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Perverted family traditions often play a role in modern-day slavery

Slavery remains a scourge in many parts of the world, with the victims often being children. Deutsche Welle investigates what modern slavery means and takes a look at cases where kids are being enslaved.

A statue of a slave in Senegal

Estimates of the number of slaves around the world run from 27 to 200 million

Depending on how the term is defined, as many 230 million people around the globe are virtual slaves. The US State Department, for instance, defines modern slavery to include various forms of forced labor, involuntary domestic servitude, sex trafficking and child soldiers.

American sociologist Kevin Bales is probably the world's foremost expert on slavery. He puts the number of enslaved people at 27 million - and that's using a narrow definition.

"This is about people who cannot walk away, who are forced to work without pay and who are operating 24/7 under the threat of violence," Bales said in highly publicized public lecture earlier this year. "It's real slavery in exactly the same way that slavery would be recognized throughout all of human history."

Twenty-seven million, Bales says, is more than double the number of people bought and sold in the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th century.

The difference in modern-day slavery, he added, is the drastic drop in prices paid for slaves, with the world average being $90 (70 euros).

"People have ceased to be a capital purchase item and become like Styrofoam cups," Bales said.

Of those 27 million, around 10 million are probably children, says Volker Bajus from the German human rights group Terres des Hommes. He adds, however, that because of poverty some 100 to 120 million children work in situations that can hardly be described as volitional.

And as two examples show, cultural traditions concerning family labor are often warped to support extreme forms of human exploitation.

Kazakh tobacco

A child's dirty hands

Child labor happens not just in Kazakhstan, but in more Western nations such as Turkey

The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch spent two years monitoring the tobacco fields near the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan. In a report published this summer, entitled "Hellish Work: Explotation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan," the group says it found children as young as 10 working there.

Some of this labor is paid, says the report, while other work is not. In particular, young immigrants and refugees from the troubled neighboring country of Kyrgyzstan are vulnerable to exploitation.

"Children arrive together with the adult migrants, and they enjoy even less protection than their parents," human rights activist Zulfiya Baisakova told Deutsche Welle.

Kazakhstan is a former republic of the Soviet Union, where it was customary for children to work alongside their parents to help bring in the harvest. Sadly, this tradition has been warped to support what may amount to child slavery.

"The amazing thing is that according to the children's answers to questions we ask, at least half of the parents view the practice positively," said Ajunur Zhakupova from the Almaty Office for Child Protection.

The tobacco harvested by these children is used by Western companies such as Philip Morris.

Fish in Ghana

A young Ghanain girl carries the shopping for a woman in Accra, Ghana

Children are often used for domestic labor and more dangerous tasks

Another case of child labor that has attracted a recent attention is fishing in Ghana. Although Ghanaian law prohibits people under eighteen from engaging in hazardous labor, the practice is widespread, and the conditions often horrific.

"Trafficked children are sometimes forced to work up to 14 hours a day, and seven days a week amid beatings," a report commissioned by Germany's Madamfo Ghana human rights group concluded about two fishing communities in the Kpano Dictrict. "Sometimes these children drown when they get entangled in the nets or are pulled into the water by big fishes that are trapped in the nets. Some other times, they drown in the initial process of diving because they are not well-trained."

The report notes that the fishermen don't use their own children for such work but bring in others from other locations. Tragically, say human rights groups, such stories are not rare in Africa.

"Africa has the highest percentage of child labor, and it's prevalent in Western Africa," Volker Bajus told Deutsche Welle. "Children work in cocoa plantations and do domestic labor, and it looks as though they are often trafficked."

Bajus added the cost of procuring what is essentially a child slave can be around 50 euros.

Knowledge around the world

A girl works at a brick kiln in China

Chinese authorities discovered slave laborers in 2007

There have also been well-documented cases in recent years of children being forced to do dangerous work in brick kilns in India and China. Yet the negative publicity generated forced some improvements and represents a ray of hope for the future.

"The key is education and a will on the part of governments and among the middle classes to fight against people being indentured and enslaved by debts," Bajus said. "India is a good example, and as a rule, this is happening in the emerging nations."

Knowledge can be a tool for liberating people from unnecessarily dire conditions.

"Exploitation is often based on people not knowing their rights or not being able to calculate whether they are being paid proper wages because they are illiterate," Bajus added. "Education and a good social infrastructure help prevent such abuses."

Ironically, globalization is often a factor encouraging modern-day slavery, but the possibilities it opens up for educating people around the world about such exploitation may also be part of the ultimate solution to the problem.

Zulfiya Baisakova and Ajunur Zhakupova were interviewed by DW's Olga Korneeva and Tatiana Petrenko.

Author: Jefferson Chase

Editor: Rob Mudge

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