Modern-day slavery in the Philippines

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It’s hard to believe that we have in this country an underclass consisting of modern-day slaves.

Our idea of slaves is of black men and women kidnapped by slave traders and shipped to the New World, where they were sold through the auction block. They were made to work in tobacco and cotton plantations without pay, given only enough food to keep their strength for the day’s labor. For insubordination, they were mercilessly whipped or, in extreme cases, hanged. They and their children could be sold anytime.

The law classified them as chattel rather than human beings to justify this kind of treatment.

Of course, the Philippines doesn’t have that kind of slaves. However, the Walk Free Foundation (WFF), in its Oct. 17 report, expands the meaning of the term, to include forced labor, prostitution, and child marriage.


In that case, the Philippines has an embarrassingly large number of people—140,000 to 160,000—toiling away in slavery. There are no child marriages in the country, but it has prostitution and forced labor aplenty.

Under what WFF calls World Slavery Index, the Philippines ranks 98 among 162 countries in the world with the most number of modern-day slaves. It is number 12 among Asian countries.

There are, WWF states, 30 million modern-day slaves altogether.

Modern-day slavery in the Philippines persists because of extreme poverty, as it does in other countries. Thus, we hear from time to time of very young girls being rescued from sex dens in Metro Manila. Then there are those boys who work in subhuman conditions, given no suitable sleeping quarters, and fed with scraps fit only for animals.

Small, fly-by-night operators recruit these impressionable children from far-flung provinces. They are promised well-paying jobs, but they end up being sold to the underworld in urban centers.

More organized groups traffic Filipino women to brothels abroad. These recruiters also trick their victims by exploiting their poverty and dreams of a better life. It is next to impossible for these women to escape, trapped as they are in a foreign country. They are locked up at night and their passports are confiscated.

Not all incidence of involuntary servitude can be blamed on human traffickers.

Tens of thousands of women leave for abroad to work as household help. Through no fault of job recruiters, some of them find themselves with abusive employers, who make them work long hours and pay them less than what their contracts specify, if they pay them at all. Again their passports are confiscated to prevent them from leaving.

It is doubly hard for them to escape if hey land in the Middle East. They don’t know the language, and the police are quick to throw them in jail as undocumented aliens. Never mind that they don’t have their passports and work permits for the simple reason that their employers are keeping them.

Enslaved Filipino men, women, and children can be found not only in brothels and households, where they are most vulnerable, but also in the shipping industry, in construction and engineering, in agriculture and fisheries, even in health care here and abroad.

By far the most number of modern slaves are found in India, where some 14,700,000 people are forced to toil away day and night because they cannot pay off their debts to the local landowner. Or they are simply “born into slavery because of caste, [or]customary, social and hereditary obligations.”

India is followed by China, with 3,100,000 slaves, and Pakistan, with 2,200,000.

Other countries that have the dubious distinction of having modern-day slaves in staggering numbers are Mauritania, Haiti, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Gabon.

Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh,

The countries with the lowest prevalence of this scourge are Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Iceland.

As stated earlier, slavery persists in the Philippines because of extreme poverty. Ironically, we have more billionaires than any of these well-governed, relatively corruption-free countries.

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