The Slave Trade Thrives:
The traffic in women and children grows
as they become casualties of the global economy

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial
Tuesday, 17 April 2001

The traffic in human cargo goes on everyday, but rarely does the entire world focus on its victims.

Somewhere off the coast of western equatorial Africa is a ship suspected of carrying 180 children into slavery. Most recently, officials spotted the aging trawler off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Authorities in West Africa hope they will find the ship before the traffickers -- fearful of arrest -- try to remove evidence by throwing the children overboard.

Despite international attempts to stop the traffic in people, child slavery persists in West and Central Africa -- as well as in other parts of the world.

Typically, traffickers prey upon desperately poor parents. They offer families $20, along with bogus promises to educate the children or provide them with jobs abroad. Boys are sold as laborers on cocoa-producing plantations in Gabon and the Ivory Coast where they work up to 12 hours a day. Even more girls are sold, often as prostitutes or to families as domestic servants.

Make no mistake; this is real slavery. According to Pino Arlacchi, director general of the U.N. Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention, some 200 million people may now be in the hands of traffickers worldwide. Nor is human slavery confined to faraway regions. The Bay recently witnessed an alleged case of sexual slavery when Lakireddi Bali Reddy and his sons were charged with smuggling young women from India into Berkeley, California.

Human slavery pops up everywhere. A year ago, a CIA report verified that every year as many as 50,000 women and children from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia enter the United States under false pretenses.

Every month brings news of a young girl who is rescued from sexual or domestic slavery in a London, Paris, or New York suburb. Within the last decade, more than 30 million women and children have been sold within Southeast Asia for sweatshop labor or sexual purposes. Young women from Russia and Eastern Europe are lured by promises of marriage or a job in a Western city.

Although the new human slavery evokes universal condemnation, the tangle of international and domestic laws and overlapping jurisdictions makes it almost impossible to prosecute slave-runners, even when they are identified.

That slavery persists into the 21st century is an international disgrace. Now that we have a global economy, we need global coordination to end what the United Nations has called "the biggest human rights violation in the world."

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