by Austin Baynow off Cameroon, now wandering in the steamy Gulf of Guinea -- has made
slavery an international issue.
I mean contemporary slavery, as in right now, this minute, the ongoing
business of kidnapping, incarcerating, then selling human beings.
If you missed coverage of the Etireno's voyage of the damned, here's the
nutshell: On March 30, the Etireno left Benin's port of Cotonou, followed by
reports that her cargo consisted of 200 children destined for "domestic
service" in more prosperous West African nations. Human rights organizations
pushed Benin's government for more information. Oil-rich Gabon refused to
let the Etireno dock. The rogue odyssey continued, with ports along the
coast refusing entrance -- and, oddly, regional navy and coast guard vessels
apparently unable to track the ferry and board her. On April 17, the Etireno
limped back into Cotonou. Upon examining the ship, local authorities said it
was "uncertain" if slaves had been aboard.
Realists wondered if an even greater evil had occurred, with the human
evidence drowned at sea.
As for the 21st century slave business, the evidence is already in: It's all
Europeans once called the Benin area the Slave Coast. Local chieftains sold
European ship captains human beings for transport to the New World's slave
markets. For two centuries, the evil enterprise was big-time global
The Rev. Jesse Jackson's chronic hyperventilation to the contrary, slavery
ended in the United States 136 years ago. Unfortunately, the noxious
business continues elsewhere on the planet.
The West African child slave traffic works like this: Smugglers coax
families in flat-broke countries like Benin and Togo into "giving up" their
kids. They promise education and a better life. The going price for a child:
$15. The smugglers sell the boys to plantations in wealthier places like the
Ivory Coast and Gabon. If they're lucky, the girls end up as household
workers. Many girls end up in brothels.
Of course, the defenders of this evil deny its existence. However, groups
like Anti-Slavery International (ASI) have been tracking the trade for
Cross the continent to Sudan. In Sudan, slaving is a tradition, a business
and a tool of political oppression. Islamic militiamen, acting on behalf of
the Islamist government in Khartoum, sweep through villages in south Sudan,
abducting Christian and animist black Africans.
Occasionally, tribes manage to ransom the kidnapped. Three years ago, I
interviewed an Anglican Christian Dinka. The price for ransoming a cousin?
"Around $35. Maybe $40." More often, the raiders take their captives north
and sell them.
Khartoum claims it's simply fighting a long-term guerrilla war against
tribal rebels. This claim ignores centuries of Arab slaving in Africa and
forced Islamization. It ignores extensive evidence, including documented
projects where Christian activists have "bought back" enslaved Dinkas from
Muslim brokers. Christian Solidarity International says that it pays around
$100, or the price of three cows, to release a slave.
Other African nations also confront slave-trade allegations. ASI points to
cases in Bangladesh, India and Haiti. Captive women forced into prostitution
are a global phenomenon, from Thailand to the Balkans to the United States.
Anti-slavery activists argue that in many instances forced child labor,
debt-bond labor and "sex slaving" are modern forms of chattel slavery. The
defining characteristics include degree of control over the worker's life,
coercion and restriction of movement.
How do abolitionists combat the 21st century slave trade?
- Publicity. The West African states are vulnerable to international media
pressure. While the Sudanese Islamist regime isn't so vulnerable, Western
oil companies doing business in Sudan are.
- Political persuasion. A number of Christian groups have been confronting
Sudan -- including evangelicals, Catholics and Anglicans. Unfortunately,
some usually outspoken U.S. civil rights organizations greet this issue with
awkward silence. Frankly, "Africans enslaving Africans" doesn't have a lot
of domestic political punch for hypocritical hustlers like Jackson. Can't
use the issue to wag your finger while shaking down Silicon Valley or
Anheuser-Busch. Yet American civil rights organizations can play a crucial
role, particularly in West Africa. Perhaps this is an issue for a new
generation of civil-rights leaders.
- Prosecution. Slavery is against the law in every one of the nations
involved. Combating slavery is another reason for Washington to make
judicial and legal reforms in emerging democracies key policy goals.