The fight against modern slavery
I was shocked when I first learned that 35 million people still live in slavery around the world. I had the opportunity to meet some of them on a visit to Northern India with the Freedom Fund, an organisation committed to abolishing modern slavery. A small group of us were invited to see first-hand the work of MSEMVS, an NGO, working to liberate entire villages trapped for generations in bonded labour. In the first village we visited, we encountered almost 100 men and women in debt bondage to a local stone quarry owner. Although the practice of debt bondage is illegal, it is still widely practiced. It was a harrowing experience to be confronted with the faces of modern slavery. I remember asking "If you could do something else with your life other than this what would it be?" So entrenched were they in slavery that they had no concept of freedom and little capacity to hope for a different and better future. For them slavery was normal. We all left feeling helpless and overwhelmed by their plight.
The next village we visited just 15 minutes away could not have offered a greater contrast. We were greeted with joyful songs about freedom, and the villagers couldn’t wait to share their story of escape from bonded labour and slavery. Three years earlier they too were enslaved in debt bondage with no hope of freedom. But with the help of MSEMVS they gained the courage and knowledge to act against the landowner (despite his threats and abuse) and secure their freedom. Today they are paid a fair wage for their labour, their kids attend school and they are no longer afraid. We left feeling encouraged and optimistic. It was a great jolt to urgent action. Slavery, illegal everywhere in world, can be beaten by supporting the efforts of organisations like MSEMVS and the Freedom Fund.
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Andrew Doust is Vice President of Strategy at Legatum