Modern Slavery 2020

Mark Little with a group of those who we rescued.

Human Rights - A political or a humanitarian issue for Rotarians?

(Reflections of a Club International Service Chair)

"Whether or not the ethical climate in business is higher or lower today, each of us has an opportunity to speak up for higher standards. And for each person willing to voice his conviction, there are others who are willing to follow and be influenced by that kind of leadership". (RI President Robert A Manchester 1976).

The global reverberations following the unlawful killing of George Floyd in the USA, poses a particular predicament for Rotarians. That is to say, if we commented on the situation, would we be guilty of contravening Rotary's policies of political neutrality. If public servants appear to be violating basic human rights and we adopted former RI President Manchester's exhortation of speaking up for higher standards, would we be seen to be crossing the line. This article offers a few thoughts on this dilemma, touches upon Rotarians' implied human rights responsibilities and informs readers of a Petition submitted by the Rotary Club of Norwich St. Edmund to the Board of Rotary International (RI) asking for the reinstatement of previously recorded exhortations for Rotarians to make every effort to protect peoples basic human rights. Read the full article by clicking on the following link.


A few reflections by Mark Little

Definition of slavery: I am often asked for a definition of a slave. Quite simply, it is someone who is forced to work without pay, who is unable to leave and who is controlled by violence or the mere threat of violence. For these people their free will is taken away. Their labour, their lives and their minds are being consumed by someone else's greed. But there is another dimension to slavery which is often forgotten.

It eliminates identity: My visits to Child Slave Rehabilitation Centres in India, Nepal and Thailand these last 19 years have made me realise that one of the great crimes of slavery is that it goes beyond "servitude". It goes to the point of eliminating the identity of the individual, and the younger someone is taken into slavery the less likely they are able to repossess their own identity. In effect they become like zombies. Let me explain.,

Kesher Nankar was a slave who was born into bonded labour in India but he was eventually freed after 16 years of servitude. Some years after his release, whilst talking to the presenters of a documentary film on slavery, he expressed his feelings thus:

"You people who are free, who were born free and who have always lived free, can never understand what it is like to be a slave. When I was a slave, I could never have dreamt that one day I would be standing here talking to you as a free man. My whole world was the farm where I was in bondage, and I simply could not have imagined anything else. Because someone, somewhere felt that I should not be a slave, and then did something about that, I am now a free man. But I could never have freed myself." He went on to explain, "You must understand that when someone tells you, year after year that you have no rights to think, you stop thinking. If they say you must not cry, you stop crying."

That is what I mean when I say slavery eliminates the identity of the individual. This is the essential ingredient of modern day slavery, ie the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation.

Liberation is not enough... For the countless numbers of children and adults who are rescued from their factory prisons, fields, homes, quarries, restaurants etc, Liberation is not enough. In Europe or in the United States, a child kidnapped and held in captivity for a number of years would automatically be given counselling. It would be assumed that the child or adult would need help for years to come. The trauma of slavery is just as bad and the need for rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community, is just as important.

The need for rehabilitation.. Children (and the same applies for adults) when rescued are usually broken in body, mind and spirit and if taken directly back to their homes, would undoubtedly remain traumatised and withdrawn for the rest of their lives. They therefore need to go through a physical, mental and spiritual rehabilitation process. For the lucky few, this process is undertaken wherever there is a place available at a Safe House, Rehabilitation Centre or Trafficking Shelter. Sadly, there are not enough of these in the developing countries I have visited.

Rehabilitation is not an easy task.. For the freed slave, freedom is not the end, only the beginning of the road back to normality. Rehabilitating traumatised minds is not an easy task. There is no body of knowledge and expertise built up by doctors and psychologists about how to help the freed slave. When slavery is the only life you have ever known or can ever remember, when your identity is wrapped up in your subjugation, finding a way through to a new life is very difficult, without the right kind of support.

The Rehabilitation Process ..At some of the Rehabilitation Centres I have visited in India, the rescued children are re-educated a) to believe that they are worthwhile, not worthless, b) to learn to love themselves again and c) to play and mix with other children. Also because the majority of these children are from the lowest caste (the dalits) and are illiterate, they are taught to read and write and to acquire trade skills such as welding, weaving, electronics, screen printing, tailoring, bicycle repairs, sewing etc. Acquiring these skills will enable them to more easily reintegrate back into their own villages.

How can Rotary help .. Only a very small percentage of the number of people who are rescued from slavery are rehabilitated because of the paucity of Rehabilitation Centres. If freed slaves are given no support (both psychologically and financially) to rebuild their lives they will inevitably fall back into slavery. Some may even return to slavery by choice. So it is essential that the existing Rehabilitation Centres continue to receive support and that new ones are built to maximise the number of freed slaves who do receive the rehabilitation which they need to rebuild their lives. This is one area where Rotarians and Rotary Clubs can help. So if you want to help, any member of the Rotarian Action Group will point you in the right direction. 


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