National Security & Defense

Slavery Still Exists — We Just Don’t Talk about It

Hands of a 10-year-old laborer in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Andrew Biraj/Reuters)
There are a staggering number of slaves in the world today – largely invisible to the news media.

With so many social issues in the United States being traced back to antebellum American slavery, it’s easy to forget that slavery still exists. This week an Australian human-rights group called the Walk Free Foundation released a study of contemporary global slavery: the Global Slavery Index. Everyone ought to read it.

What it says, in short, is this: According to Gallup surveys of 167 countries, there are 45.8 million slaves worldwide. Walk Free defines a slave as someone owned, someone working as a forced laborer or prostitute, someone in debt bondage or in a forced marriage.

In a single country — India, which is the worst offender — there are currently 18 and a half million slaves. To put that into perspective, there are six and a half million more slaves in India right now than were imported to North America, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands combined during the entire history of the transatlantic slave trade — 373 years, from Columbus’s discovery of the Americas to the end of the Civil War.

This is an unbelievably serious problem, which virtually no one is discussing. Most modern slaves are held in Central and East Asia, and Central Africa. The top ten countries on the list, in total slaves, are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Russia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia. Among them, they have 30 and one-quarter million slaves. Which is roughly 100 times more than the total number of slaves imported to the U.S., and territory that would become part of the U.S., between the founding of Jamestown and the end of the Civil War (258 years). Those American slaves were enough to trigger America’s bloodiest war — and, I dare say, one of its proudest moments: the abolition of American slavery. But since slavery was abolished in the United States, none of us seems to be interested any more.

Two of the ten largest slave-holding countries — China and Russia — are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

And we should be interested. Who but us will do anything about it? Certainly not the U.N. After all, two of the ten largest slave-holding countries — China and Russia — are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

And by “we,” I don’t mean the American government. The State Department has an “Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons,” but it hasn’t proved especially effective. This is largely because the State Department is bound by realpolitik — say, in our trade relations with China — and domestic politics: Cuba, for instance, was promoted from the lowest tier of the State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons” list to smooth the way for Obama’s detente with the Castros.

By “we” I mean the greatest force for good the world has ever known (outside the American military): charitable Americans. Americans are far and away the most generous people in the world; in 2014 American private citizens (as opposed to charitable foundations) gave $259 billion to charity. Which is more than the total GDP of Ireland.

So next time you’re giving to charity — and surveys of American-giving-by-political-leaning tell me NR readers do, frequently — give a thought to slavery, and the human-rights organization of your choice.

(A good choice is always Thor Halvorssen’s Human Rights Foundation, whose Oslo Freedom Forum National Review’s own Jay Nordlinger frequently writes about — including a multi-part “Oslo Journal” just this week. If you haven’t read it yet, read it.)

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a former columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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