Female and Child Slavery Essay

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Slavery exists today despite international and domestic laws prohibiting ownership of a person or compulsory labor. Article 1 of the Slavery Convention of 1926 defines slavery as the “status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” In 1930, the International Labour Organization Convention (No. 29) expanded the definition of slavery to include compulsory labor. Article 2.1 of the Slavery Convention prohibits “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” Slaves are under the control of other people and lack the ability to exercise their free will or earn compensation for the work they produce.

Slavery persists for many reasons, including poverty, a lack of opportunity for education or employment, and warfare. Additionally, in some countries there is a social acquiescence in the exploitation of women and children. Modern forms of slavery are prevalent in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and can include forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking of persons for sexual slavery or other purposes, and child soldiers.

Child Slavery

The exploitation of children is a phenomenon that exists throughout the world. The International Labour Organization estimates that 120 million children under the age of 15 are employed full time and are often uncompensated for their work. Such full-time employment prevents children from attending school and often exposes them to hazardous conditions.

Domestic slavery is common in many countries because of the economic disparities created by a growing middle class and increased rural poverty. Young girls from rural communities are sold by their families to middlemen in exchange for a purchasing price and, in some cases, a monthly stipend. These families are destitute and easily convinced their children will have a better life in an urban center with the opportunity to attend school and obtain employment in the home of a wealthier family. However, once the children reach their employer’s home they are forced to work long hours, and as they tend to the household duties, are often the first to rise and last to sleep. They are not given the opportunity to attend school and are often exposed to severe abuse by employers who view them as property. Sexual abuse is especially prevalent because domestic servants are hidden from public view in the privacy of an employer’s home. Domestic servants may be as young as 5 years old and are unable to defend themselves against the verbal, physical, and sexual abuse of their employers.

Another common form of child slavery in developing countries occurs in the manufacturing sector, with women and young children working in factories and sweatshops under grueling conditions. The global demand for textiles, apparel, footwear, and cheap labor continues to perpetuate this slavery. Employers circumvent local labor laws by housing underaged employees in homes or small shops. Children are often forced to work under threat of physical abuse and are compensated little to nothing for their work.

Debt Bondage

The practice of debt bondage is a financial agreement whereby a debtor pledges to provide his or her personal services, or the services of someone under his or her control, as security for a debt. Children are often bonded by their families in exchange for a loan they have taken from a creditor or employer. Others are born into a bonded family, a practice that is common in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

In India, destitute parents needing money to pay for food or other expenses, such as expenses arising from an illness in the family, can offer their child in exchange for a loan. The creditor or employer forces the child to work as repayment. The child can work and save to purchase his or her freedom or work until his or her family repays the loan. However, high interest rates are attached to these loans by the creditor or employer so that the child is unable to earn enough to purchase his or her freedom and the family’s low wages, which forced them to seek a high interest rate loan in the first place, make repaying the loan impossible. As a result, the child may pass the family debt on to a younger sibling or his or her own child.

In Pakistan and other rural and agricultural countries, children may be born into a bonded family. This type of debt bondage usually stems from a sharecropping arrangement where families seek loans to pay for seeds, fertilizer, and the other supplies they need to buy before they can earn the income from their first harvest. This type of arrangement promotes violence on multiple levels, where a landowner is physically or verbally abusive toward the children as well as the parents. In some cases, children must witness abuse directed at their parents by the landowner. These loans are also offered with a high interest rate and perpetuate generations of debt bondage.

Trafficking and Sexual Slavery

The trafficking of women and girls for sexual slavery is a global problem. Statistics on the number of women involved and their countries of origin are nearly impossible to obtain because human trafficking is an illegal and underground business that often involves organized crime. The United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that 700,000 to 2 million women and girls are trafficked each year. From 1990 to 1997, more than 200,000 Bangladeshi women were victims of trafficking and 5,000 to 7,000 Nepali women and girls were illegally trafficked into India. In Belgium, 10% to 15% of foreign prostitutes were trafficked from other countries and sold into prostitution rings. Increased concerns about the transmission of HIV/AIDS have made young girls the primary target of traffickers for the global sex industry.

Traffickers utilize several techniques to capture women and children. They often lure women with the prospect of well-paying jobs as domestic servants, waitresses, or factory workers. They also lure women by telling them they will be mail-order brides for eligible suitors or have modeling careers abroad. Traffickers also resort to kidnapping young women and girls or purchasing them from their families, with the promise of greater opportunity for employment and a better life. However, this promise is not kept in most circumstances and the young women and girls are forced into lives of sexual slavery.

During confinement many women and girls experience violence, including rape, physical and verbal abuse, and threats to harm their family if they refuse to engage in forced sexual activity. There is generally no hope of escape for these victims, because many of them are in a foreign country without travel documents, are meagerly compensated for the services they perform and cannot earn enough to repay their purchase price, or have no one to help them, since they are too ashamed to tell their families they are prostitutes. Young girls who are forced into sexual slavery experience severe physical and psychological trauma that often causes irreparable harm.

Child Soldiers

In 2006, the United Nations estimated that nearly 250,000 children worldwide were actively involved in armed conflict. The majority of these children are located in the war-torn countries of Africa, such as Uganda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Children are abducted, trained as soldiers, and forced to engage in combat that is hazardous to their well-being. They are often captured during combat after their parents are killed, and are threatened with violence if they refuse to fight. In cases where a child soldier unsuccessfully attempts to escape, the child is executed as punishment and as an example for potential deserters. The youngest children are often placed on the front lines of a war because they are less demanding, eat less, and are more easily manipulated than adults. Moreover, they are often sent into battle high on drugs to give them courage. Child soldiers become slaves of the military forces that control them because they engage in combat to avoid abuse or are used as slave labor for carrying military supplies. The lives of child soldiers can be mentally and emotionally traumatizing because they are forced to experience war, death, and murder at a young age.


  1. Bales, K. (1999). Disposable people: New slavery in the global economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. Blagbrough, J., & Glynn, E. (1999). Child domestic workers: Characteristics of the modern slave and approaches to ending such exploitation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  3. Estacio, E., & Marks, D. (2005). Child labour and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182: A critical perspective. London: City University.
  4. International Labour Organization Convention. C29 Forced Labour Convention, 1930. Retrieved July 25, 2007, from http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/convdisp1.htm
  5. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Slavery Convention. Retrieved July 25, 2007, from http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/slavery.htm

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