August 23 of every year is set aside by the international community to remind the world of the horrendous impact of slave trade as well as to commemorate its abolition. Anchored by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), it calls to mind an unpleasant past in human history and how it continues even today as trafficking in human persons and forced labour.
It is vital to remember this day because it is said that “we look to the past to address the problems of the present and shape a path for the future.’ It is a day meant to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. It affords humanity the opportunity to consider the historic causes, methods and consequences of the era.
It is germane to note that the spark that ignited the quest to say never again as far as trade in human persons is concerned, as reported by the United Nations (UN), happened on the night of 22 to 23 August 1791, in Santo Domingo, which is today called Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These countries on those days, experienced the commencement of an uprising which would play a vital role in the movement for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade eventually.
In the opinion of this newspaper, as the world marks this day, there is every need to remember and address the disturbing issues associated with modern day slavery, which has become a global phenomenon worse than a pandemic.
It is reported that this form of slavery is today more profitable than at any other time in history. Modern day slavery comes in the form of human trafficking and forced Labour among others. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), at any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.
The report goes on to reveal that there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world, 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children. Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, “16 million people are exploited in the private sector for domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and four million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities.”
Furthermore, the report pointed out that women and girls in forced labour account for 99 per cent of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58 per cent in other sectors.
The ILO-UNICEF Global Estimates of Child Labour also states that “40 million people are victims of modern slavery”. Coronavirus pandemic is reported to have worsened this situation and may reverse progress already made, as the world bodies launch a competition calling for innovative solutions with social impact to accelerate action towards SDG Target 8.7.
A nongovernmental organization (NGO), Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, in a media report explained that what the ILO calls “the new slavery” accounts for 25 million people in debt bondage and 15 million in forced marriage. It goes on to add that modern day slavery as an illegal industry, is one of the world’s most lucrative businesses, with criminal networks earning $150 billion a year.
It is sad to note that in Nigeria, modern day slavery is very much present as human trafficking and child labour among others. Nigerians in search of greener pastures have fallen victims. Enlisting help of trans- Saharan smugglers, to go to Europe through the notorious Libyan route, they get caught up in a web of extortion and slavery. These smugglers instead, sell them from one trafficker to another, for forced labour and in the case of women, prostitution making profit off them.
Governments began to pay sustained attention and decided to help when media reports began to expose what seemed to be African migrants being sold at a slave auction at a Libyan detention camp in November 2017. However, illegal migration continues in spite of the cruel treatment in Libya and elsewhere.
Also, the 2018 Global Slavery Index discovered that G-20 countries import an estimate of $354 billion worth of products “at risk of being produced by modern slavery every year.
In our considered opinion, the federal government should create more awareness on modern day slavery and make more effort to improve the economic and security situation of the country, as this could curb any desire for illegal migration. Similarly, it is our view that government at all levels in Nigeria should look into forced labour operating under the guise of culture and tradition that employ children to be trafficked, sold or work as domestic servants.
As journalists, we should do more to expose modern day slavery, through incisive reportage so as to bring to an end this scourge.