Thu, 20 Jan 2022 Today's Paper

Slavery, a crime against humanity

20 March 2021 12:56 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In Sri Lanka, the slave trade is not seen as a major problem though some families are known to use poor children for domestic work while unscrupulous traders and bussnessmen also employ poor children under the age of 18. Legally, they are considered as minors but little or no action is taken to prevent them from being used or abused for hard work without the basic right of education. Poor children are employed by families which apparently do not know they are violating the law and think they are doing the child’s family a favour.  Besides giving these children proper food and clothing they must also ensure the child goes to school for full education so that he or she could enjoy full human dignity and get a professional job when they grow up.  As for those who employ children for difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs, the Government needs to inquire and take tough legal actions against such employers. 


Where men and women are concerned there is little or no open slave trade but hundreds of thousands of them are known to be over-worked and underpaid to the extent that they are caught up in a poverty trap and cannot provide proper meals, shelter, clothing and education for their children.  For instance hard working farmers are poverty-stricken though for thousands of years they have been considered a part of our culture and that is why their work is known as agriculture.  After the globalised capitalist market economic policy was imposed on the world by powerful nations, agriculture has become agribusiness. Most farmers are paid a small amount for their paddy while the middle men or the paddy millers make huge profits by selling the rice at high prices to sales outlets. So, middle income families comprising millions of people pay between Rs.100 and 130 for a kilo of rice while most farmers get only about Rs.30 to 40 for a kilo of paddy. 


Thus, in an indirect way the once revered farmers have become slaves and millions of middle income family members are forced to pay high prices for rice. The middlemen or paddy millers have become millionaires or multi-millionaires. In some of parts of the country struggling farmers obtain loans often at high interest rates. They get loans from banks, microfinance companies and even from individual loan sharks or as we say in Sinhala (Ginipoli Kaarayo). When they cannot repay the loans, some farmers even commit suicide. If the Government could buy paddy directly from farmers and sell to the consumers both would get a better deal. But high-level politicians and people with political influence do not and will not allow this to happen. 


Such is the case in other areas such as fishing and the tea industry. Most fisher-folk risk their lives to get a good catch but they seldom get a good price and here again the middleman makes big money while consumers pay a high price.  For decades, tea has been Sri Lanka’s main foreign exchange earner though in recent decades more foreign exchange has been earned from the garment industry and Sri Lankan expatriate workers remitting their earnings to our country. But today in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the curse of slavery has hit millions of Sri Lankan women and girls working overseas.  In the tea trade, the big companies are making millions in profits but they are reluctant to pay the hardworking tea pluckers and other tea estate labourers a wage of Rs.1000 a day. 


Later this month, the United Nations marks the International Day of remembrance of the victims of slavery.  In a statement, the UN says that for more than 400 years, some 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. The day offers the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system. The International Day also aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today. To permanently honour the victims, a memorial has been erected at UN Headquarters in New York. The unveiling took place on March 25, 2015. The winning design for the memorial, The Ark of Return  by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent, was selected through an international competition and announced in September 2013.


One of the world’s greatest statesmen Nelson Mandela has said, to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

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