Like her mother and grandmother before her, Salma Mint Saloum was born into slavery in Mauritania. Slavery was first abolished in Mauritania in 1905, by colonial French rulers, and again when Mauritania joined the UN in October 1961. It was abolished for the third time in 1981 by the Military Committee of National Salvation. But the situation didn’t fundamentally change: masters don’t have to pay their slaves or provide any sort of social security; the ban did not address how masters were to be compensated or how slaves were to gain property; and there was no provision for enforcement. This arrangement allows the legal fiction of slavery’s abolition to continue. In 2003 Mauritania passed a law that made slaveholding punishable by fines and imprisonment but no slaveholder has been prosecuted. As Salma explains in her narrative, “[i]t doesn’t matter what the laws say there, because there they don’t apply the laws.” In 1997 Salma decided not to wait any longer, and liberated herself. She crossed the river border into Senegal, but still didn’t feel free. As she notes, “I was free. I still wasn’t free.” She felt that to be “truly free,” beyond the danger of re-enslavement, meant going to the US, and so began a journey that retraced the route of the transatlantic middle passage, though with a very different outcome. In the US, Salma observes, she experienced “total liberty.” Her narrative includes a long section that compares her life as a slave with her life as a free person, and Salma defines this new freedom. She focuses on freedom of expression, and being able “to talk with people I choose to talk to…to be free to go where I want, to eat what I want, to sleep where I want.” Freedom also means being able to “make decisions concerning my own children,” for in Mauritania she “never had the right” had to “watch the children of the master’s wife” instead of her own. Most importantly, however, freedom means being paid for her work. This, she emphasizes, is “really liberty.”Salma first told her story, as printed here, in 2003, and updated it in 2009.
Shanti narrated her story while enslaved as a bonded laborer in the rock quarries of Uttar Pradesh, India. Debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. Found predominantly in South Asia and South America, it occurs when a person pledges their labor or that of a child for an indefinite period of time in return for financial credit. Debts arise in India from two main sources: an urgent crisis such as illness, injury, or famine, and the need to pay for death rites or marriage celebrations. Technically, bonded laborers can end their servitude once the debt is repaid, but this rarely occurs. A combination of low wages and high interest rates makes it impossible to repay the initial debt, and the debt usually increases because the employer deducts payment for equipment and living expenses, or charges fines for faulty work. According to India’s laws, families can simply walk away from debt and bondage, but this is usually impossible: if families try to leave, the slaveholder’s thugs retaliate with beatings, rape and forced eviction. If a family survives the beatings, they are free to starve. Without access to jobs, health care, community support or credit, independence is impossible to sustain, and they re-enter debt bondage.Though the Bonded Labor Abolition Act of 1976 criminalizes the use of the system, which is 1500 years old in India, those in debt bondage face involuntary servitude in brick kilns, rice mills, carpet looms and embroidery factories. Bonded labor is also widespread in the quarrying of granite and other stones. Workers are required to purchase their own materials, and are forced to borrow money from the contractors or quarry owners. Children aged four to 14 are required to work along with their parents for up to 14 hours a day, carrying loads of rocks in order to maximize production. Bonded children are sometimes sold to other contractors, and female workers are frequently raped. Accidents caused by explosions or drilling are common, and workers suffer from respiratory illnesses due to inhaling stone dust.
In 2000, some of the 220 residents of Sonebarsa, a quarrying village in Uttar Pradesh, India, revolted against their slaveholders. About 40 families lived in Sonebarsa, all of them Kols, an ethnic group near the bottom of India’s steep ladder of caste and discrimination, and all locked into hereditary debt bondage. Children worked from the age of three or four, and infant mortality was high. Shyamkali was one of the slaves who rebelled. The villagers had begun meeting with organizers from Sankalp, a grassroots NGO that has helped thousands of slaves to free themselves from slavery in the stone quarries of Uttar Pradesh. The narrative focuses on the role of women in the process of self-liberation. Shyamkali explains that “because we are also bread earners…we also have equal role to play in fighting for our freedom. The slaves called a mass meeting, and were joined by 3,500 people from 60 villages. Slaveholders interrupted the meeting, attacked the villagers, and shot guns into the air. The villagers retaliated by throwing stones and one of the contractors was killed. His friends set fire to Sonebarsa. After the burning of Sonebarsa, Sankalp assisted the 40 refugee families and helped them form micro-credit unions. The villagers pooled their money, and petitioned for a mining lease. But the Allahabad Mining Corporation wouldn’t allow leases and so the villagers moved onto unoccupied land in Uttar Pradesh and began mining it. Authorities protested this in court, but a judge ruled that no unauthorized workwas being done and signed leases. Today the villagers continue to build their community, which they have named Azad Nagar, “the land which is free.”
Tamada was born into slavery in Niger, home to some 43,000 hereditary slaves. Found among four of the country’s eight ethnic groups, slavery is a centuries-old practice in Niger. Slaves are controlled through violence and indoctrination, and are separated from their parents at a young age. Women and girls perform domestic duties, men tend herds of cattle and goats, and children are often passed from one owner to another. Individuals are also born into slavery in Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Slavery was outlawed in Niger in 1960, when the country claimed independence from France, but this remained a theoretical ban. In May 2003 slavery was made punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and that same year, Tamada learnt that her mother and grandmother had escaped from their master. She decided to do the same. But her turning-point took several months: she waited, worried, and thought about running away, before seizing her children one evening and beginning her escape. Leaving Mali, she crossed the border back into Niger with her two children—the first born when Tamada was 12 years old. She was assisted by Timidria, a human rights organization founded in 1991. Tamada concludes with an acknowledgement that life after bondage remains hard. And the 2003 law seems to have made little difference for other slaves. In September 2004, the Tuareg chief Arissal Ag Amdague made a written promise that he would release 7000 slaves owned by his people. Claiming that his religious beliefs as a Muslim were incompatible with slaveholding, he said he wanted to release the slaves he had inherited. The date was set for this first ever release of slaves in Niger: March 5, 2005, at a ceremony in the village of Inates, near the border with Mali. But no mass emancipation took place. Instead, on March 5, just a month after Tamada had narrated her story, Amdague stood before the crowd and denied that he owned any slaves.
Vasanthi became a child soldier in Sri Lanka at the age of 10. She was one of hundreds of thousands of children who participate in armies and armed groups in more than 30 countries around the world. The problem is most critical in Africa, where up to 100,000 children are estimated to be involved in armed conflict. Child soldiers also exist in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Burma, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even though international law sets 18 as the minimum age for all participation in hostilities.
Bath Preservation Trust curated a series of exhibitions across five of their sites, with a focus on ‘unlocking the legacies of the slave trade'. Beckford’s Tower & Museum hosted Big Spenders: The Beckfords and Slavery; displays here and at the Holburne Museum were designed to explore the Beckford family connections to plantations in Jamaica, through objects, paintings and furniture. The Herschel Museum's Slaves to Fashion exhibition, and Number 1 Royal Crescent's Elegance and Exploitation trail looked at how involvement with the slave trade enhanced the luxury of 18th century life in Bath. At the Building of Bath Museum, Selina’s Web revealed the complex attitudes of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who sought to promote the publications of free slaves whilst also being a slave owner. A lecture series ran alongside these exhibitions.
An exhibition which explored the connections between the Isle of Man and the transatlantic slave trade between 1718 and 1807, as shown in assorted archives. Mounted in the Lower Folklife Gallery at the Manx Museum, the display revealed evidence of Manx captains, officers and crew recorded on slaving ships in the Port of Liverpool muster rolls or in probate records. Documentation shows Manx merchants dealing in ‘Guinea goods’ and investing in trading voyages; also Manx people part-owning or managing plantations in the Americas. The title quote was taken from the memoirs of Manxman Captain Hugh Crow, published posthumously in 1830. Crow wrote, ‘I have viewed the abstraction of slaves from Africa to our colonies as a necessary evil, under existing circumstances’. In July 1807 the last legal slave voyage for an English vessel began from Liverpool. Crow, aboard 'Kitty’s Amelia', took command en route to Bonny.
This community-based mass reading scheme drew together partners from four areas of the UK; Bristol and the South West (Great Reading Adventure), Liverpool and the North West (Liverpool Reads), Hull (Hull Libraries) and Glasgow (Aye Write! Bank of Scotland Book Festival). 50,000 free copies of Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel 'Small Island' were distributed - a story of Jamaican slave descendants arriving in the UK in the 1940s, it addressed resonant themes of identity, racial awareness, forgiveness, ignorance and survival. There was also an accompanying reader's guide. Younger audiences took part by reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s 'Refugee Boy', or Mary Hoffman’s 'Amazing Grace'. Activity packs inspired discussion of historic and contemporary issues addressed in the texts. Featured are some of the responses of pupils from Parson Street Primary School, Bristol, to 'Refugee Boy'.
The Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was host to a biographical exhibition of the life and adventures of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century. The project was led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Equiano Society. The national exhibition was inspired by Equiano's autobiography 'The Interesting Narrative' (1789), by international and national artworks, and objects from Birmingham museums’ collections. It provided a narrative of Equiano’s life, and also explored wider local links between the West Midlands and the transatlantic slave trade. The Equiano Project also created a website, educational packages (available to buy via the project website), and a series of events and outreach activities. The exhibition publication 'Equiano - Enslavement, Resistance and Abolition' was edited by Arthur Torrington, Rita McLean, Victoria Osborne and Ian Grosvenor, and provided new insights into enslavement, resistance, abolition, and the African presence in Britain in the 18th century. Two touring exhibitions were loaned to community centres, libraries and other venues, including Walsall Museum, Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association and the Hudawi Cultural Centre in Huddersfield.
'Freedom and Culture' was a year-long nationwide programme to mark the bicentenary, conceived by Baroness Lola Young of Cultural Brokers (London) and Dr Nima Poowaya-Smith of Alchemy (based in Leeds). In partnership with artists, activists and cultural commentators, the programme explored the dimensions of oppression and freedom around the bicentenary, culminating in a weekend 'celebrating creativity and the African Diaspora' at the Southbank Centre in November 2007. One of several exhibitions that took place as part of the initiative was ‘Crossing the Waters’ at Cartwright Hall in Bradford, which took its central metaphor from the transatlantic slave trade. Almost all the works shown – from Sonia Boyce, Yinka Shonibare and others – were drawn from the permanent collections of Bradford Museums, Galleries and Heritage. The exhibition later toured to the City Gallery, Leicester in 2008.
The Lifeline Expedition began in 2000 as a reconciliation journey linking the European and African nations. The March of the Abolitionists was organised for 2007, aiming to bring an apology for the slave trade (especially the role of the church); to promote understanding of slavery and abolition by engaging with schools and the media; and to remember black and white abolitionists of the past, and of current campaigns. For the first stage in March 2007 (the Meridian Walk), a group of walkers included Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans, while white people from the former slave trading nations wore yokes and chains on their 250-mile journey from Hull to London. In the capital they joined the Walk of Witness at Westminster, led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The second stage of the march (the Sankofa Walk) linked the former slave ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol in June and July 2007.
In 1998, at the height of gang related murders in the city of Boston, Jameel Parker was commissioned to paint a mural by Gang Peace, a not-for-profit, street-based programme seeking to reduce the number of murders in Boston by redirecting youths into education and career-oriented activities. In 1992, around 600 local youths between the ages of 8 and 23 participated in Gang Peace programmes. Parker’s mural, titled All in the Same Gang, was painted in Boston and became a monument to those who had died as a result of gang crime. During its creation, on the corner of the street where the mural was painted – Blue Hill Avenue and Floyd Street – a young boy named Dominic Mount was murdered. Given the immediate community outcry following his death, Parker dedicated the mural to Mount and placed his name alongside heroes of Black history; Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. By 2016, the portraits of the African American male leaders had faded and the mural had changed to now include four black women, includng abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
In the north of India, there lies a small city called Siliguri at the foothills of the Himalayas. While this region boasts stunning scenery and a rich mix of cultures, it is also known for something much more sinister: the epicenter of South Asia’s human trafficking crisis. Often lured by false promises of job prospects, thousands of women and girls a year are taken from here or brought from nearby countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar by international criminal organizations, who then force them into prostitution in brothels across the country. Others end up in forced labour as domestic workers, while men and boys are enslaved in agricultural work. To raise awareness for this critical issue, the artist Joel Bergner (Joel Artista) partnered with four local Bengali artists, Anindya, Saptarshi, Santanu and Binod, to create a public mural as part of the International Anti-Human Trafficking Conclave.
The main image in the mural is inspired by a self-portrait photograph by Sangeeta, a young woman from this area who is a survivor of trafficking. In her photograph, she chose to portray herself with a hand grabbing her ankle while she reaches out to another hand for support. The artists then painted her sari filled with depictions of the stories of modern slavery. The mural, painted in a highly visible wall in the entrance to a shopping centre, plays an important role in educating the public about human trafficking. It aims to help residents to recognise it when it happens in their community, know who to inform, be wary of job offers from strangers, and support returning survivors, as they often face intense social stigma. This project was organized through the Indian anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Vahini, the Meridian International Center and the US Consulate in Kolkata. The conclave closed with a dance group of trafficking survivors performing in front of the mural along with other local performers, and speeches by dignitaries.
In 1985 William Akoi Mawwin was captured and forced into slavery at the age of six years. During raids by Muslim militia from Northern Sudan on the villages of the Christian Dinka tribes during the 1980s, tens of thousands of other boys between the ages of four and ten had the same fate. As well, babies and toddlers were killed, and girls were raped, killed, or forced into slavery. Some boys who escaped capture headed to refugee camps in Kenya, but it is estimated that only one in three survived the journey.After seven years in slavery, William escaped and lived on the streets of the capital. He worked to earn money for a passport, and left for Cairo, Egypt, where he found work in a rubber factory before a machinery accident took his hands. In 2001 the US government granted 3600 Sudanese orphans refugee status. Some 500 boys, including 21-year-old William, were placed in Arizona.William fashions his capture as a sudden disappearance: “You’re gone for good.” But his narrative confronts this problem of erasure and offers a solution: “I’m here,” he insists. This assertion of ongoing presence is part of William’s call to action. While his family gave him up as dead after he disappeared—“[n]obody believed,” he observes—William refuses to give up, in turn, on other slave children: “I’m not going to give up. I believe,” he concludes. For while he still doesn’t feel entirely liberated (explaining that his “heart’s not free”), William seeks a final sense of freedom through activism that might lead to a large-scale liberation of Sudan’s slaves. Reminding his reader about “the kids who are slaves today,” he asks: “What are we going to do…?”
Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked across international borders each year, but millions more are enslaved within their own countries. Unknown numbers have been held as slave laborers in China’s “Laogai” (labor reform camps). Created by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, the Laogoi system is intended to “reeducate criminals” and uses prisoners as a source of cheap labor. The camps produce major consumer goods and pay no salaries. Prisoners work for up to 16 hours a day and experience solitary confinement, torture, gang rape, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, drugging, and brainwashing. Some of the Laogai prisoners are practitioners of Falon Gong, a spiritual movement based on Buddhist principles that was banned in China in 1999. Jennifer Zeng was one of these individuals. She was held in Beijing Xin’an Female Labor Camp and forced to make toys.
The vast majority of domestic slaves are girls aged between 12 and 17. Globally, domestic work is rarely scrutinized or legislated, and statistics are hard to obtain. But the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that at least ten million children, some as young as eight, are trapped in domestic labor around the world. There are two million child domestics in South Africa, 700,000 in Indonesia, 559,000 in Brazil, 200,000 in Kenya, millions more in India and Pakistan. The trafficking into domestic labor of children—mainly girls—is estimated to be worth $7 billion per year. Seba was one of these domestic slaves. She left her home country of Mali for France at the age of eight: a couple took her to Paris, promising her parents that they would educate and care for her, in return for work as a nanny. But Seba was enslaved as a household servant, beaten, tortured, and forced to do domestic chores. She was freed when a neighbor heard the sounds of abuse and beating, and managed to talk to her. Seeing her scars, the neighbor called the police and the French Committee against Modern Slavery (CCEM). Medical examinations confirmed that Seba had been tortured. In her narrative, which she told at the age of 22, Seba focuses on her mistreatment at the hands of a “mistress.” Though she does describe an occasion when the husband joined in a beating, most of the narrative is devoted to the starvation, beatings and torture by the wife. As well, while Seba terms the woman “mistress,” she never refers to the man as “master,” only as “[the mistress’] husband.” Showing a woman wholly invested in the institution of slavery, this narrative challenges the equation of mastery and manhood. The image is a drawing by Seba, which she completed while telling her narrative. It was the first time she had ever tried to draw a person.
Karla Jacinto Romero was trafficked by a 22-year-old man at the age of 12, and enslaved until the age of 16 in brothels, roadside motels and homes in Guadalajara and other cities in Mexico. She estimates that she was raped 43,000 times, by 30 people a day for seven days a week during four years. She gave birth at 15 to a baby. The baby's father, a pimp, used the child to further control Karla, threatening to kill the baby if Karla tried to escape or resist.Karla was rescued during an anti-trafficking operation in Mexico City in 2008. She has shared her antislavery message with the US Congress, the Mexican House of Representatives, and the Vatican. Her testimony was used as evidence in support for H.R. 515 or Megan's Law that mandates U.S. authorities share information pertaining to American child sex offenders when these convicts attempt to travel abroad.
In February 2016, at a hearing entitled Ending Modern Slavery: Now is the Time, "Leah" testified before the Senate Foreign Relates Committee. She was enslaved in forced prostitition for seven years, and trafficked across the United States, in South Carolina, Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana, Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Colorado. "Leah" is now an advocate for A21, an organization working against modern slavery.
Evelyn Chumbow was taken from her family in Cameroon at age 10 by a man who convinced her parents that she would get a better education in the United States. Instead, she was forced to work as a slave in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, doing manual labor for her captor and being verbally and physically abused.In her narrative, which she delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she asked Congress to address labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, and referenced a House bill that addresses only sex trafficking.
"Edward" was beaten, degraded and made to work long hours in forced labour in the UK. At one point he was sold by one man to another man for £300. He was removed from a situation of exploitation by the specialist investigators of the charity Hope for Justice. The British Government estimates that there are around 13,000 people in modern day slavery in the UK today. Over 3,000 people, including nearly 1,000 children, were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery in 2015, a 40% increase on the previous year. The most common countries of origin were from Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam.