Child slavery is without doubt the most painful and the most emotive area of slavery for most to encounter. Children are dependent and vulnerable and are in need of special protection. Evil and heartless people exploit children who are the most defenceless in our society. There are an estimated 5 million children caught up in slavery across the world.
There are countless news stories about child labour but this is not the same as child slavery. Child labour, as with child slavery, takes away the rights of children and denies them education and natural development. However child slavery will take away a child's freedom and often deny them contact with their parents. Poverty is often the cause and where a family is desperate for provision a solution may be to sell one of their children into slavery. Often a child's parents will die and unscrupulous men will exploit them. The story of Patrick and Maria may be typical.
Patrick and Maria were brother and sister whose parents were working in a brick kiln near to Faisalabad. Tragically their parents both died and they were left as orphans. Patrick took responsibility for his sister, just a baby. The owner of the kiln continued to use and abuse the children and Patrick was forced to make bricks in return for meagre care. When their story reached the ears of a partner charity funds were made available to rescue the children. Unfortunately before they could be rescued both Patrick and Maria succumbed to disease and died. This fate, normally un-mourned, is the situation of so many children.
One girl who had been rescued was asked what she dreams of and her reply was, "I don't dream because I am too scared to sleep; I don't know what they would do to me if I was asleep." Such a tragic response! We hear stories of sexual abuse and rape of prepubescent girls. It is rare for the perpetrators of such crimes to be arrested and even when they are there are few prosecutions. As is the case for all slaves little or no value is placed on their lives over and above their usefulness to their exploiters.
Children as young as three or four work as slaves. Often they do not receive proper nutrition. They typically receive only one meal per day. They can be forced to eat while they work, often in dusty and unsanitary situations. They work in inhumane places where the conditions are deplorable. Not only are they exploited and mistreated by their employers, they are made to endure unsanitary working places. Drinking from dirty puddles results in hepatitis, dysentery, bacterial infections and many other life taking diseases for these malnourished enslaved children. The lack of clean drinking water and no medical care is regularly the cause of death among these children.
Anti Slavery International, as its name implies, is working hard in the area of abolishment. They have hopefully extracted the following statistics about child slavery.
"It will take seismic shifts in the world to eradicate child slavery once and for all. Beyond economic reform, it's a matter of education, of human rights, of political and personal will. Perhaps that's above all: the sheer determination, stamina and belief that change is both possible and vital. Because whatever your culture, whatever your starting point, can it be right that a child in the 21st century is still a commodity, that a child can have quite literally a price on his head?" Rageh Omaar (journalist)