Each year, an estimated 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked against their will across international borders. According to the White House, 14,500-17,500 of these are trafficked into the United States. Some are forced to work in sweatshops and farms, but most are domestic workers and prostitutes. A typical case is that of "Maria," a Guatemalan who was lured to the U.S. by a "coyote" when she was 12. Once in Florida, she was raped and forced to submit to prostitution. She did not speak the language and was threatened with violence if she attempted to escape.
Poor women from the Philippines stream into Saudi Arabia seeking jobs as domestics. It is not uncommon for their employers to confiscate their passports, force them to work seven days a week, and confiscate all or most of their salaries as compensation for room and board. Some escape. Most do not.
In Burma, and in several countries in Africa, children as young as 11 are kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. The State Department's trafficking report quotes a 13-year-old former soldier from Liberia who told of being drugged. "They gave me pills that made me crazy. When the craziness got in my head, I beat people and made them bleed."
Elsewhere, the exploitation of children for "child sex tourism" is a thriving industry. In Thailand, Cambodia and Costa Rica, as well as other nations, pedophiles traveling from all over the globe are offered their choice of male or female victims from among the poorest classes. The children can be as young as 5.
In 2003, President Bush signed the PROTECT Act, which makes sex tourism by Americans a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison, which is a start. But thousands upon thousands of children continue to be raped, beaten and abused for years on end, and then thrown away when they reach adulthood.
We don't have to imagine what life is like for these slaves. We can ask them. And the best way to honor the lives of our ancestors who suffered under slavery is to do what we can to free those who are suffering now.