International day for the Abolition of Slavery

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilise political will and resources, to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. Today we are taking a look into slavery; a phenomenon of the past and present.



Slavery essentially refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception or abuse of power. It is the denial of one’s basic human rights. With this definition in mind, it may become more apparent that slavery is in fact, not merely a historical relic.


Sadly, slavery has existed in all societies across the world and taken many different forms. While we celebrate the historic successes in fighting slavery, particularly the most well-known and extreme form of historical slavery - the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which lasted for over 400 years and saw millions of Africans captured, sold and transported to the Americas and the Caribbean; this International day allows a light to be shone on the daily reality still impacting over 40 million victims worldwide.


Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled. They represent protection of basic needs and conditions to flourish as human beings. The Human Rights Act 1998, sets out fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. It has three main effects; justice can be sought in a British court, public bodies must respect one’s rights and new laws must be compatible with convention rights.

However, the systems in place to protect a person’s rights differs from country to country. For example, Southeast Asia has historically not adopted the same definition of human rights as that which can be found in Western European or North American countries. The first sign of recognition only came in due to the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put forward by the United Nations. Similarly, much of Africa was still in its first struggle for liberation during the time in which the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


In Niger, many prominent activists were detained in March for organising protests against a new finance law. In Mozambique high accreditation fees were imposed on journalists in July in an attempt to clamp down on independent reporting. Similar events are still occurring across the continent.


Modern day slavery refers to practices of forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking. An estimated 24.9 million are in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriages. According the to the UN, for every 1,000 people in the world there are 5.4 victims to modern slavery. Out of those in slavery, 1 in 4 are children and women are disproportinately affected.


Shocking stories continue to appear in news articles from time to time. There were nearly 7,000 suspected victims of modern slavery in the UK last year, and six potential cases of people’s organs being harvested.

“Slavery has never really gone away - it has just evolved.”

- Will Hayward, a social affairs correspondent.


The ongoing bravery displayed by ordinary people exemplify resilience in the face of oppression. Protesters are demonstrably effective and should be a token of inspiration for us all. In the increasingly hostile atmosphere, the courage, dedication and selflessness of human rights defenders, particularly across parts of Africa, are keeping basic human rights at the front and centre of the regional agenda.

Take this day to spend some time reflecting on how blessed one is for not having experienced any forms of modern day slavery. From the criminalising of slavery in Mauritania in 2007 to the anti-trafficking law in 2011 and anti-slavery campaigns in 2015, respect for human life is slowly evolving. There is indeed yet a long way to go until slavery has completely been eradicated from all societies but we can also celebrate the stage we’re at now - particularly in relation to where the world, and the UK, has been in the past.

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