Nobody in today’s world should be held in slavery

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To mark the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, a descendant of William Wilberforce John Gaselee reflects on continuing his legacy today.

Niger girls affected by slavery

23 Aug 2018

A lot has changed – for the better. When I joined Anti-Slavery International – its name was a more old-fashioned Anti-Slavery Society at that time – as a member, most people were genuinely surprised to learn that slavery still existed. They thought it was something for the history books.

We have come a long way since then. Now, most people know something about it – but, perhaps, do not appreciate that every country in the world is implicated in some way. And it is so different from historical slavery – when it was chiefly men who were enslaved. Now, women and girls account for 71% of all people in slavery, and 25% are children. And there are so many different ways in which people are held in slavery. That is still not well known.

There is no simple solution. It is a hard slog. Some years ago, well-meaning people were ‘buying-out’ slaves – paying slave owners to release slaves. That might sound fine – but there was no way to prevent the slave owners pocketing the money, and promptly enslaving others. Not a good idea.

Another aspect which is often overlooked is that, however freedom is achieved, people may so easily become enslaved again. A lot of effort is needed on that front.

Ending slavery for good

Unlike so many, I was not born into slavery. But, as a descendant of William Wilberforce, perhaps I spent too much time looking back, rather than forward to today’s problems.

Some years ago, I started a small charitable trust. My mother, who had been baptised by William’s grandson (her grandfather, whose widow I well remember) joined me as a trustee. Now, David, my son, who has done his stint as a volunteer working for Anti-Slavery, is a hard-working trustee. One of the trust’s chief interests is to help bring about the elimination of slavery.

Obviously, as trustees, we have to be careful with our limited funds – so as to try to get the best ‘value’. We did not, of course, join those well-meaning people who were buying-out slaves. We continue to support Anti-Slavery because we feel it has the knowledge and experience, with on-the-spot partners, to tackle the whole problem.

“We realise that modern slavery is firmly entrenched in many areas. But we feel very strongly that this must be tackled, without delay, and with as much force as possible, using every available means.”

It is all too easy for those with good intentions, in any sphere, to go for the low-hanging fruit which may bring headlines. But, to do the job properly, much more is needed so as root out the problem and prevent its reoccurrence. For instance, the work does not stop when children have been freed from slavery. If they are to have a decent life in the future, they need proper schooling. Those freed from forced prostitution need to be able to start their lives again. And so on.

We realise that modern slavery is firmly entrenched in many areas. But we feel very strongly that this must be tackled, without delay, and with as much force as possible, using every available means. Nobody, in today’s world, should be held in slavery.

William Wilberforce, in his day, achieved much and was widely praised. My hope is that Anti-Slavery International, with so many supporters around the world, will become as well-known for success in today’s world in building the movement of abolitionists that will help end slavery – this time for good.

Protest against bonded labour India

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