This Immoral Trade: A Book Review By Freya Dodd

September 12th, 2013

This Immoral Trade: A Book Review By Freya Dodd

As the lights glistened in the Olympic stadium, independent athlete Guor Marial was transported back to memories of his ‘life on the run’. Captured at the age of seven by Misseriya Arab tribesmen from Western Sudan in 1993, Guor was taken to Muglad to work as a slave and was kept in dire conditions. Tied inside a room for two weeks when he asked his master for payment, he prayed for God to end his life. He eventually managed to escape and, years later, his appearance at the London Olympics 2012 marked a historical achievement for South Sudanese people and refugees around the world.  His story, which opens the book, is a moving and vivid piece. He reminds us “freedom from slavery is a fundamental human right” and it is our individual duty to learn about slavery which exists all over the world.

This Immoral Trade: Slavery In The 21st Century, written by Baroness Cox and Others, was first published in 2007 to mark the bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s historical parliamentary achievement, in which he abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. This updated and extended edition reminds us that Wilberforce’s mission has not yet been accomplished and we must continue to challenge this dehumanising practice. It is estimated more than 27million slaves exist today, more than at any time in history. The book allows some of those who have been enslaved to tell their own stories, emphasising that behind each statistic is a human being- a man, woman or child, families and communities who have been devastated and destroyed by the horror of modern day slavery.

New stories have been added to the chapter ‘Let the Slaves of Sudan and South Sudan Speak’, which reveals a systematic policy of enslavement, used as a weapon of war by the National Islamic Front (NIF). This practice, which began in the 1980’s, sought to destroy African communities and African culture. Since the first book was published the Republic of South Sudan has been formed, however thousands of those who were abducted during slave raids decades ago remain in captivity and little effort is being made to rescue them. Those who have been freed have returned to find their families killed and homes, schools and livestock destroyed. A ‘lost generation’ of children have no education. Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir has continued to wage war against his own people in Darfur, Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile, and reports of enslavement by government soldiers continue in Darfur state.

The chapter ‘Let the Abducted Children of Northern Uganda Speak’ gives a voice to child soldiers who managed to survive abduction and escape the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. The LRA’s insurgency campaign adopted a systematic policy of recruiting children by kidnapping them from their villages and schools to fight against their own people and the Ugandan army. These children were forced to fight, spy, carry heavy loads, act as human shields and sex slaves, brutalised in the process and often forced to kill their own families as an initiation ritual. This book contains stories of some of the 20,000 estimated child soldiers in Uganda. One girl, called Irene, was abducted in 2001. She was forced to slash the bellies of other children under the threat of death. Now in school, she suffers from repeated nightmares and cannot concentrate on her education. This chapter demonstrates the ongoing trauma these children face, returning home to find their families murdered by the LRA, and many girls face rejection by their communities for the sexual relationships they were forced to engage in during captivity. Since the first edition LRA activity has ceased in Northern Uganda, however brutal attacks against civilian populations continue in neighbouring Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.

‘Let the Sex Slaves, Forced Porters and Child Soldiers of Burma Speak’, examines the legacy of the cultural genocide committed by Burma’s military regime against its many ethnic groups including the Karen, Karenni, and Shan peoples of Eastern Burma, as well as the Chin, Kachin and Rohingya peoples to the West and the Mon in the south. In areas occupied by government troops local people were subjected to forced labour, used as porters and even human minesweepers. The government also pursued a policy of conscripting child soldiers, with figures reaching 70,000 at its peak. Areas which resisted invasion by government forces, such as Karen, Karenni and Shan state, suffered constant military offenses with their villages burned and mined, civilians tortured, and hundreds of thousands driven into the jungle. The use of rape as a weapon of war is well-documented, and this chapter examines reports of rape and sexual violence against hundreds of women and girls committed by the Burmese army.  Many women have fled to the Thai border where they are exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and being sold into the sex industry. This Immoral Trade examines some of the developments since the first edition, including the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of political prisoners from years of house arrest, and the renewed military offenses against the Kachin and Shan people which continue to displace thousands of civilians. The Rohingya people of Northern Arakan State, who are denied citizenship by the Burmese government, suffer particularly severe oppression. This chapter reminds us that while many welcome changes have occurred in Burma, the international community must maintain pressure to ensure that reforms bring peace, justice and freedom to all people.

‘Slavery Through the Ages’ provides an insight into the different forms of slavery that have existed across the world and the Christian roots of the anti-slavery movement. This edition also features a new chapter on the global nature of contemporary human trafficking, which includes the individual stories of people who have been enslaved in Europe and the USA and examines organisations which are fighting to end trafficking around the World, and are supporting victims on their journey of rehabilitation. It is estimated that 800,000 people are traded across international borders each year, and half of those are thought to be children. The chapter begins with the story of Sarah* who was taken from her home country at the age of 5, kept outside during the winter and beaten with belts.  She was repeatedly raped and was forced into prostitution at the age of 9. This abuse continued when she was trafficked to Britain.  She was 15 when she managed to free herself from this torture, and years later, with the support of charitable agencies, she now feels able to go out by herself and feels more positive about her future.  This chapter highlights that in the West we are learning from stories like Sarah’s, but the challenge of implementing laws to effectively protect these victims remains, and we must continue to challenge this abhorrent practice.

This new edition features a special chapter on the plight of the ‘Dalits’ of India, deemed ‘untouchables’ in the centuries old Hindu caste system. Relegated to the most menial and degrading jobs in society these people, and particularly children, are extremely vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation. The chronic poverty these families’ face means that some parents are forced to dedicate their children as Devadasi or Jogini for a lifetime of sexual service to the temple, facing extreme health risks and social exclusion. HART interviewed some of the Devadasis supported by Operation Mercy, the tragic words of one woman resonate, “I have had a thousand men in my life-but I have never had a husband”.  Bonded labour is an even more widespread problem, with an estimated 15 million children kept in this form of slavery in India alone. This chapter stresses that attitudes must be change if slavery is to be eradicated in India, it is our responsibility to speak up for Dalits around the world and call for better laws on human trafficking and slavery, as well as greater law enforcement.

This Immoral Trade concludes with an important chapter on action readers can take, and it surmises that if slavery is to be abolished in the twenty-first century we must first break the bonds of ignorance, silence, disinterest, ideology, complacency and complicity. The public must become better informed and challenge large organisations and governments who turn a blind eye to this dehumanising practice. The campaign to eliminate apartheid in South Africa united political, religious, feminist and human rights organisations from around the world in bringing moral pressure upon the South African government. The book closes with a belief that a similar movement, with widespread backing from grassroots groups and governments, is needed to end the appalling evil and moral shame of modern 21st century slavery, and thus complete the tireless work which Wilberforce began 200 years ago.

The book is now available to purchase from Amazon priced at £7.99

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Freya Dodd

By Freya Dodd

Freya is currently interning at HART after graduating with a Politics degree from Nottingham University. Her particular interests include the relationship between education and development, and the protection of human rights.


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