Kavi: A Spotlight on Modern Day Slavery

by Aysha Mohsin

        Did you know there is more slavery today than during the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade?

        On October 27th, at 6pm in room 14, the International Law Society hosted a screening of Kavi, an Academy-award nominated short film illustrating child slavery in India. Although the film was basically about a boy, Kavi, who works with his family in a brick kiln as slaves working off a debt; the film spoke to so much more than just the trials and tribulations they faced day to day.

        Kavi and his family are made to work every day starting early in the morning in harsh weather conditions. It is extremely hot and dry and the work is hard. The film clearly depicts how much Kavi would much rather be playing cricket with the other boys but instead is working his youth away. The film builds when Kavi is approached by two mysterious men, who we later find out are working to rescue the workers in the brick kiln. These social worker-esq rescue agents reappear again at the end of the film with a document which they present to the brick kiln manager ordering him to release the workers who the manager conveniently has hidden away from view. It is at this moment that Kavi some how breaks away and is saved by the social workers.

        That is Hollywood. In actuality, the task of “rescuing” these slaves is a lot more difficult.

        After the film we had the pleasure of meeting with the Director Producer of Kavi, Greg Helvey. Helvey, not only a Student Academy Award® Winner but also Oscar Nominee, spent the evening answering questions and enlightening the crowd of what menace bonded labor really is.

        “Bonded labor, a form of slavery, often occurs when people are tricked into taking loans from creditors who have no intention of letting them repay the loan. The creditor then uses violent intimidation to keep his workers slaving with no hope of escape.”

        According to Anti-Slavery International, “A person becomes a bonded laborer when his or her labor is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan. The person is then tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week. The value of their work is invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed. Millions of people are held in bonded labour around the world. Bonded labor has existed for thousands of years. […] Bonded laborers are routinely threatened with and subjected to physical and sexual violence. They are kept under various forms of surveillance, in some cases by armed guards. There are very few cases where chains are actually used (although it does occur) but these constraints on the bonded laborers are every bit as real and as restricting.”

       Nico A. Gemmell, of Georgetown University stated, “Today, twenty-seven million people are enslaved throughout the world, despite the fact that in every single country, slavery is outlawed. The price of human life has decreased substantially since 1850 when the African slave trade piqued. Today an Indian child can be bought for a mere $35, an Eastern European woman for $500, and a Brazilian agricultural laborer for $100. These numbers are staggering, considering that in 1850 an African slave was nominally worth $40,000. The cost of human life has gone down because people as a commodity have become expendable. There is three times the amount of people in the world today than there were in 1850. If a slave is not useful or tries to rebel, they are killed and replaced immediately. The internet has made it vastly easier for traffickers to contact potential victims and to lure them into traps based on job and education promises.”

        National Geographics reported “In India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh there are 15-20 million debt bondage slaves, who are forced into slavery by loan sharks who give loans with impossibly high interest rates and then demand labor as recompense. Often, the debt of one person is passed down through his children so that generations are forced into slavery.”

        So what? This is all bad, but what’s being done about it? Not as much as possible.  This sort of business is not carried out in regular markets. Still, unfortunately, many governments are not as active to prevent the spread of modern day slavery. Take for example the United States.  The US government estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year to be used as slaves. Have you ever heard our government say they are taking any action to correct this?

       According to the United Nations, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, recalls the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949).

       NGOs are the main driving force to combat modern day slavery. Many NGOs have dedicated their sole purpose to finding and rescuing slaves around the world. It becomes a difficult task since many times they do not have the support of the local corrupted government, because as is in many developing countries.

       Slavery being such a huge issue in India, Helvey referenced a number of organizations which he came across during the making of Kavi. Just to mention a few, Free the Slaves, Summer Volunteer Program, International Justice Mission, Not for Sale, and Tiny Stars, do work in India.

       The problem of slavery will not disappear over night. The solution to eradicating the world of slavery is to shed light on this problem and call for action to work to control over this expanding market and eventually bring freedom to all those enslaved around the world.