Canadian activists pursue today’s slavers
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By Jim Coggins

Today’s slave trade often entails enforced prostitution.
“I WAS under the impression that we had abolished slavery too,” says Jamie McIntosh. He is explaining why he has dedicated five years of his life to eradicating an atrocity many have assumed was done away with centuries ago.

Slavery has become a high-profile issue, largely because last month marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of Britain’s slave trade. UNESCO estimates there are currently some 27 million slaves – the greatest number in history. McIntosh, executive director of International Justice Mission Canada (IJM), notes these slaves are of two main types.

Some are sex slaves, women and girls as young as five forced into prostitution. While this is especially prevalent in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, the RCMP, estimates 600 to 800 sex slaves are brought into Canada each year. They have often been tricked into thinking they are going to be given jobs as restaurant workers or maids.

The other type are “bond slaves,” working in places such as plantations, quarries and mills, mostly in Asia and Africa. Through intimidation and violence, they are forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week without medical care or access to education. McIntosh said his organization has seen a woman who was eight months pregnant forced to crush rocks with a sledgehammer 12 hours a day.

Some of these unfortunates were forced into slavery. Others are paying back loans they accepted out of desperation. After natural disasters, slave masters sometimes arrive before aid agencies and offer to lend the victims money.

Because interest rates on the loans can be as high as 1,000 percent, and wages paid by slave masters are paltry, the loans are never paid off. Some people are still trying to pay off debts incurred by family members in the 1920s and 1930s.

In many cases, victims are enslaved in their home countries. Because there are no transportation costs and there is a ready supply of desperate people, slaves are “easily replaceable,” McIntosh says.

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Slave owners have no incentive to take care of their slaves; they are often worked to death in four or five years, and replaced. The average price for a slave today is about $80 – $100. In the 1800s, the price for a slave was the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money.

McIntosh noted that the approach to fighting slavery today is different from that of 200 years ago. Wilberforce fought to establish concepts of human rights and to get laws passed making slavery illegal, McIntosh says, adding: “We have largely won the moral and legal arguments.”

Bond and sex slavery are illegal in most countries. Thus, IJM is engaged in making sure the laws are applied. The group also sends undercover investigators into brothels and rice mills to gather evidence, which it turns over to police in Canada and other countries. In one three-month period, such efforts freed more than 300 slaves.

Some Christians, McIntosh says, may think modern slavery is far away. However, he notes, while there may be 27 million slaves, there are more than 30 million Canadians. “If every Canadian dedicated the prayer and resources to help us or some other agency free one person from slavery,” he says, the problem could be eradicated.

McIntosh mentions Bill C-222, which is now before Canada’s Senate. The bill would change Canadian law so females who have been brought to Canada illegally as sex slaves will be given resources to stay here so they can testify against those who have exploited them.

There are also proposals to develop a national action plan, funded by up to $100 million, to make Canada a leader in combatting human trafficking worldwide.

McIntosh says some Christians need to change their focus from “just us” to justice. “When it comes to rights, we are often focused on defending our own rights instead of defending the rights of the vulnerable around the world,” he says. “Christ laid down his own rights for others.”

Referring to the war against slavery fought by previous generations, he states: “There is a battle raging. We need to battle for the oppressed in our day.”

May 2007