The Slave’s Dream
Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land

He did not feel the driver’s whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay
A worn-out fetter, that the soul
Had broken and thrown away!

In The Slave’s Dream by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one can feel the misery and suffering that slavery can inflict upon a person. Slavery is an ancient practice, which is shamelessly going on even today, but according to records, its roots have been found as far as 3500 BC in the region of Mesopotamia.

Why do people seek to enslave their own kind? Reasons include the quest for land, economic reasons, and sometimes, a need to fulfill their own goals. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs used slaves to build their pyramids or empires. Unfortunately, we have plenty of pharaohs in our time too.

The beginning of the slave trade

The Portuguese were the first to re-introduce slavery around 1562. The practice grew from 1646 up until 1790. What brought slavery to early fifteenth century America was a demand for humans to work on the plantations. Slaves were once considered as valuable commodity; as a matter of fact they were once referred to as Black Gold.

Slaves didn’t have any freedom, so if they refused to do anything they were considered to be disobeying. They weren’t allowed to carry guns, take food, or run away and some states even wanted their slaves to wear metal badges bearing their names, identification numbers and occupation. If any of them were found guilty of these offences their ultimate punishment was deemed to be death.

The practice of slavery continued in America until December 18,1865. This peculiar institution of slavery and involuntary servitude was abolished in the Constitution by US President Abraham Lincoln. He amended the U.S. Constitution, outlawing slavery throughout the whole United States.

Kinds of slavery

According to The 1927 Slavery Convention, Article 2, “members will take the necessary steps” to bring about, progressively and as soon as possible, the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms … slavery is defined as forced Labour without pay under the threat of violence.”

Nevertheless, slavery is thriving in today’s civilized world under different names and forms. The most common is chattel slavery, in which slaveholders maintain ownership no longer through legalities but through the use of violence.

In Sudan, Slavery is back due to a war between Muslims and Christians. This war provokes racially based slave trade for black Africans. According to reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights, there are “racial aspects of such practices as victims are exclusively persons belonging to the indigenous tribes of the Nuba Mountains (darker-skinned Africans)”. Unfortunately, government-armed Arab militias are involved and they are known to either kill people or auctioned them off.

Another common form of slavery is forced labour and debt bondage. In forced labour individuals and sometimes-whole families are lured by the promise of good jobs, and at the end they find themselves enslaved. Similarly, debt bondage is a form in which humans become collateral against a loan and families have nothing to pledge for a loan but their own labour.

America is not immune to the taint of slavery. According to the CIA,” 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the USA each year as slaves.” These men and women work for agriculture enterprises to get rid of their previous debts. Sometimes they are placed in a position of providing labour by force, and therefore they receive no money for their services at all.

Also prevalent is sex slavery, which is very common in south Asia where girls are forced into prostitution to earn living or earn their dowries (cash which is given to the groom’s family by the bride’s family at the time of the wedding).

Why does this occur?

In many Asian countries parents prefer male children to females as sons will earn a living and take care of parents in their old age. On the other hand, parents have to spend money on raising girls and in the end they also have to find money to give as a dowry for their daughter’s marriage. Fear of this future expense often leads impoverished parents to abort the fetus of a female child. There is progress on the Government level, however, as BBC (UK) reports: “The Indian Government is also trying to eradicate the outlawed practice of dowry – an expensive gift paid by a bride’s parents to the bridegroom’s family.”

According to a Human Rights Watch/Asia report (Rape for Profit) the flourishing sex trade forced on Nepali and Indian women is the result of poverty and hence it must be understood in the context of the economic conditions in both countries. Nepal’s poverty makes recruiting in its rural villages easy and profitable. No passports, visas or residence permits are required for nationals traveling between India and Nepal so it’s easier for traffickers to move. The truly unfortunate part is the consistent reports of police corruption on both sides of the border.

Again, we are not without blame in North America, however. Believe it or not, we are contributing to slavery indirectly. Why, who here doesn’t like chocolates? Are you aware that the Ivory Coast is well known for chocolate export and forced labour is used there to produce chocolate for consumption in other countries, including Canada. Other examples of how we contribute to slavery are found in examinations of the trade of sugar from the Dominican Republic, paper clip from China, and carpets from Nepal.

Slavery Today

Slavery is found in every part of the world with different names and in different forms. For example, some places are famous for sex slavery, while others force kids to work 14 hours a day to roll cigarettes. The Ivory Coast has children to work on cocoa plantations. In Mauritania, black Africans are used as inheritable property. In some Middle Eastern nations, small boys are transported and exploited as jockeys for camel racing.

There is also a horrible trend in war smitten countries, where rebels or anti-government forces kidnap kids of a very young age and train them to work as their recruiters on front lines or as a spies in enemy territory. These kids are especially vulnerable in land-mined areas, but the most difficult part for them is the loss of innocence and trading their childhood for nightmares for the rest of their lives.

Combat against slavery

The most recent effort to stop slavery-like practices is the “Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force on 2 September, 1990. It offers protection to children at risk from sexual, economic, and other forms of exploitation, including their sale, trafficking and involvement in armed conflict”.


We are ready to go beyond earth’s limits and have plans to seek out new worlds. But we haven’t done enough to make this world a better place for our current and future generations. Slavery to me is not just the manipulation of human beings — it’s a scar that will never go away. It will keep reminding us how valuable freedom is.

But, we also need to be very sensitive about other cultures and should not go about labelling every thing as slavery. In many countries and cultures it’s a common practice during harvesting season to include kids, women and older people. These family members are not forced labourers but a happy bunch trying to contribute in the family just the way we have volunteers who work without pay.


The African American: A Journey from Slavery to Freedom:
The Anti-Slavery Portal: Modern Day Fact Sheet.
Longfellow, H.W. The Slave’s Dream:
The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project. Chattel Slavery.
Rape For Profit.
BBC News. India confronts foetal sex checks.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

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