Editorial: Taking freedom for granted

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The United Nations (U.N.) has proclaimed December 2 International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. According to the U.N.’s website, “2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.”
Today will get less fanfare than yesterday’s World Aids Day for obvious reasons, but we, as a nation that has suffered the atrocities of slavery, should not let this day pass without at least some reflection on our tumultuous history and the burdens that slavery has caused to linger to this day.
The timing of this day is of note in light of the recent CNN International report of an apparent active slave trade in Libya. For those of you who may not be following that news or the social media firestorm that has followed, here is a brief. In October, CNN sent a team to Libya and that team witnessed approximately a dozen men being auctioned in an active slave trade for as little as $400 each. The crew was also told of other auctions taking place at different locations in the country.  
Since that report, a number of celebrities have begun to highlight the issue, and many are petitioning for some form of intervention. The problem is that Libya is a forgotten place. Once ruled by a monarchy, a small team of military personnel, led by a young Muammar Gaddafi, staged a coup d’état and launched the Libyan Revolution. The country progressed, but many years later, there was unrest, the international community intervened, and, ultimately, Gaddafi was killed in 2011.
We are not going to get into foreign politics or attempt to label Gaddafi and Libya in any way, except to say that the once debt-free country is in shambles. External debt stands at almost U.S. $4 billion, and migrants flood across the borders attempting to get to a better life in Europe. In this confusion, slavery has re-emerged – not that it has ever left.
It is depressing that slavery could exist in the 21st century, but, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Just think about that for a moment. That is more than the population of Canada!
A further look at the U.N. statistics causes depression to turn into anger. More than 40 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage. There are more than 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world. One in four victims of modern slavery are children. Ninety-nine percent of victims are in the commercial sex industry, and 58 percent in other sectors are female. And the list goes on.
Libya, and other places that participate in the modern-day slave trade, may seem far away, but the topic of slavery is still very close to us. We should not allow this despicable trade to continue, and we should not remain silent on the sidelines like the world did when our ancestors made the journey from Africa.
We may be just a small island in the Caribbean, but we need to make our voice heard on this matter. Our ancestors were victims, and, to a great extent, we remain victims of the slave trade. We may be limited in what we can do, but let us not be silent while the statistics pile up.
As a starting point, we can support 50forFreedom, a movement initiated and sponsored by the ILO to establish a protocol on forced labour. It is a movement to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Protocol on Forced Labour by the end of 2018. So far, according to 50forFreedom.org website, only 21 have ratified to date.  
Much of this may be symbolic for Antigua and Barbuda, but so what? With our past, we should do whatever we can to save others from the history that we have suffered through slavery. Plus, why not support a protocol that aims to provide “a legally-binding treaty that requires governments to take new measures to tackle forced labour in all its forms”? One that works on “protection, prevention and compensation” and “requires countries to ensure the release, recovery and rehabilitation of people living in forced labour” and “also protects them from prosecution for any laws they were made to break while they were in slavery.”
Imagine if the world had supported a protocol such as this 500 years ago?
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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