Slavery in the Twenty-first Century?

Two weeks ago, a missionary my church is supporting spoke briefly about her work with International Justice Mission. She spoke of a thirteen year old girl who had been kidnapped with the intention of using her as a sex slave. This girl’s story had a happy ending because the kidnappers were caught and the girls under their control rescued. The girl is now back with her family.

I’ve heard from more than one source that there are more slaves worldwide today than at the height of the African slave trading days. Here are the facts IJM states:

• According to the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, an estimated 20 million people were held in bonded slavery as of 1999.
• In 2004 there are more slaves than were seized from Africa during four centuries of trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Kevin Bales, Disposable People)
• In 1850 a slave in the Southern United States cost the equivalent of $40,000 today. According to Free the Slaves, a slave today costs an average of $90.
• Approximately two-thirds of today’s slaves are in South Asia. Human Rights Watch estimates that in India alone there are as many as 15 million children in bonded slavery.

One person I heard speak on the subject became involved in the fight against contemporary slavery because of stories about the Underground Railroad during the pre-Civil War era. He said he believed he would have been involved in freeing slaves if he had lived in America then. But if that was true, then he should be involved in freeing slaves today.

Sometimes we need to put ourselves in a horrific scene and imagine what we would do in order to help us know what to do about the horrific of our day. Kay Marshall Strom‘s novel The Call of Zulina, the CFBA feature the last half of this week, is a story that allows the reader to think more deeply about slavery than most of us would choose to. And that’s a good thing.

Books should challenge and inform as well as entertain. This one does. Kay mentions on her Web site that writing the biography of John Newton changed her life. She gives a link to the World Changer Movement—a crusade that actually sprang out of the movie about William Wilberforce.

IJM also encourages people to take action. On their Web site there’s a tab called “Get Involved.” The great thing is, one of their choices listed on that menu is “Prayer Partner.”

Not all of us are called to mission involvement. Not all of us have resources that allow us to give to all the causes we learn about that are worthy. Not all of us have time to spend beyond our current responsibilities. But we are all able to pray. And what better use of intercession is there than to stand for the most needy, the hurting and helpless, and ask our merciful Father to intervene on their behalf.

The Call of Zulina may not change my life, but it’s helping to expand my prayer concerns.


  1. Becky,
    I’m glad that you took time to highlight this. I have missed signups for the last few cfba tours, so I missed out on Zulina, but I may have to check it out after the fact.

    I don’t know if you knew this, but my WIP deals with human trafficking, so it is a cause dear to my heart. Hopefully the exposure will continue to highlight this important issue.


  2. A lot of current slavery is purely domestic or industrial. Workers in many restaurants can be imported from parts of Asia, kept in segregated accommodation and used for menial work. Many people from parts of the world where there is wide separations in income view poor people as a resource they can use. This often involves tweens and teens as domestic servants, wokring all day and living in a back room.

    Slavery is a hot issue in Australia at the moment because of a film. Filim makers present to a festival a film about slavery in Africa. The woman in the filim flew to Australia to say that she was not a slave. Since she lived in a refugee camp it is unclear how she could afford to fly half way round the world.

    Nobody names many of these arrangements openly as slavery. But if you look closely at the kinds of relationships and arrangements, it is clear that slavery is a long way from dead in our world.


  3. Is this similar to slaves in OT?


  4. Jason, I knew someone from FIF had mentioned writing about human trafficking, but I couldn’t remember who. Since this problem seems on the rise, I’m glad novels are coming out that deal with the subject. Sally Apokedak’s novel, while a fantasy, still brings the subject of slavery to the forefront. (Ironically I just finished reading her manuscript as I was starting Kay’s book).

    I look forward to reading your story next. 😉



  5. Ken, the IJM fact sheet on slavery refers to “bonded slavery,” or giving a person over to service as a way to pay an outstanding debt. The problem is, the fiscal realities are stacked against the poor and they can NEVER get out from under the burden.

    By the way, the stats I quoted were in a fact sheet separate from the one on sex trafficking.

    And there’s a podcast telling the true story about the kidnapped girl I mentioned.

    I can see why there might be controversy in Australia stirred up by that film. Unfortunate, because the problem appears to be all too real.



  6. Slave, I could be wrong, but your comment sounds like a familiar criticism of the Bible and has nothing to do with the problem of slavery.

    However, because Man is as sinful today as we were in the days of the Old Testament, I suppose the answer to your question is, Yes. And no. Yes, there was the equivalent of “bonded slavery,” though the Jewish law clearly indicated this was not to be a permanent arrangement and provided a means by which the poor could become free. And “sex slaves” of the day were to be given the status of wives, not sold and resold or abused.

    In a democracy, of course, any kind of slavery sounds wrong, but that’s our acculturation. We are actually slaves to whatever masters us. So in the US, most of us are slaves to any number of things—money or debt, sex, public opinion, governmental regulations (never mind the personal masters of drugs, prescription or illegal, and alcohol)—though we don’t admit it.

    I gladly take the name of slave to Jesus Christ, though I’m not a faithful slave as I would want to be.



  7. the IJM fact sheet on slavery refers to “bonded slavery,”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. In fact there was a story on TV last night about this. In India a woman borrowed money from a moneylender and had to work long hours to pay it off. The moneylender “helped” her by putting her kids in a children’s home. They promptly onsold the kids to an adoption agency and they ended up in America. The older child remembered that she was no an orphan and her new “father” became concerned enough to look into it. The real mother was also looking for her children. The TV show was the story of the older girl’s journey to India to reconnect with her real mother.


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