The African Slave Trade, Suburbia-Style

Cinderella, 1865

It turns out we are still shipping in slaves from Africa to work our estates. And we seem to prefer children.

In the United States today, an estimated one-third of trafficking victims work as domestic servants, mostly in suburban neighborhoods.

The ones who are children often arrive after being sold in their African villages by families impoverished from disease or death. Tens of thousands of children, some as young as three years old, are estimated to be sold annually in Africa for domestic work. But the proper term might be “leased” rather than “sold,” because parents usually only offer the child for a certain period of time, and the family sometimes receives regular pay during the term of the contract.

The children who end up in the United States are bought in Africa by Western tourists or trafficked by immigrants who use them in their own homes or sell them after arrival.

Treatment of domestic slaves differs case by case, but usually the servant is not allowed to eat the same food or live in the same conditions as the rest of the family. (S)he does not attend school and works long hours with little to no pay.

The oppressors are rarely caught, but when they are, the process usually begins with an observant neighbor recognizing the warning signs. They tend to see a combination of traits in a child such as:

  • working extreme hours doing domestic chores
  • not attending school
  • not going outside often, including when the rest of the family leaves
  • appearing timid and shy, unwilling to speak about herself or himself
  • being followed or watched often
  • appearing to have been physically abused or injured
  • not looking like the rest of the family or not speaking the same language

Anti-trafficking groups advise that the best way to fight slavery as domestic servitude is to become an active and involved neighbor. If you see or suspect forced labor in your neighborhood, you can call the Human Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at (888) 3737-888.

Child slavery in America’s manicured, middle class house next door: a modern-day Cinderella story, except without the prince, fairy-godmother, or happy ending.

Join in!

How can someone who is not a very active neighbor right now get started in getting to know people and becoming more involved?
What are some ways to bring neighborhoods together better?

5 Responses to “The African Slave Trade, Suburbia-Style”
  1. Darrell says:

    I continue to be amazed by this subject in light of my own experience. I have traveled this country from one end to the other among many types of people and I’ve never met one who forces someone to work against his or her will. In fact, most of the peope I’ve met would be disgusted by the idea. That doesn’t mean I’m arguing that it doesn’t exist, only that it must be fairly well disguised.

    The other thing is that reporting the activities of your neighbors and watching them for violations smacks of the Orwellian world that is perhaps just around the corner. I advise friendship with neighbors along with mutual trust building and asistence for the risistence that will be needed soon.

    • Joanna Miller says:

      Well, it wouldn’t be considered Orwellian to report a neighbor for gunshots or for domestic disturbance. Reporting someone for a crime like human trafficking is a serious matter and would need to be done with extreme caution. That is one of the reasons why calling the human trafficking hotline would be much more appropriate in most cases than calling 911. The responders know better how to handle the situation, especially if the person calling is unsure.

      Human trafficking in domestic workers only affects a few thousand people a year, which is still a large number in terms of crime rates, but it means that most communities will not have to deal with such a problem.

      But any situation in which one member of the family never exits the house or speaks to anyone else should cause alarm to a caring neighbor. Perhaps they are sick and could use some assistance, or perhaps the guardian has a need that is not being met. Either way, being aware of what is happening in the neighborhood is not Orwellian as much as it is Christian.

  2. hi
    that’s a nice post.Thank you for sharing.

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