Modern Slave Markets

Updated on October 16, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Impoverished people in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere are being sold as slaves. Some families are so desperately poor that they sell their children in markets. Others incur debts to traffickers that puts them in bondage.


Contemporary Echoes

Today, we shudder at what happened in the Old Slave Market of Charleston, South Carolina. Forty percent of all the slaves brought to America passed through its grim portals. Almost two million shackled Africans were put on the auction block and sold off to the highest bidder as so much cattle.

In June 2018, Charleston’s City Council issued a formal apology for its role in the slave trade. Councilman William Dudley Gregorie was moved to tell CNN “The vestiges of slavery still plague us today.”

Sadly, there are more than vestiges of this cruel business still operating on a wide scale in the world.


The Market in Arapai, Uganda

Arapai is a town in eastern Uganda; it’s not known how many people live there.

The news organization Ozy reported on the slave market in the town in May 2019. It started out on a small scale in January 2018, but now as many as 50 girls are sold each day. The going price of as little as $14 is less than the cost of a goat.

The Observer, a Ugandan newspaper, says agents “deal directly with parents or guardians and once they are paid, children are immediately transported to urban centres or taken to offer cheap labour … The deplorable sale is blamed on poor living conditions in many parts of Karamoja sub-region that force parents to sell off some of their children to raise money to feed the remainder of families.”

Some of the kids are put to work as beggars in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, others disappear into the sex trade.


Auction in Libya

Many Africans trying to escape appalling living conditions or conflict in their home countries make the perilous journey across the Sahara Desert to Libya. This is where they hope to find a smuggler who will transport them across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The would-be migrants pay for a boat trip to Europe only to discover they’ve handed over the last of their money to a slave trader.

We no longer need slavers going into Africa to capture their quarry. The rope of desperation has replaced their iron chains. Now Africans are sending themselves to Europe and becoming slaves in the process.

Aboubakar Soumahoro quoted by Time

In 2017, a blurry cell phone video of a slave auction in Tripoli came into the possession of CNN. An auctioneer is heard extolling the virtues of the young Nigerian men up for sale: “Big strong boys for farm work.” “Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig.” Within minutes, the men are sold for about $400 each.

CNN sent a team to Libya to investigate. They talked to a migrant from Nigeria called Victory. He owed money to smugglers so was auctioned off as a day labourer to pay off his debt. But, that was not enough. The slavers demanded a ransom from his family before releasing him.

Victory was taken into custody by Libyan authorities and handed over to the International Organization for Migration for repatriation to Nigeria.

Islamic State Sale

In August 2014, the fighters of the Islamic State embarked on a campaign to wipe out the Yazidi people of northern Iraq. Many thousands were slaughtered in their villages but girls and young women were spared; they were worth money.

The Canadian human rights charity One Free World was founded and is led by Reverend Majed el Shafie. He says the females were auctioned by ISIS.

He told CTV News that “The girls [were] divided into three categories: very beautiful, medium beauty, and not much beauty. Virgin and unvirgin. The price of the Yazidi girls was from two to four thousand American dollars.

“[They] were forced to put make up on, wear sexy clothes, and walk in front of ISIS fighters like a fashion show.”

Slavery on Every Continent

According to The Global Slavery Index (GSI) “No country in the world is exempt from modern slavery.” The group says that 40.3 million people are ensnared in some sort of enslavement; the International Labour Organization says the number is 25 million held in debt bondage and a further 15 million are trapped in forced marriages.

The 10 countries with the highest incidence of slavery are: North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Iran. The nations where slavery is least likely to exist are: Japan, Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia. Even the best behaved state, Japan, has an estimated 37,000 people living in slavery says GSI.

Most of the countries in the world have signed on to various conventions, covenants, and declarations expressing outrage at the practice of slavery. However, the profit imperative motivates many politicians to look the other way.


Bonus Factoids

  • According to the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO), modern-day slavery is worth $150 billion a year to criminal groups. Only drug smuggling and weapons trafficking exceed the value of slavery in illegal activities.
  • In April 2019, four British men were charged with modern slavery offences after 29 people, believed to be from Vietnam, were found in a van.
  • Global supply chains are so complex that it’s almost impossible to avoid buying something that is in some way tainted by slavery. Products that are most likely to be connected to slavery are: clothing, electronic gadgets, chocolate, shrimps, carpets, and rice.


  • “Charleston, Where 40% of All Us Slaves Entered the Country, Finally Apologizes for Its Role in the Slave Trade.” Jessica Campisi and Saeed Ahmed, CNN, June 19, 2018.
  • “Modern-Day Slavery: The Public Markets Selling Young Girls for $14.” Godfrey Olukya, Ozy, May 30, 2019.
  • “Street Kids Bought at Shs 20,000.” Joseph Bahingwire, The Observer, June 5, 2019
  • “People for Sale.” Nima Elbagir, et al, CNN, November 14, 2017.
  • “Sold in ISIS Slave Markets, these Two Teenagers Fought to Survive.” Avery Haines, CTV W5, October 11, 2019.
  • “Global Findings.” Global Slavery Index, 2019.
  • “ ‘It Was As if We Weren’t Human.’ Inside the Modern Slave Trade Trapping African Migrants.” Aryn Baker, Time, March 14, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


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