Book summary: Ending Slavery (II)

This is the second part of my summary of “Ending Slavery”, by Kevin Bales. You can read the first part in this same blog. This second part will cover chapters “Rescuing slaves today” and ”Home-grown freedom”.

Rescuing slaves today

In one of the rescue stories, children have been told by their holders that they need to hide when the police comes, because they’ll hurt or kill them, and they have come to believe it. When trying to free them, children freeze when grabbed by the strangers that storm in. Others hide and others scream and fight their rescuers. Police is unhelpful, and when told to arrest the slaveholders, they turn their heads away: they’re not going to get into trouble with the rich men that run the village.

Once the 12-minute raid is over, the slaveholders send messages to the police so they stall or obstruct the rescue plan. As soon as the report is filed, it can be freely accessed, including the slaveholder or his lawyer. Names of the person filing, the ex-slave, his parents, their location or villages they come from are all here. While the police drag their feet, the slaveholders intimidate or bribe witnesses, manufacture evidence, etc. Every report filed can lead to a case lasting 3 years on average, sometimes much longer. Only the person filing is allowed to bring it forward. If anything happens to that person, the case dies.

Money alone won’t solve the problem. Have to change laws, minds, customs and ways of making business. There are six things that will help liberators:

  1. Protect the liberators, e.g. making them “public figures”. That way it’s harder to attack them.

  2. Give them tools to do their job. Cell phones and jeeps could help a lot. In some cases they go to remote rural areas by bike. Schools can keep children out of slavery, and you can keep one for less than $5000/year. The end of slavery partly depends on these small expenditures.

  3. Write and enforce effective antislavery laws. They typically have small penalties (considering it’s usually kidnapping, torture, theft, assault and often rape all combined in one).

  4. Train, motivate and mobilize law enforcement. There are around the same number of murders in the US than people trafficked, but while more than 12/17 thousand murders will be cleared, only over 100 trafficking cases are brought to court.

  5. “Clone” the liberators. More will come as people learn about slavery in their own countries.

  6. Help freed slaves heal so the liberators have time and energy to free other slaves.

Apart from this, there are other things. When liberators are asked, they often reply with big picture factors apart from local conditions. However, there are now hundreds of thousands waiting to be freed, and they must be freed. They are dying now.

Home-grown freedom

There are areas where only slaves live. The Kols (near India’s bottom of the caste ladder) in an area called Sonebarsa, are all slaves in hereditary bondage. Most of them don’t know what freedom means: they require permission to sit, move around, eat or drink. For these people, the breakthrough came in 1998, with the question “why don’t we get our own mining lease?”. After months waiting for the lease, the slaveholders discovered what they were doing and they were thrown out. They didn’t have a place to stay or anything to eat, and they had to survive by eating weeds and roots, not knowing if they would get the lease. When they got it after all, their productivity shot up, they put their kids in school, and local tax officials were shocked because they started getting money.

People in rich countries may feel they don’t have much to learn from poor countries, and that might be one of our greatest failings. Ex-slaves have a remarkable dignity and lack of bitterness: they seem too busy with their new freedoms to hate anybody. It’s easy to see slaves as victims, helpless and dependent, but that misses their resilience, strength, endurance, intelligence and compassion.

When fighting to end slavery, it doesn’t make sense that a rich foreigner tells a family that the children can’t work on the farm anymore if that means that the family income will drop to the point that the children will start to go hungry. Real change has to come from the community. As this is a global problem, using the power of governments sounds like the way to go, but the most efficient engine for freeing up slaves and keep them free is when a community makes the concious decision to do just that. More slaves are freed by community organisation than in any other way. They’re also freed more efficiently and their freedom is more permanent.

To help these communities, there are six points (compare to the above for liberators):

  1. Thinking and being free. When they make the concious decision, their freedom is more durable. To stay free, people need mental tools to endure the change and money to survive while they get a new source of income.

  2. One size does not fit all. The things that stop people from leaving slavery can be surprising. For example, there was an elderly couple afraid for their hut. When shown a new place where they could safely build a new one, their intense desire for freedom took over. There are obstacles that might be invisible to our eyes. Another way to get insight into their lives is creating useful services, so slaves gain trust in the antislavery workers by showing they’re really interested in their well-being.

  3. “Clone” the liberators (again). To get to know and gain trust of communities in slavery, people leaving in remote, dangerous areas are needed. Finding those people is challenging. Make it easy for people who want, to actually move.

  4. Prepare for the backslash. Decide the risk together with communities, and if it’s worth it. Slaveholders will react, the question is how to mitigate. Everyone involved has to understand the dangers and prepare for them.

  5. Plan for the worst. When houses start burning, what to do? When people are homeless, where are they going to live? Forging connections with powerful people that will protect slaves. The presence of foreign observers has saves lives many times.

  6. We all go together. Slaves are not free from prejudices themselves. The first step to freedom is getting women to come together and resist violence in their own homes. Experience the power of resisting violence and learning the right to feel safe. Give confidence to protect themselves and children from trafficking.

A community of ex-slaves will need this to stay free:

  1. Immediate access to paid work. The sooner they work, the sooner stability arrives.

  2. A chance to build up savings. Slavery is often the result of not having a fall-back for a crisis.

  3. Access to basic services, like schools and clinics. Having clean water can save women and children hours a day, improving productivity. Planning for freedom implies asking men and women which services there are and what they need.

  4. Working with the earth. Slaves often work destroying environment. This destruction impacts poor people the most, and leads them to slavery. Sustained freedom means sustainable environment as well. Seeds and a hoe can make a big difference.

What funders and anti-slavery groups need to work well together:

  1. Reliable funding. Normally no large sums are needed, just a steady flow. For many, liberation takes time. People in slavery has a lot of insecurity, so antislavery groups must be reliable. They can’t run out of money in the middle of a liberation. More important than size of gift is regularity.

  2. Flexibility. Need to listen to slave communities, and be responsive to those needs. If that means changing from health care to micro-credits, so be it. The goal is freedom, not a “successful” project that doesn’t get freedom.

  3. Assembling the toolkit. Antislavery groups need a good understanding of and ability to use any antislavery tools and laws at their disposal. Building that expertise needs support.

  4. Critical thinking and funding. Local antislavery groups need to think critically to get the job done. Need to identify what blocks freedom and go for it. It’s harder than it sounds when they’re stuck in a village and the funder has rules about what they support and how they fund it. If there’s not a category for what they really need, it’s tempting to go for something else they know they can get. The challenge is increasing understanding and trust between the workers on the ground and the funders.

People in slavery know best what they need to reach freedom. Outsiders can share ideas, protection and resources, but the solution has to convince and be owned by the people fighting to leave slavery.

No matter what laws are passed or what UN resolutions promulgated, slavery ends when the community decides to and takes action. Slavery is woven into the fabric of life at our neighbourhoods, and has to be cut out of that fabric by those who understand where the threads are hidden and how they’re knotted with corruption, indifference, racism of greet.

And that’s all for now. The next post will cover the “Governments” chapter.