentary “Life and Debt”-By Stephanie Black).

In Brazil, they make cotton, in Burma they harvest sugar, in China, they make fireworks, in Sierra Leon they mine diamonds, in Israel they are prostitutes. In Thailand children are sold to paedophiles, this trade alone contributes billions to the annual sex trade in the orient. Children are used as beggars in Mumbai, India; the more deformed the child is, the more sympathy they attract. In some sad situations around the world, children are deliberately mutilated to make them “more successful beggars.”

Women are prime victims of this 21st century trade, rape is part of the everyday reality, and when they become pregnant in some cases; as in Tecum Uman, the babies are sold. Escape comes with the reward of brutal battering and torture. Desperate and exploited, these slaves live in our modern advanced world in plain view in an almost parallel universe interwoven in a capitalist economy. The fuel is profit, where cheap products are needed to furnish the fashion shops of the West.

Over 20,000 people are trafficked in the USA alone. Many of them coming from the south to escape poverty their find themselves in debt to the “coyote gangs” that transport them across the border.

Southern Africa | South Africa, Zimbabwe

By Jillian Nyakane
For some people slavery seems to be a historical and ugly concept of the past that does not affect us today, in the 21st century. Yet that is not true, because when many think of slavery they visualise men and women bound in chains, lack of democracy leading to lack of human rights.

However, slavery as I will share just now does happen in democratic countries that boast human rights of its citizens. In Southern Africa, the forms or form of slavery seems to be very identical. The most common form of slavery is human and child trafficking. Which is followed by forced labour and then child labour. The contemporary slavery in Southern Africa interestingly stems mostly from poverty that is terrorising the region. Poverty is unceremoniously the causal of the traumatic slavery.

In almost all 12 Southern African countries, human trafficking activities are happening. It happens more so because there aren’t even institutionalised structures to combat it. Children and women are lured into trafficking with the hope to rid themselves of poverty which leads to sexual exploitation and abuse. Countries like Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa, mostly influenced by eco tourism, there has been a noted increase of commercial sex. This has created hot spots for sex slaves.

Children and grown men (as well as women) are forced to work in mines, farms and houses for hours with or without pay. Due to being poor, many Southern Africans find themselves accepting menial jobs that pays them as little as nothing. Countries like Angola, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Zimbabwe are rife with complaints of child labour.

Another disturbing new trend affecting Southern Africa is the violation and exploitation of labour by Chinese-owned companies which disregards health and safety regulations. According to Human Rights Watch (2011) in China, workers work under unacceptable conditions therefore they bring those hazardous business ethics with them to modern Southern Africa. This just fuels forced and child labour.

Human Rights Watch (2011). http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/11/03/zambia-workers-detail-abuse-chinese-owned-mines


The government of Mauritania abolished slavery more than 20 years ago. But despite the government’s persistent denials, the practice continues in one form or another. Mauritania has outlawed slavery three times. But this former French colony of only two million people probably contains the world’s largest concentration of domestic slaves.

slave girls carry water


The former French colony is a meeting point of an age-old colour-class dilemma. For centuries, the generally lighter-skinned Africans and some Arabs have dominated the darker-skinned African people. That domination has often taken the form of enslavement.

Slavery in the Mauritania is more of a private tradition than a public institution. The government is not directly involved, and it even refuses to publicly admit that slavery even exists. Individuals and families have been practicing slavery for centuries. Some of the slaves are treated well by their masters, others are abused. There are no heavy iron chains holding these enslaved people back, some simply feel they simply can’t leave their masters. They dependency is locked in not only psychological chains but also practical ones. They do not have education, and the opportunity to go off and do something else is just not provided for them. Slavery for some is much better than abject poverty that affects so many in this region.

map of Mauritania

The government goes to great lengths to deny the problem. It has banned the word “slave” from use by the medTRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE_clip_image002ia, and foreign journalists risk arrest and deportation for investigating the issue.

Slavery in Mauritania is not like Slavery in the New World, which followed a rigid race-class dynamic, for here only both dark and light-skinned Moors also practice slavery. Still, the government has a history of instituting racist policies. Not only the government but also religious offices are almost exclusively unavailable to the darker skinned groups within the society.

The problem is made all the more complex with political problems, which are not related to race but to simply party politics. The group Human Rights Watch recently condemned what it calls the government’s ongoing repression of opposition political parties and civil rights activists.


(This section is to show that modern slavery is a global issue)
Every year, scores of kidnapped children are smuggled from South Asia to the Middle East where they are maimed and killed, all for the amusement of the oil-rich rulers of kingdoms on the camel racing circuit.

These juveniles are pitted against each other in the camel pits of Dubai. No riches await young riders, and fame is a foolish notion. Fans will never see their name in magazines, not even if they are trampled to death during a race or murdered afterwards by jealous child jockeys. Many of them are stolen or bought from beggar parents in the slave markets of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Once again we see the financial disparity creates and seeds immorality and injustice.

african holocaustHundreds of children arrive in Dubai they slip through immigration, posing as the child of the Indian servant.
This is typical, according to authorities in India, who smashed several child-selling gangs during the early 1990s. The kids are sold for as little as US$3. Hundreds more are kidnapped, often toddlers as young as two years old.

UAE immigration and police turn a blind eye to the baby trade that serves the sordid sports of sheiks and sultans of the oil-rich emirates. A five-year-old rider was beaten to death by other child jockeys last year. But neither he, nor his six-year-old assailants, were mentioned in media or police reports. Arab officials maintain the races are a vital link to the nation’s Bedouin birthright. For them the races are more than economical, It is part of their heritage, part of the Arab environment.

slavery today the stakes are high. Betting is banned by the government, which, instead, showers winners with prizes and publicity. The races are covered live by television, and written up in the sports pages of the local dailies. The camels become celebrities. The jockeys, often as young as four, are never mentioned. Instead, praise is heaped upon the rich owners of both animals and riders, who claim prizes that include luxury cars, four-wheel-drive trucks, yachts and cash.
Riding camels can be difficult, on or off the race course. The single hump of Arabian camels makes seating a serious quandary. When tourists take short treks, camels are usually kitted with a rope saddle. You try and maintain this perch while holding the rein with one hand and hanging onto the hump with the other.

The bouncing during a race is treacherous slavery. There are stories of children not only being roped to the mounts, but attached with Velcro. It’s a dangerous sport. Slipping from the saddle can result in broken bones or being dragged to death. Never do they use Arab children in these races Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were all represented, but none from the UAE.
Middle East Watch, the human rights group, has been considering an investigation of violations in the UAE, including those reported in the camel pits. Anti-Slavery International worries about what happens when these children grow too old to race. Local reporters are afraid to probe that matter, as well.
But in Dubai, the situation is condoned at every level, including the government, from immigration authorities to police. It’s more than status quo, it’s what happens when society standards are set by the state. In a kingdom ruled by oil, where the media is muffled and everyone sets aside ethics to placate the sheiks and sultans. Locals accept the races, even if they don’t participate. Arabs hold to the heritage line. Those of Indian descent, who might be expected to express outrage, especially since they outnumber Dubai natives by three to one, accept the situation as just another ugly condition of wealth.


In India children as young as 5 years old are stolen in broad daylight for the carpet trade which booms in places such as Allahabad. In India, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front believes that between 200,000 and 300,000 children are involved in the handmade woollen carpet industry, one of the largest export earners for the country. If one includes the 500,000 in Pakistan and 200,000 more in Nepal, the number of Asian child slaves in the carpet industry may reach one million. These children work from toddlerhood to adolescence, from dawn to dusk, in horrid conditions. Children work in damp pits near the loom. Potable water is often unavailable and food consists of a few chapatis, onions and salt. Common practice is to keep the children hungry so they will stay awake and work longer hours. The children often are made to sleep on the ground next to their looms, or in nearby sheds. After working from ten to fourteen hours, they are expected to clean out their sheds and set up work for the next day.” Apart from the deep cuts the children suffer on their hands from the weaving tools, the dust and fluff from the wool brings on lung diseases and their eyesight is damaged from close work under poor lighting.

Finally, many children are entrapped in a system of debt bondage still widespread in Asia and the subcontinent. From time immemorial, very poor people have pledged their own labor and that of family members as security against a loan taken in a time of crisis. Tragically, the original sum is hardly ever repaid: Because they are mortgaged personally on a 24-hour basis, workers inevitably incur new debts for food, clothing, and shelter. Added to exorbitant interest rates, this ensures families will pass on their ever-mounting debt to their children for generations. People are thus born into slavery.


In South East Asia, families with a debt have very few options to pay it off. Woman looking for work in the inner cities end up in brothels to assist their families in cities with few job opportunities for the uneducated. Once in these institutions of sin clients pay the owner $4 an hour for the women’s service, the women get $1.60 from this but this is retained by the owner who keeps a record until the debt is satisfied. She cannot leave until she pays off her debt, which is her cost to the brothel owner, plus interest and expenses; a debt, which often appreciates, as oppose to depreciates with time. If these women refuses to take care of their clients, they might be beaten, or tortured, attempted escape can be rewarded with death.

Hundreds of thousands of Asia’s children, mostly girls but also boys, have been taken from their homes and delivered to bordellos, where they fuel a sex industry that thrives in great part by servicing Western and Japanese men. Southeast Asia has become a centre of sex tourism and attracts an organized ring of paedophiles. Centred in Thailand but spread throughout Asia, this international flesh trade consumes girls as young as eight years of age.

The sexual enslavement of children constitutes the general exploitation of children in impoverished parts of the world. Indeed, sex slaves are captured in much the same way as Haitian cane cutters, India’s carpet weavers, and Persian Gulf camel jockeys. They are lured with false promises of decent employment, caught in debt bondage, kidnapped, or simply sold outright by parents, friends, or people they know.

Debt bondage in particular continues to enslave millions today in Asia. They are trapped by an obligation that may be passed from generation to generation; indeed, because of incredibly low wages, high interest charges, and cheating, it may never be repaid. Armies of debt-bonded slaves — including little children — work in rock quarries, as housemaids, building roads, weaving carpets, or as forced prostitutes. With no social safety net, a bad harvest or serious illness might mean starvation; bondage is better than death. Indeed, the worst cases of brutally forced prostitution now involve non-Thai groups. The fear of AIDS has spawned an intense demand for girls who are supposedly disease-free. Thai-based sex slavers now seek out the very young and girls from other countries. Tens of thousands of girls from Burma, China, and Cambodia are being lured and kidnapped.

Sudan: Domestic Slavery

In Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, chattel slavery is making a comeback, the result of an 18-year-old war waged by the Afrikan Muslim north against the African Christian and animist south. Militias, reportedly armed by the government, have been raiding African villages, shooting the men and enslaving the women and children. The latter are kept as personal property or marched north and sold. ASI reports that there is probably “no village in the north without its kidnapped Slaves.”

In March 1994, the special UN human-rights monitor, Gaspar Biro, reported the existence in Sudan of what he said might be called modern-day slave markets. Like any commodity, the price of human flesh in Sudan has varied with supply. In 1988, one automatic weapon could be traded for six or seven child slaves. In 1989, a woman or child from the Dinka ethnicity — an exceedingly tall and proud pastoral people of the Nile — could be bought for $90. Some of the children are trucked to Libya, according to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. Its has to be noted that the US governments interest in this area is due to the White Christians special interest lobbyist groups in America.

There is also an strong Anti-Islamic/Anti-Arab sentiment, which exploits these reports for political manoeuvrability. It is clear that interest by the USA in these regions is purely political because the sex trade in Israel gets very little mention or open condemnation. These conflicting factors make it very difficult to measure or judge the actual situation on the ground in Sudan. It is a well know fact that the West has tried to divide African from the Arab world, and Islam from Africans. In this ploy Islam and Arab, becomes interchangeable. Slaving African ethnicities are conveniently labelled as Arab to spike reports and rally further anti-Arab hatred. White American publishers are hungry for any biographies from escaped Sudanese Slaves, which demonize the Sudanese government, and Islam. But between these two realities, anti-Islamic propaganda and a human trade there is truth to some of these claims.

And the intellectually and socially regressive Sudanese government is seemly unconcerned with this trade in their own backyard. It would be diplomatic and human to seek a resolution, either in the name of international relations or in the name of protecting the image of Islam and the sovereignty and legitimacy of Sudan. Between Western exaggerations and Sudanese cover-ups people are being trafficked the fate of these slaves is unspeakable. The error of the West is that by putting up the backs of the Arab and Islamic world makes solutions difficult, the natural tendency is to shamefully deny such activities. The lack of wisdom on either side highlights to lack of sincere interest in the fate of those who end up in this age-old trade in human cargo.

In 1993, the U.S. State Department estimated that up to 90,000 Africans live as the property of North African Arabs (known as White Moors). Other sources add 300,000 part-time and ex-slaves, known as haratins, many of whom continue to serve their owners out of fear or need. Local anti-slavery group El Hor (“The Free”) estimates that as many as one million haratines.

The slaves are chattel. They are used for house or farm labor, for sex, and for breeding. They may be exchanged for camels, trucks, guns, or money. Their children are the property of the master. They are born, live, and die as slaves. Africans in Mauritania are Muslim, but though the Koran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, in this case race outranks religious doctrine. Indeed, these Muslim slaves of Mauritania are generally forbidden to share the basic rights of Muslims in even the poorest of countries: They may not marry, attend school, or go to mosque.

In 1990, the widely respected Human Rights Watch/Africa reported that “routine” punishments for the slightest fault include beatings, denial of food, and prolonged exposure to the sun with hands and feet tied together. “Serious” infringement of the master’s rule are met with a variety of tortures, including “the insect treatment.” Tiny ants are stuffed into the ears, which are sealed with stones and bound with a scarf. Hands and feet are tied and the errant slave is left for several days, after which, the rights group reports, he will do what he is told.

What can be done?

Why is it that modern-day slaves get so little attention in the West, which prides itself on responding to other sorts of human-rights violations? Mike Dottridge, the ASI’s research manager, suggests much is explained by the Cold War origins of human-rights campaigning. “The focus was on political and human rights, which were being abrogated and abused by governments, not individuals or industries,” he explains. Victims embraced by the West –dissidents and intellectuals, “prisoners of conscience,” and torture victims — are defended by pressuring governments, which indeed can be moved. (And many are from the same social class as their human-rights defenders, who naturally identify with them.) The case of slavery is quite different. Most of the problem is abject poverty and systematic methods employed by local power holders to exploit the weak. Governments are not the source of these phenomena — though they can be bought off or even become co-conspirators. In the face of such scenarios, people in the West feel impotent: What can they do if local power groups conspire to live parasitically off the powerless? How can they intervene in the private sphere when abuses come from private citizens, not governments?

In addition, when it comes to problems based on overwhelming poverty, people in the West feel deep guilt — their comparative wealth becomes a stinging moral burden — and turn their backs. The human race has few Mother Teresas.

Finally, Dottridge complains, “There’s always the ‘show me the picture’ problem.” Photographs of modern-day slavery will not reveal whips, auctions, and chains. They depict complex power relationships — debt bondage, forced labor, the sorts of servitude that come from social power, not direct physical force. Cruel hierarchies are not seen in a snapshot.

And so abolitionists around the world are using new methods to fight the ancient scourge of slavery. Countries in the developed world and their citizen consumers are being urged to say no to products made with forced labor; to do no business with or touring of countries that engage in slavery-like practices; and to press their governments, as Zimmer and Frank are doing, to act against slaving nations.
The efforts of abolitionists should be supported. In this, the 21st century, surely the world cannot abide the hideous practice of human bondage. Or can it?


The only permanent solution is to eliminate the conditions that perpetuate Modern slavery – poverty. People movements is largely driven by either conflict or poverty, both lead to conditions which foster modern slavery. Tackling just the visible head, as many NGOs are doing, leaves room for the roots to keep recreating the problem.

When we accept things as part of life and turn a blind eye to realities to ugly for our conscious to view we become guilty. We are guilty because we do nothing. The future of humanity is in the hands of the people and what we chose to do or not chose to do will determine the world we inherit. The system of control makes people feel disempowered—that is their job. But our collective power is greater than all the guns and media machines they use against us. The power they hold over us is in keeping us ignorant, believing that we cannot change our reality. If in the 21st Century Slavery is still a reality, domestic or otherwise, then it is for us to take a stand and wipe it and the racism it carries with it from the face of this Earth.

Liked it? Take a second to support admin on Patreon!
This content is available exclusively to members of AHS's Patreon at $1 or more.


African Holocaust (Est. 2001) is a non-profit civil society dedicated to the progressive study of African history and culture. The society is composed of diverse array of African scholars and writers, who share the desire use critical thinking to represent and restore an authentic, reflexive, honest, inclusive and balanced study of the African experience, past and present.

No comments so far.

Be first to leave comment below.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*Use code 'AHS' and get 10% discount