“These images are not of issues, they are of people,” says documentary photographer Lisa Kristine during her TED Talk on Modern Slavery. This comment was thrown in at the end of her twenty-minute talk, but I thought it was the most important one. Often, I look at portraits and visual documentations of current issues occurring throughout the world, and my main focus is the issue itself. Kristine’s quote is a fabulous reminder to not only understand that there is an issue, but there are people suffering – people like you, and I. People with families, aspirations, emotions, religious beliefs and much, much more. It is easy to see a person as just a face, but when discussing and learning about global issues, it is vital to see those suffering as human beings, as your mother, or brother, or yourself.
There are an estimated 27 million people enslaved today – 26% of which are children. Slavery today is due to many factors, some of which include population increase and migration, which makes people struggle economically, therefore they become extremely vulnerable and are easily manipulated into enslavement. Corruption in the government also allows for slavery to go unpunished – slavery is outlawed everywhere but it still exists, everywhere. Finally, discrimination and inequality based on gender, race, social class as well as other factors allow for people to ignore slavery, which allows it to continue.
“Slavery is outlawed everywhere in the world, yet it exists, everywhere in the world”, Kristine says. Slavery exists often in plain sight – for example, people working in restaurants or farms. Kristine documented a variety of the different types of slavery that occur throughout the world – the silk trade in India, fishing in Ghana, brick kilns in Nepal, sex slavery in Nepal and gold and cave mining in Ghana. Kristine continues to describe modern slavery, and the conditions in the places that she visits (her work is linked below – check it out).
In the coal mines in Ghana, slaves are forced to be underground for as long as 72 hours. Those working in the textile silk industry in India use their bare hands to dye clothing – with dye that is in fact poisonous. Gold miners in Ghana are constantly exposed to mercury, and many end up with tuberculosis. Sex slaves in Nepal are kept in underground ‘restaurants’, where they are forced to entertain customers who are often abusive and violent. 400,000 children are enslaved on Ghana’s largest man-made lake – most of them can’t even swim. In Nepal, families, women and children are forced to work in brick-kilns, where the temperature is one-hundred-and-thirty degrees. Inside our own borders, it is estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 American children are enslaved annually. This problem is present everywhere, not just in underdeveloped countries, and equally horrible, no matter where it occurs on the globe.
A social problem is a condition that has negative consequences for individuals, our social world or the environment. However, in order for a situation to be deemed a ‘social problem’, it has to threaten something that society values, and it has to be recognized and brought to popular attention. Modern slavery, however, has not been brought to popular attention. Because slavery victimizes people who are poor, uneducated and vulnerable, society does not consider it a serious problem, and this is because unfortunately, the majority of society do not value those who are poor, uneducated and vulnerable. I think this is because we forget to remember that modern slavery is not just an issue, but it is an issue that people are suffering from. Lisa Kristine said, “if we see these people as human beings, then it becomes very difficult to tolerate atrocities like slavery.” I think this is important to keep in mind.
Lisa’s Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/playlists/72/close_up_and_personal
Free the Slaves Org: http://www.freetheslaves.net