Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Slavery a reality, here and now

When you say slavery, most Americans think about what ended with the Civil
War. With relief, we think: That was then.

But slavery is, unfortunately, now.

We call it "human trafficking" these days, an almost innocuous- sounding
term, but it is slavery by any other name. And the numbers are stunning. Around
the world, as many as 1.1 million human beings, mostly women and children, are
"trafficked" across international borders and sold each year into slavery,
according to the U.S. State Department.

If one counts all the people forced into servitude -- from farms in India to
charcoal mines in Brazil -- the numbers reach into the millions. Even the
United States has become a major importer of sex slaves, with estimates running
between 14,500 and 17,500. Of those, 80 percent are women and half are minors.

Although the United States has been monitoring trafficking since 1994 -- and
Congress passed a trafficking victims protection act in 2000 -- slavery hasn't
seized the American imagination the same way apartheid once did, or as Darfur
has in recent years. That may begin to change with two new films -- one a
documentary and the other a mainstream film starring Kevin Kline -- aimed at
disturbing our slumber.

They are effective.

In "Sold," a documentary by former ABC producer Jody Hassett Sanchez, we meet
Pakistani boys as young as 3 sold into service as camel jockeys in the United
Arab Emirates
. We also meet little girls as young as 5 who had been sold as
sex slaves.

One of the challenges of modern-day slavery is that good people are often
unknowingly complicit. Many of the children featured in the documentary are sold
by their impoverished parents, who were promised their children would have
better lives. The reality is something different. Little girls end up as abused
prostitutes, while little boys sold as jockeys spend 12 or more hours a day
strapped onto the backs of camels, are shocked with metal prods and fed saltwater
to prevent their gaining weight.

At a screening Wednesday, Sanchez told an audience that included U.S. Reps.
Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Connie Mack, R-Fla., that she wanted to focus on
people who were working to end slavery. She followed three faith-driven people -- a
Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian from India, Pakistan and Togo, respectively
-- who have suffered threats and beatings to save women and children.

Sanchez says she hopes her documentary, which is cinematically beautiful
despite the hideous subject, will inspire Americans, especially young people, to
take action.

"Trade," which opens in theaters this weekend, is a less hopeful, if equally
harrowing, treatment of the same subject. Based on a 2004 New York Times
magazine story by Peter Landesman ("The Girls Next Door,"), the movie shines a
light on how traffickers operate from Mexico to a stash house in suburban New

The story follows Adriana, a 13-year-old girl kidnapped in Mexico City by an
organized crime gang, and a naive young Polish woman who left her country for
the false promise of a better life. Terror can't get any worse than what these
two endure as they are trundled through barren landscapes, handed off as
sexual favors to strangers, and ultimately put up for sale.

A parallel story unfolds as Adriana's 17-year-old brother, Jorge, teams with
Ray, a Texas cop played by Kline, to try to rescue her before she is sold at
an online auction.

This is not a fun movie to watch, nor is it likely to improve anyone's
opinion of mankind. But it's an important film that makes denial no longer possible.
While "Trade" will make you angry, "Sold" will make you want to applaud. Both
will make you want to do something.

Ending slavery won't be an overnight fix. You can't throw money at it and
make it go away, though a check to the right people will help. Ultimately,
slavery is a moral problem that forces confrontation with one's commitment to human

Put it this way: Once you know little boys barely out of diapers are sold as
camel jockeys, or that little girls are prostituted before they can tie their
shoes -- or that any child is peddled to the pedophile with the highest bid --
averting your eyes is not an option.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kparker@kparker. com.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of
The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

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