Many people think of slavery as something of the past, but the problem is far greater than is often realized in our own age. It is estimated that there are now over 45 million people enslaved throughout the world – actually more than at any other time in history!
Modern slavery is also incredibly widespread. Slavery or human trafficking for the purposes of slavery has been detected in 167 countries of the world. This includes Western nations such as the United States and Great Britain, but 58 percent of people in slavery are living in just five countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. The International Justice Mission, which organizes the annual Freedom Sunday efforts, also lists Guatemala, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines as being particularly problematic. Even this long list does not include totalitarian regimes such as North Korea where virtual slavery as political punishment and repression is also a fact of life.
Slavery can take many forms. Although modern slavery includes people literally being owned by other people – just as in the past – it more often takes the form of people being exploited and completely controlled by others, without the possibility of escape. But in all cases it involves the use of kidnapping, trickery, lies or violence to force a person to work for little or no pay – often in demeaning and destructive circumstances. Even apart from the physical dangers involved for those who are kidnapped or manipulated by traffickers, the psychological and emotional problems suffered by those enslaved are often devastating.
As a result of the horrendous nature and extent of the problem, many governments are acting to curb human trafficking and slavery, but the sad truth is that nowhere near enough is being done to truly eradicate this curse. In countries where the problem is most pronounced, the governments themselves often turn a blind eye toward what is happening. Yet there is much we can do as individuals.
Four Ways to Fight
Consider the following four possibilities for involvement in the fight against slavery:
Educate Yourself: It is hard to successfully fight an enemy we know little about. But educating ourselves about modern trafficking and slavery is relatively simple and can supercharge our own desire to fight these evils. Take a few minutes to read about the basic facts of slavery today by looking at the Wikipedia article on Slavery in the 21st Century or at the information on websites such as those of Anti-Slavery International or International Justice Mission.
Spread the Word: This weekend, thousands of churches around the world will dedicate part or all of their services to share stories and facts about the reality of slavery and to urge congregants to get involved in the fight. If we have educated ourselves in relation to the problem, there are various ways (using social media, for example) in which we too can spread the word as individuals.
Support Organized Efforts: Anti-Slavery International and the International Justice Mission are leading the fight internationally against slavery, though there are other organizations also doing valuable work in this area. Checking out their websites may give you ideas for ways you can support this kind of organized effort.
Pray: Even if we do nothing else in the fight against slavery, we certainly can, and should, pray for those actively working to stop the problem at different levels, especially those working in law enforcement and international justice. We can also pray for the eyes of those in positions of authority around the world to be opened to see the evil of slavery and what must be done to end it.
Free the Oppressed
As Christians we should take seriously the many biblical injunctions to help those who are oppressed. Isaiah 1:17 tells us: “Seek justice and defend the oppressed” and Isaiah 58:6 shows us that even our spiritual activity can be meaningless if we do not do what we can in this fight: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” The fight for freedom is ongoing and applies just as much to us today as it did to those who fought to curb slavery in the past.