Local News
2:57 pm
Fri October 25, 2013

Human Trafficking Survey: Nearly 30 Million Held In Bondage

    

A new report  released this week by the Walk Free Foundation called the  Global Slavery Index concluded that 30 million people worldwide are held in bondage.

Modern day slavery- what we call human trafficking –is a worldwide problem. The Global Slavery Index covered 162 countries. And the enormity of the problem becomes clearer when you travel to just a sliver of the globe and discover that tens of thousands of children, women, girls, boys and grown men are working in multiple sordid ways against their wills.

Millions of women men and children are coerced against their will to provide labor or services in any number of sectors, from agriculture to construction to mining to garment factories, according to Siddharth Kara, who researches modern day slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

"They’re working against their will, often in very subhuman conditions with severe restrictions on their liberty so they can’t get away," Kara said. "There is no country, no region, no city that is immune to human trafficking." 

Including right here in Massachusetts, neighboring Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Many victims of human traffickers are prostituted at a young age, listed in online classifieds, and set up in area hotels by pimps, Kara said.

As WGBH reported in our recent series Underground Trade many are transported along major highways from New York City up and down the eastern seaboard- from New England down to Miami.

"These are women who have been trafficked into, let’s say Atlanta, San Francisco or New York by air from all over the world," Kara said. "It’s not just foreign nationals who are trafficked. American citizens are also trafficked internally, domestically along these same corridors."

Yet, most human trafficking involves labor to pay off debt.

Kara’s new book, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, is the culmination of 11 years of research into human trafficking. This crime, which brings in an estimated $30 billion, has condemned as many as 23 million people to a life of debt bondage worldwide. Eighty-Five percent live in India, Pakistan or other parts of South Asia, he said.  

Beatrice Fernando, who is from Sri Lanka but now lives in Massachusetts, was one of them. She once worked in Lebanon as a domestic servant to provide for her family, but she said the job turned into something entirely different. 

"The whole building was surrounded by a six foot wall, and there were guards on the grounds with rifles, so I had no way of escaping," she said. "And so I thought I'll try to open the doors. They were locked. There was only one entrance, which would go to the elevator or the stairs, so I started to look for keys. Then she started to abuse me physically. And when she started to beat I knew I am definitely in danger." 

Fernando escaped from slavery in Lebenon and made her way to the U.S.  Kara said. Every part of Fernando's story is typical except the part about escaping from bondage.  Most don’t.

"I have documented numerous instances of domestic slavery. Of adults and children in the homes of well to do people around the world. And work seven days a week, 12, 13, 14 hours a day. These could be 10-year-old and as much they could be 30-year-old women."

Though the US scored better than 161 other countries profiled by the newly introduced Global Slavery Index, statistical and anecdotal evidence suggest that the problem in the US is probably far more widespread than generally assumed, according to Kara.