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Nowadays most Americans and Westerners in general may truly believe that slavery is a phenomenon of a distant past that was unpleasant by nature, but ceased to exist in the civilized world. No doubt, they would acknowledge that slavery is morally and ethically wrong, as well as being conducive to immeasurable human suffering and having far-reaching repercussions. However, slavery is still thought of in the West as the history even though the recent statistics show that it is currently quite wide-spread internationally. Nevertheless, slightly different forms make it different from slavery typical for the past, for instance, as it was in North America before the abolition. Overall, slavery seems to be an integral part of human existence that has accompanied the humanity in various forms for thousands of years, thereby resulting in suffering and deaths of millions of people of all nationalities, ages, genders, and races. Hence, the purpose of the paper is to provide a brief overview of slavery and its history, as well as presenting personal opinion on this issue.
Brief Overview of the History of Slavery
The history of slavery is extremely far-reaching. The first known mentions of people captured and enslaved in the result of war date back to about 6800 B.C. in Mesopotamia (Free the Slaves, 2016). In fact, slavery was a vital part of public life almost in all ancient civilizations and empires. For instance, in Ancient Greece and Roman Empire slaves represented a separate social caste with obligations and virtually no rights. However, this slavery was quite different by nature and the extent of exploitation from the slavery that became wide-spread after the 14th century and especially in the 17-18th centuries when Africans were enslaved in millions and then transported to America (Free the Slaves, 2016).
In the late 14th century, slave trade intensified and turned into a thriving industry because of the consequences of the Black Plague and the immense labor shortage it caused in Europe (Free the Slaves, 2016). However, the year of 1444 became a really significant milestone in the history of slavery. It marked the start of the Atlantic slave trade when the Portuguese brought the first large cargo of slaves captured and bought in West Africa (Free the Slave, 2016). At the same time, it should be noted that Europeans did not introduce the phenomenon on the African continent in the 15th century. It is connected with a fact that they merely enlarged the scope and turned it into a highly profitable international business. Nevertheless, slavery had been present in Africa long before that time, but the Trans-Saharan slave trade from 900 to 1500 was less brutal than the one practiced by Europeans afterwards (Earle & Swanston, 2000). Thus, the main difference between two forms of slavery consisted in brutality and scope with the Atlantic slave trade being much more brutal and extensive.
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The Atlantic Slave Trade
Though the Portuguese were the first Europeans who established the Atlantic slave trade and shipped large cargoes of African slaves to their colonies in South America and in the Caribbean, they were quickly joined by the other European nations. Together, they created the form of the slave trade that is conventionally thought of when discussing slavery nowadays. Africans, captured and enslaved for the purpose of their subsequent transportation to the Americas, lost their freedom in a number of ways, including becoming prisoners of war, being kidnapped, falling into bonded slavery, and being convicted of some crime warranting such punishment (Earle & Swanston, 2000). Although kidnappings were severely punished, they were among the most frequent methods of replenishing cargoes intended for America and other colonies.
Regardless of the form of enslavement, during the period of the Atlantic slave trade all slaves suffered from complete deprivation of liberty and rights as well as from intensive exploitation on plantations (Earle & Swanston, 2000). Because of the availability of large quantities of slaves, neither traders nor owners tended to care about their health and well-being as it was cheaper to buy the new ones rather than spend money on the living ones. According to the existing statistical estimates, “Between 1619 and 1808, when Congress abolished the slave trade, nearly 400,000 Africans were brought against their will to British North America and the United States”, while more than 8 million slaves were taken to plantations in Brazil, Spanish America, and the Caribbean (Earle & Swanston, 2000, p. 23).
Gradually, slaves started constituting a numerous part of the American population. Nevertheless, they began organizing revolts and anti-slavery movements until being legislated in the USA and in the other countries of the world, including the British Empire and the Austrian Habsburg dominions (Free the Slave, 2016). Consequently, slave trade abolition became among the most topical issues of the 20th-century human rights movement.
Modern-Day Slavery & Personal Opinion
Nonetheless, the history of slavery did not end in the 20th century. Currently there are about 20.9 million people “trapped in some form of slavery” that is also referred to as human trafficking (End Slavery Now, 2016). Some of the most common forms of modern slavery include domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced and bonded labor, and forced marriage. Personally, I suppose that this fact testifies the lack of attention to this topical issue among the public and policy-makers who tend to focus on the other problems like financial crises, but ignore this severe violation of the fundamental human right. Slavery is inhumane, degrading, and humiliating, but it is a profitable business for traders. That is perhaps why this phenomenon has not been eliminated yet. I strongly believe that there is no place for such an atrocious practice in the modern civilized world. In fact, the contemporary society has the means to combat this vice and eliminate it completely, but it somehow seems to be unwilling to do that. While countries and their citizens ignore the problem of slavery and threats it poses, millions of men, women, and children continue suffering just like millions of slaves did in the past.