Modern slavery still thriving internationally

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One of America’s leading abolitionist organizations has applauded the sentencing of a Nigerian woman for enslaving two women from her country.

As we reported last week, Bidemi Bello, will spend the next 11 years behind bars for forcing two young women to work as servants and nannies in her plush suburban Atlanta home.

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Prosecutors say she lured the women on separate occasions with false promises of sending them to school, however when they arrived to the United States she regularly beat and abused her victims.

“The recent conviction of the Nigerian native who brought two women to Atlanta from Nigeria and forced them to work as slaves in her home illustrates one way that slavery still thrives in our midst,” said Kenneth B. Morris, President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation (FDFF). “We congratulate law enforcement, prosecutors and the jury that recognized the insidious nature of this woman’s crime enough to put her in prison for many years to come.”

Another member of the Foundation, Founder & Executive Vice President Robert J. Benz, said this type of domestic servitude is not as pervasive as sex-trafficking but still an important issue which needs to be given prominence.

Mr Morris, a direct descendant of the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the educator Booker T. Washington, said the horrors of modern slavery are still rife.

“What has become known as ‘human trafficking’ is the buying and selling of people. Just like the slavery of old, modern slave owners seek to rob an individual of his or her freedom and to exploit that person for their labor in a variety of ways,” said Mr Morris. “The exploiters will continue to gain ground until we make it a priority as a society to understand how this happens.”

The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, co-founded in June 2007 by Nettie Washington Douglass and her son Kenneth B. Morris, was set up to preserve and honor the legacy of escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and raise awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery.

Today the term slavery is defined as forced labor with little or no pay under the threat of violence. The FDFF describes the four most common types of slavery as: chattel slavery, debt bondage, sex slavery and forced labor.

“I spent my whole life representing these two great leaders on the public stage simply as important pieces of American history. When I discovered that slavery is alive and well today, I realized that Douglass and Washington were more relevant than ever in helping people understand what slavery is and how it may be prevented from expanding in our communities through education” said FDFF chairwoman Nettie Washington Douglass.

The Foundation aims to inspire and educate young people to encourage them to use social networking sites, new technologies and traditional media to educate their families, peers and the wider community.

“The punishment fits the crime. Two factors account for this situation: greed on the part of Ms Bello and poverty on the part of the girls who put their trust in this slave mistress,” said Prince Olugbenga Banjoko, President of the Egbe Omo Yoruba, an association of Yoruba’s (one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria) in Greater Atlanta.

“Bello was trying to transport the ideas of Nigeria to America, where many wealthy and well-to-do families have live-in house-girls. In some cases these girls, or even boys, are treated like third class citizens,” said Prince Olugbenga Banjoko.

However, enslavement cuts across all cultures, with cases involving a range of nationalities, including Russian girls being lured to the U.S then forced to work in a strip club to the high-profile conviction of an Indian millionaire couple who enslaved two Indonesian women in their Long Island mansion.

Estimates by the US State Department suggest up to 17,500 slaves are brought into the US every year, with 50,000 of those working as prostitutes, farm workers or domestic servants.

Modern slavery is a global phenomenon with an estimated 12.3 million people — the majority women and girls — being victims of forced labor, bonded labor and sex slavery, according to the U.S. State Department. It is a lucrative business as well, with trade putting approximately $32 billion into the pockets of traffickers each year.