Slavery is Still Around

José Zalaquett

José Zalaquett

Head of the Project at MOOC Chile
Lawyer, Universidad de Chile. Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Universities of Notre Dame and City University of New York.
José Zalaquett

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On December 2, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the  Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which entered into force two years later. For this reason this December day has been established as the international day of the abolition of slavery.

Even though there are still some pockets of ‘classic’ forms of slavery, the international attention is currently focused on the contemporary forms of this horrendous practice. Regrettably, they are quite extended.

It is well known that slavery in its most heinous and open form – which for many was the gravest crime ever committed by mankind – can be traced back to thousands of years. Nevertheless, between 16th and the 19th century the slave traffic from Africa to the New World reached enormous proportions. It is estimated that between nine and twelve million Africans were taken as slaves to the United States by cruel slave traffickers which counted with the complicity of African wrens willing to sell their own people. 40% of all the African slaves transported to the Americas ended up in Brazil.

This ancient crime was always opposed by a few noble souls. However it was not until the end of the 18th century that humankind became aware of slavery’s radical inhumanity. Throughout the 19th century the abolitionist cause, which plunged the United States into the Civil War, was taken up by one country after another. Brazil was the last Western country in abolishing slavery, in 1888.

However, we are reminded by the United Nations and by Anti Slavery International, successor to the Anti Slavery Society, created in the first half of the 19th century, that at present there are different criminal practices which amount to contemporary forms of slavery. They all have in common the use and abuse of people to such an extent that implies the sheer denial of their humanity. The same Brazil, after it returned to democratic government, a couple of decades ago, formally recognized the existence of practices ‘analogous to slavery’ in its territory which affected about 40,000 people. At present, this country is in the forefront of the struggle against forced labor in conditions of servitude.

Among the contemporary forms of slavery one may count: child labor; forcible recruitment of children into the Armed Forces or into guerrillas; sexual bondage for the purposes of prostitution; labor conditions that are tantamount to servitude; conditions of marriage which impose on women inhuman forms of subjection.

Beyond the commemoration through the establishment of ‘international days’, due as it may be, it is incumbent upon all of us to be always vigilant against the upsurge of the inhumanity that unfortunately is embedded in our common humanity.

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