UN International Day for the Abolition of Slavery Monday 2 December 2013

UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery

"Risk factors today render many vulnerable to slavery-like practices"

“Even as we try to eradicate slavery, a number of new global trends and risk factors affecting many of our societies today can actually render some communities and groups newly vulnerable to slavery-like practices, cautioned the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery”, Gulnara Shahinian, on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Global trends such as the increased frequency and severity natural disasters, including desertification, floods, typhoons, mudslides and others such as earthquakes, impact on poor communities the most. Some communities are repeatedly hit by these disasters, which destroy their livelihoods and resources, and force many to adopt harmful coping strategies. “On this occasion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, I want to raise awareness that the resurgence of different forms of slavery, is a real risk in situations such as the earthquake in Haiti or the typhoon in the Philippines more recently. It is critical that organisations working with vulnerable populations integrate prevention strategies into their humanitarian, recovery and development programs from the very beginning which specifically address the risk of contemporary forms of slavery,” continued the Special Rapporteur.

Children in these situations are especially vulnerable due to the loss of parents and community structures, the disruption in their schooling, lack of adequate housing and the sudden and often dramatic deterioration of their socio-economic situation. “Children caught in these circumstances can become victims of domestic servitude, engage in hazardous work and other worst forms of child labor, and may even be subject to sexual exploitation. Adults are also vulnerable to many of these phenomena as they try to desperately provide for themselves and dependants”, stated Ms. Shahinian.

“Another global trend I am concerned about is the rapid pace of unmanaged urbanization, usually consisting of internal migration from rural to urban centres in many developing countries. Many who are coming to urban centres in order to flee poverty in their places of origin, do so in terrible conditions, have to resort to living in informal settlements or slum areas, and often have to take up work in conditions tantamount to slavery. They may end up in situations of bonded labour, domestic servitude, become vulnerable to traffickers, or be used in organized begging, drug transactions, and commercial sex. They can be exploited in a myriad of ways, including by criminal elements in these informal settlements, which are often beyond the effective reach of law enforcement authorities”, explained the Special Rapporteur.

On this international day dedicated to the eradication of slavery, the Special Rapporteur urged Governments to invest more in places of origin, and to work with other stakeholders, including development actors, urban planners and affected populations, in order to avoid a resurgence of slavery-like practices among poor urban settlers. “Whether in these situations, or in cases of natural disasters, it is essential that humanitarian and development actors apply a human rights based approach which identities groups at risk, uses participatory methods, and is used to develop programs addressing the risks of falling into  modern day slavery-like practices”, stressed Gulnara Shahinian.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the regressive tendencies in some societies and communities vis a vis the human rights of women, as a further area of concern. “Where there is a backlash against women’s rights - such as denial of equal access to education, equality in marriage, freedom of movement or the right to work, - women and girls are forced into situations of dependency, servitude, and harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriages which can become servile marriages tantamount to slavery” stated Shahinian.

“In all of these contexts, compromising human rights, which is sometimes justified for the sake of political or economic expediency, can place many societies in a backward trend in combating slavery; a phenomena which we truly can and need to eradicate from human civilization.

(*) Check the expert’s report to the UN General Assembly on servile marriages:  http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/21/41&Lang=E


Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Slavery/SRSlavery/Pages/SRSlaveryIndex.aspx

The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/SupplementaryConventionAbolitionOfSlavery.aspx

For additional information and media requests, please contact Rosa da Costa (+41 22 917 9140 / rdacosta@ohchr.org or write to srslavery@ohchr.org

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