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Modern Day Human Trafficking in America and Africa

Updated on April 9, 2015

In America, most students are taught in grade school that slavery is a thing of the past. The textbooks explain quite matter-of-factly that slavery occurred during one of the darkest hours of American history. It is a time we look back on with remorse and regret, and we wonder how things could have been so tragically different not all that long ago.

Fortunately for us, though, are the cushy comforts that come with inhabiting an economically and politically powerful country. These comforts - our big houses, nice cars, television sets, laptops, cell phones and other gadgets that keep us occupied - are actually quite effective in blinding us from a wide array of tragedy that still permeates our country.

What many of us fail to realize is that slavery is not at all dead. Human trafficking, a modern-day term for slavery, is alive and well in America and many other countries across the globe. Hundreds of thousands of people are bought and sold in this global network of slavery every day as if they are commodities. These men, women, teenagers and young children are tricked or forced into exploiting themselves for sex or labor, and in doing so are entirely stripped of their rights as human beings.



After drug dealing, human trafficking stacks up as the second largest criminal industry in the world (tied with arms dealing) and is also the fastest growing.1

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines labor trafficking as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.2"

There are several different kinds of labor trafficking, including bonded labor, forced labor and child labor. Bonded labor occurs when labor is demanded as repayment for a loan or service that has not been paid back. This is the least known form of slavery today, but it is probably the most widely used method of forcing people into the human trafficking network.3

Forced labor and child labor occur when victims are forced to work for someone against their will under the threat of violence or a punishment of some sort. Different types of forced labor and child labor include domestic servitude, agricultural labor, sweatshop factory labor, pornography, prostitution, arms trade and illegal drug trade.4

In West Africa, a river of women and girls flows freely from Nigeria through places like Benin and Ghana, and eventually into the Cote d'Ivoire.
In West Africa, a river of women and girls flows freely from Nigeria through places like Benin and Ghana, and eventually into the Cote d'Ivoire. | Source
Activists take a stand against trafficking.
Activists take a stand against trafficking. | Source

Trafficking in America

With a per capita GDP of $48,000 and one of the most technologically powerful economies in the world, America’s market-oriented mindset creates prime opportunities for both individuals and private corporate entities to take advantage of a social sector that has gradually developed - a “two-tier labor market” in which the people on the bottom tier lack the professional and technical skills of those in the top tier.5

This dichotomy between social classes continues to expand as our country’s economic state weakens. Poverty is the breeding ground for violence and crime, and as more and more families enter poverty, more situations yielding human trafficking arise. The United States Central Intelligence Agency has estimated that about 50,000 people are trafficked to and from the U.S. each year.6 The impact of human trafficking in America affects many far-reaching corners of the globe:

The United States is a destination country for thousands of men, women, and children trafficked largely from Mexico and East Asia, as well as countries in South Asia, Central America, Africa, and Europe, for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. Three-quarters of all foreign adult victims identified during the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 were victims of trafficking for forced labor. Some trafficking victims, responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the United States, migrate willingly—legally and illegally—and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude or debt bondage at work sites or in commercial sex. An unknown number of American citizens and legal residents are trafficked within the country, primarily for sexual servitude.7

Over the past decade, more and more incidents have begun to appear in America’s news and media outlets highlighting the reality of human trafficking in the United States. In May of 2009, The Kansas City Business Journal published an article exposing three Kansas City-area companies that were charged for “labor racketeering, forced labor trafficking, and immigration and other violations in 14 states.8"

In December of 2008, The Associated Press (the largest news agency in America) reported in an articled titled “Child maids now being exported to US” the details of the American child slavery market:

The trafficking of children for domestic labor purposes in the U.S. is an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. Families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer. The custom has led to the spread of trafficking, as well-to-do Africans accustomed to employing children immigrate to the U.S. Around one-third of the estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States are servants trapped behind the curtains of suburban homes, according to a study by the National Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and Free the Slaves, a nonprofit group. No one can say how many are children, especially since their work can so easily be masked as chores.9


Child Trafficking in West Africa

Trafficking in Africa

The human trafficking networks in Africa are far deeper engrained and noticeable from the vantage point of an outsider than those in America. Poverty has been singled out as the number one reason why human trafficking is such a common yet illegal activity within the African continent.10 However, the illegal sale and trade of people is not strictly limited to the poor countries of Africa. South Africa, a middle-income country with an emerging market, a bountiful supply of natural resources, and well-developed financial, legal and communications sectors is also heavily involved in the trafficking of men, women and children.11

Women run an equally high risk of being trafficked, and while children are sometimes trafficked for prostitution purposes, women are more likely to be trafficked into the sex industry as sex slaves. South Africa is the primary African destination of trafficked women because it is the regional power house, and its image as a destination of opportunities is regularly used by traffickers to lure women and girls into trafficking traps. The majority of people trafficked to South Africa are from ten countries, namely Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.12

There is also a heavily increasing rate of child trafficking in Africa. In Nigeria alone, it is estimates that there are roughly 12 million girls between the ages of 10 and 14 who are forced into domestic servitude or prostitution.13

People who are forced into the human trafficking network in Africa are often lured in with promises of a “better life” or a more lucrative job. African women are particularly vulnerable to the grasp of the sex slave trade. “Traffickers identify women who are socio-economically deprived and then convince these women to leave their circumstances and travel with them. False promises of food, other material goods and employment convince the victims to willingly accompany the traffickers.”14 Additionally, in nearly every sexual slavery or human trafficking case, the women’s passports are taken away, leaving them unable to go to authorities for help because they would just be deported back to their home countries - the home they were trying to escape from in the first place.15

Many African countries are so impoverished that children often times will leave their homes and travel to cities in search of work. It is common for Ethiopian children to leave their families and travel to Somalia to try to make money in the cities. Once they arrive, the majority end up as street children or in petty trade. Often times, people claim to be the children’s parents and use them to beg.16 Lu Hassan Matan, the former child protection director of Somalia’s National Human Rights Commission, explained in a 2007 interview: “"The children are used in different ways ... and are exploited for child labour in Somaliland. Whenever you see a child in the street crying and ask him or her why, they respond they are not with their parents, but have been brought in to work.”17

Many counter-trafficking projects have been established in various places throughout Africa, including Somalia, Nigeria and South Africa. While these efforts are small in comparison with the weight of the human trafficking networks in Africa, it is a start in the right direction. Last year, Nigeria was able to investigate 209 cases and successfully convicted 23 traffickers.

[Nigeria’s] government is making a concerted effort to train law enforcement and cooperate internationally. Last year it helped in the arrest of 60 Nigerian trafficking suspects in Europe. It has increased funding for its anti-trafficking program and is assisting victims by working with NGOs to provide shelter, counseling, and vocational training.”18

It is not hard to understand why so many African people fall victim to the human trafficking rings that are so heavily present in their societies. A lack of organized social services and proactive governments in Africa leaves people with few other options. When you are poor, starving and just tying to help support your family and get a better life, it's easy to believe the false promises of traffickers. While some countries have taken initiative to try and put an end to the horrors of human trafficking, much work is still needed on their part.

Child Trafficking and Women in Poverty

Essentialism and Human Rights

The concept of essentialism plays a significant role in the issue of human trafficking. It suggests that people have a strong history and a most definite future of enslaving others for personal and monetary gain.

The idea of slavery may seem antiquated to some; however, slavery is really an intrinsic aspect of humanity. We as humans are prone to power struggles, greed and manipulation, and when you mix all three of those elements together, it is no surprise that human trafficking is as pressing of an issue as it is today. Add corrupt government and black market organizations to the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for a far-reaching network of human slavery.

These people, under oppression by their governments and by the ruling classes surrounding them, are treated as mere products that are bought and sold as quickly as stocks on Wall Street. They have virtually no rights and become the property of someone else once they enter the trafficking network. All human beings deserve the right to be free from oppression and slavery. No one person should ever have the audacity to decide they are more important than another person or group of people, or to exploit human beings for personal gain.

For more information about human trafficking and how you can help, visit or


1 "Labor Trafficking Fact Sheet," Administration for Children and Families, 
accessed 5 Dec. 2010,<>.
2 "Labor Trafficking Fact Sheet," Administration for Children and Families
3  "Labor Trafficking Fact Sheet"
4 Ibid.
5 "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery," GVNET.COM, accessed 07 Dec. 2010,
6 "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery," GVNET.COM
7 "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery"
8 "Feds Charge Three Kansas City-area Companies with Labor Trafficking," 
Kansas City Business Journal, accessed 06 Dec. 2010,  
9 "Child Maids Now Being Exported to US," Zimbio, accessed 06 Dec. 2010,
< News/articles/7537/Child maids now being    exported>.
10"Nigeria/West Africa: Human Trafficking," Stop Demand Foundation, 
accessed 07 Dec. 2010. <>.
12"Consultancy Africa Intelligence: Human Trafficking in Africa - 
A Modern Day Evil," Consultancy Africa Intelligence, accessed 07 Dec, 2010.
 <    option=com_content&view=article&id=233&Itemid=156>.
13  "Consultancy Africa Intelligence: Human Trafficking in Africa - 
A Modern Day Evil," Consultancy Africa Intelligence
14 "Consultancy Africa Intelligence"
15 Ibid.
16 "Somalia: Human Trafficking on the Increase,", accessed 07 Dec. 2010. 
17 "Somalia: Human Trafficking on the Increase,"
18 "Nigeria Shows Political Will to Investigate, Prosecute, and Convict Human Trafficking Cases,", accessed 07 Dec. 2010. <>.


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    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      20 months ago

      Every time I think how great it is to be in America then I can't help to feel bad for all the people struggling from human trafficking and the hard way of life. Thank you for sharing and writing such a good hub. One day maybe we can put an end to this horrible situation and the people that are responsible. Have a wonderful night.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      7 years ago

      I have read a few articles on the Hub Pages on human slaves and trafficking and I still can't believe this horrible thing happens this day and age.Thank you for helping others like myself learn and realize how serious this matter still is.So one day we can put an end to the cruelty and abuse.

    • Rebekah  Nydam profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebekah Nydam 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      I agree Lita! Thank you for you comment

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Human trafficking in Africa has extended its ugly tentacles as far as my own country. You must have heard about the recent events where Filipinos served as drug mules for these alleged African drug syndicates? Three of our hapless countrymen were sentenced to die by lethal injection for their crime in China. And more are waiting for their death sentence. Something must be done to save lives of the innocent.


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