Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Slavery in the 21st Century

by Heather Harvey

Campaign Manager- Stop Violence Against Women Campaign

Amnesty International UK

As we are all celebrating the 200 year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, and the UK government’s signature of the Council of Europe Convention Action Against trafficking in Human Beings, this is a good moment for reflection.

Some people believe that trafficking is the same as illegal immigration or people smuggling. It is not – in both illegal immigration and people smuggling, once the people arrive at their destination country they are free to go and take their chances. Trafficked people, firstly are not always here illegally but secondly are both tricked or forced into their situation for the express intention of exploiting them. The Convention defines trafficking “the movement of people, using violence, coercion or deception, in order to exploit their labour or services” The UN definition makes it clear that trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation but also encompasses domestic servitude, forced marriage and labour exploitation. The UN also makes clear that trafficking is a contemporary form of slavery. Of course this does not mean it is the same as the transatlantic slave trade. The attention on trafficking is not intended to be at the expense of recognising the brutality of the transatlantic slave trade and the lasting poverty and inequality that it caused and which continues today.

Nonetheless it is estimated that some 12 million men, women and children are living in slavery today. In 2003 Home office figures estimated some 4000 men, women and children were trafficked to the UK to be exploited and abused and in a recent study by End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) it was found that 32 out of 33 London Boroughs had problems with child trafficking. Amnesty’s current campaign has been drawing attention to steps that Government’s can take to help victims and the UK government in particular can do more.


“Maryam”, a 13 year old girl with a twin sister from West Africa were doing well at school until their parents felt they had had enough education and it was time they were married off to some village elders in their community. To be marriageable though they first had to undergo circumcision or “female genital mutilation”. Maryam’s twin died during the procedure and Maryam did not want to go through with it or with the marriage. When she refused her parents rejected her so she ended up on the streets. Here a man offered to bring her to London for a better life and an education. Once here, she was locked in a basement and used as a child prostitute from age 13-19. At 19 her trafficker her released her and took her to Waterloo with false documents wanting her to leave the country. At Waterloo she was arrested for being in possession of false documents – she was convicted and served a 10 month prison sentence. At no time was she offered rape crisis counselling, sexual abuse counselling, sexual and medical health advice, post traumatic stress counselling or any other services that a child victim of abduction, imprisonment, physical and sexual violence would need.

It this sort of repeat victimisation and criminalisation by the state that implementing the convention would address – within the terms of the convention the first priority would be identifying and meeting the needs of the victim.

Useful Links:
 The Truth Isn't Sexy
Slave Britain


Anti Slavery

Eaves 4 Women


Amnesty International UK

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