7,000 Jamaican slaves under our very noses?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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When many Jamaicans think of slavery, what comes to mind are images of Africans in chains, crowded onto slave ships, and later working in the hot sun on large plantations in white-dominated countries in the Western world.

Slavery existed well before written history, under which human beings were treated as property that could be bought, sold, traded, or inherited. They were often abused, branded, bred, exploited, or killed.

Indeed, slavery was institutionally recognised by most societies, but the conventional wisdom is that it has now been outlawed in all recognised countries, the last being Mauritania in 2007 and probably Sudan — two countries which practised the most brutal form of slavery right into modern times.

It would therefore come as a big surprise to many Jamaicans who would have read in Sunday's edition of the Jamaica Observer that there are some 7,000 people living in modern-day slavery in our beloved country.

This shocking bit of information is according to the Global Slavery Index, which was published last week, claiming that although slavery and the four-year apprenticeship period officially ended 180 years ago, 2.57 people out of every 1,000 resident here are estimated to be living as slaves.

Globally, the report estimates that some 40.3 million people are living in modern-day slavery — with 71 per cent of those being females and 29 per cent males. Some 24.9 million of the total are believed to be in forced labour, with another 15.4 million in forced marriages.

Jamaica is said to rank 112 out of 167 countries for its level of slavery, falling under any of a list of conditions, including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking.

According to the report: “Essentially, it (slavery) refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. For example, their passport might be taken away if they are in a foreign country, they might experience or be threatened with violence, or their family might be threatened.”

We would not be surprised if Jamaica gets its dubious inclusion in the report under human trafficking which has emerged as an issue here in recent times, especially after being raised by the United States human rights organisation.

It might be of little consolation that the report acknowledges that Jamaica has a smaller proportion of modern-day slaves than any of the other Caribbean countries listed, including Barbados at 2.75 per 1,000; Trinidad at 2.96; Guyana at 2.59; the Dominican Republic at 4.03; and Cuba at 3.77.

We would certainly hope that if Jamaicans are living in slavery of any sort, that this fact would be picked up by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in the annual preparation of its social and economic survey to be dealt with decisively.

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