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Modern Day Slavery: Descent Based Slavery in Mauritania March 22, 2015

Posted by Keren Fite in Jewish Holidays, Passover, Slavery.
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An estimated 20% of Mauritania’s 3.4 million people are enslaved for life. In 1981 Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. However, the vast Saharan nation didn’t make slavery a crime until 2007. To this day, activists are arrested for fighting the practice. The government denies it exists. Only one slave owner has been successfully prosecuted.

This is Moulkheir Mint Yarba heart wrenching slave narrative:

Moulkheir Mint Yarba returned from a day of tending her master’s goats out on the Sahara Desert to find something unimaginable: Her baby girl, barely old enough to crawl, had been left outdoors to die.

The usually stoic mother — whose jet-black eyes and cardboard hands carry decades of sadness — wept when she saw her child’s lifeless face, eyes open and covered in ants, resting in the orange sands of the Mauritanian desert. The master who raped Moulkheir to produce the child wanted to punish his slave. He told her she would work faster without the child on her back.

Mauritania Slavery Edythe McNamee Trying to pull herself together, Moulkheir asked if she could take a break to give her daughter a proper burial. Her master’s reply: Get back to work. “Her soul is a dog’s soul,” she recalls him saying.

Later that day, at the cemetery, “We dug a shallow grave and buried her in her clothes, without washing her or giving her burial rites.”

“I only had my tears to console me,” she would later tell anti-slavery activists, according to a written testimony. “I cried a lot for my daughter and for the situation I was in. Instead of understanding, they ordered me to shut up. Otherwise, they would make things worse for me — so bad that I wouldn’t be able to endure it.”

Slaves in Mauritania are told that under Islam their paradise is bound to their master and that if they do what the master tells them, they will go to heaven. This is a powerful mechanism of control which teaches those who are enslaved to follow orders and accept their fate or they will be forsaken by God and live outside of Islam. Without access to education or alternative means of living, many believe that it is Allah’s wish for them to be slaves when in reality Islam dictates that a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim.

Moulkheir Mint Yarba escaped slavery in 2010. She has asked the Mauritanian courts to prosecute her slave masters. “I demand justice,” she says, “justice for my daughter that they killed and justice for all the time they spent beating and abusing me.”

Sources for this post:

Anti-Slavery: Today’s Fight for Tomorrow’s Freedom

Mauritania Slavery’s Last Stronghold, John D. Sutter, CNN

Image photographer: Edythe McNamee


Modern Day Slavery: Bonded Child Labor in India March 22, 2015

Posted by Keren Fite in Jewish Holidays, Passover, Slavery.
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One major difference between slavery in the past and contemporary slavery is the price of slaves. The price of human beings during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was about 40,000 dollars on average. Due to population explosion, the average price of a human being today, around the world, is about 90 dollars.

Silk Industry Child Labor Thanthoni-2 Debt bondage is the use of slavery as a means of repaying debts. In India, harsh poverty drives parents to sell their children into debt bondage. At least 350,000 debt bonded children are working in the Indian silk industry. Mature cocoons are transformed into silk thread through a process of reeling and twisting. Children are cooking cocoons, picking out the dead worms, twisting the filaments into thread, and helping with odd jobs.

Three Indian children tell their slave narratives:

P. Kattaraman‘s parents sent him to work when he was around six years old in exchange for a Rs. 3,000 (U.S.$63) advance to pay for his sister’s marriage. He worked for five or six years at a silk twisting unit: “The conditions of working were very difficult… When we took too long or if the thread broke in the middle, we would get beaten… There was no rest for eating. We ate while working. We paid Rs. 2.50 [U.S.5¢] for a meal from the hotel. This was cut from our wages.”

Yeramma S., eleven years old: Before I came here I went to [a government] school, but after one year I withdrew from school because of a problem–my sister’s illness. After my sister got sick, we took her to the hospital, but the doctor said we had to pay more money, so my parents bonded me for Rs. 1,700 [U.S.$35]. I was seven or eight years old. I did winding [unwinding the cocoons]. I didn’t like to work, but I was forced to by my parents. They said I couldn’t go to school but had to work… At 4:00 a.m. I got up and did silk winding… I only went home once a week. I slept in the factory with two or three other children. We prepared our food there and slept in the space between the machines. The owner provided the rice and cut it from our wages–he would deduct the price. We cooked the rice ourselves. We worked twelve hours a day with one hour for rest. If I made a mistake–if I cut the thread–he would beat me. Sometimes [the owner] used vulgar language. Then he would give me more work.

Silk Industry Child Labor Thanthoni-1 Mayekalai J., ten years old: I worked in the silk unit. I worked with thread and then sometimes cleaning and sweeping. When I first started working, older children were there, and they taught me how to do the work. I started work when I was about seven years old. I got a Rs. 2,000 [U.S.$42] advance–it was less because I had no experience. I didn’t get any wages because I was young. Later my wages went straight to my parents, and I don’t know how much it was. Once a week I got Rs. 10 [U.S.21¢] from my parents for pocket money. I spent it on small balls, snacks–chickpeas and chocolate, sweets… I wanted to play with children, and sometimes I was unhappy. I would see the neighbors’ children going to school, and I would think, “What am I doing here?” Sometimes I thought about running away. Once I escaped from the silk unit and went home. The owner came to my house, and my parents convinced me not to leave again without their permission, so I went back with the owner.

Slave narratives are from: Bonded Labor in the Silk Industry, India

Images by S. Thanthoni, from Frontline: Behind the Bright Silk

This Passover Tell the Story of Modern Day Slavery March 22, 2015

Posted by Keren Fite in Jewish Holidays, Passover, Slavery.
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The estimated number of contemporary slaves is 27 million. During the entire three hundred year history of the transatlantic slave trade, 12.5 million Africans were brought in chains to the new world. This means that there are approximately twice as many slaves today as there were Africans transported across the Atlantic.

The rise in population, combined with harsh poverty, social discrimination, and lack of legal protection lead to the continual exploitation and abuse of modern day slavery. Although slavery is illegal in countries worldwide, the practice of human enslavement endures clandestinely.

This Passover, when you read the Haggadah, tell the story of modern day slaves. You can find three modern day slave narratives in the following three post series.

Modern Day Slavery: Sex Slavery in the Philippines

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor. About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade. Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation. Women and girls make up 98% of sex trafficking victims.

The commercial sex industry includes prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, or other forms of sexual entertainment where money or other items of value are exchanged for a sex act. Sex trafficking – whether within a country or across national borders – violates basic human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, equality, dignity, health, security, and freedom from violence and torture.

Alma tells her slave narrative:

During the 1980’s, Olongapo City was a thriving U.S. military base. I was a single-mother of two young children struggling to support my family. The clubs were always busy when the military ships came in.

As a child I dreamed of becoming an accountant. When my brother promised to help pay my tuition, I left Manila for Olongapo City where he lived. Once I arrived though, he admitted that he had no intention of helping me attend college. Instead, he hoped I would “strike it lucky” and marry an American serviceman so I could support our family. After a few months there, I grew frustrated by the lack of jobs and finally agreed to waitress near the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay. My brother tried to force me to accompany the servicemen when they requested my company, but I refused.

lisa_kristine_sexual_slaves One day, a serviceman offered the manager a “bar-fine” for me. I refused, saying that I was just a waitress. The manager told me that if I didn’t go, I would lose my job. He threatened to withhold my transfer documents, papers releasing me from his employment and allowing me to work elsewhere. I was scared that my children and I would end up homeless and hungry, so I reluctantly agreed. The American wanted to rent a hotel room, but I told him to give me the money he would spend on a room and accompany me home instead.

I sent my children to my parents because I did not want them to see what their mother was doing to make a living. I tried to avoid doing this again, but my daughter fell ill and I needed money for her medical expenses. During my four years at the club, I had about 30 American “boyfriends.”

In the early 1980s, there were no health programs and nobody knew how to use contraceptives. The Amer-Asian child population boomed. I gave birth to my third child knowing he would never meet his father. Around that time, we started hearing about AIDS. The American guys would line up for condoms before disembarking their ships. However, some of them would just blow the condoms into balloons and toss them around. We couldn’t require a customer to use a condom because he would say, “I paid good money” and get his way.

In my country, women are not given equal opportunities for employment or education, their options are limited and they grow desperate. Because women are often viewed as powerless sex objects they are constantly driven into the sex industry. At times, I too believed that I only existed for men’s pleasure.

Alma was released from sex slavery and co-founded Buklod ng Kababaihan in 1987. The organization is dedicated to raising awareness against prostitution, empowering women and children who were victims of prostitution and trafficking. Buklod is a Filipino word meaning a bond which brings people together.

Alma’s Story was taken from Equality Now

Image by Lisa Kristine

Lisa Kristine photographed the women in Kathmandu, Nepal. They work in “cabin restaurants,” euphemism for forced prostitution. Sexual slaves – women, along with young girls and boys, some as young as seven years old – are forced to provide clients with sexual entertainment, while encouraging them to buy more food and alcohol.

Lisa Kristine TED Talk: Bearing Witness to Modern Slavery