For many people, the word slavery conjures up images from history – of the transatlantic slave trade, the practice of buying and selling people that the modern world is supposed to have left behind, and of the 19th century abolitionist movement. But the reality is that not only does slavery exist today, it is expanding. An estimated 27 million women, children, and men are currently enslaved around the world (Bales ,1999): Eastern European women are bonded into prostitution in Western Europe; children are trafficked between West African countries; and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates. Contemporary slavery can affect people of any age, sex, or race on every continent and in most countries. This article is an introduction to what constitutes slavery. It focuses on bonded labour (the most widespread form of slavery today), and on the worst forms of child labour. It provides examples of the way in which socially constructed expectations can increase women’s and children’s vulnerability to slavery-like practices.
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