"Never, never will we desist till we . . . extinguish every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of those enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonor to this country."
--William Wilberforce, opposing slavery before the House of Commons
Christians across the country have been eagerly awaiting this weekend's release of Amazing Grace—a movie about William Wilberforce, the British evangelical Christian who led the political movement against slavery in the eighteenth century. With Amazing Grace, modern evangelicals have an opportunity to remember the great cloud of witnesses that surround us—the brave and passionate Christians of generations past who worked tirelessly to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the enslaved. We also have an opportunity to take stock of our own situation. How far have we come in the struggle to defend human dignity?
Slavery: A Modern Reality
In light of William Wilberforce's campaign to rid his nation of slavery, it is important to remember that, for millions of men, women and children around the world, slavery is not just a historical tragedy, it is a present reality. The "bloody traffic" that Wilberforce considered a disgrace to his nation has not yet ended--far from it. The number of modern day slaves is estimated to be around 27 million. Furthermore, government statistics indicate that between 600,000 and 800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders every year (roughly the populations of Vermont and Delaware, respectively).
Modern day slavery does not look exactly like the monster Wilberforce challenged, but it is no less dehumanizing. It sometimes takes the form of sexual slavery. Frequently the women and girls who become enslaved prostitutes are from extreme poverty. To earn their trust, captors promise impoverished women good jobs and new lives in foreign countries. Sometimes modern slave traders buy young girls from extremely poor parents and promise the parents that they will educate their daughters.