Child slavery

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Child slavery is the slavery of children. The enslavement of children can be traced back through history. Even after the abolition of slavery, children continue to be enslaved and trafficked in modern times, which is a particular problem in developing countries.


Child slavery refers of the slavery of children below the age of majority. Many children have been sold into slavery in the past for their family to repay debts or crimes or earn some money if the family were short of cash. In the Roman Empire, the children of a slave woman normally became the property of her owner.[1] This was also the case in Korea around 1000 AD.[2] Since slavery among the Maya and indigenous people of North America could be inherited, the children of the Indians could be born slaves.[3][4]

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about a woman a slave owner bought to breed children to sell.[5] The expectations of children who were either bought or born into slavery varied. Scholars noted, "age and physical capacity, as well as the degree of dependence, set the terms of children's integration into households".[6]

The duties that child slaves were responsible for performing are disputed among scholars. A few representations of the lives that slave children led portrayed them as, "virtually divorced from the plantation economy until they were old enough to be employed as field hands, thereby emphasizing the carefree nature of childhood for a part of the slave population that was temporarily spared forced labor".[7] This view also stated that if children were asked to perform any duties at all, it was to perform light household chores, such as being "organized into 'trash gangs' and made to collect refuse about the estate".[7] Opposing scholars argued that slave children had their youth stolen from them, and were forced to start performing adult duties at a very young age.[7] Some say that children were forced to perform field labor duties as young as the age of six.[7] It is argued that in some areas children were put to "regular work in the antebellum South" and it "was a time when slaves began to learn work routines, but also work discipline and related punishment".[8]

A degree of self-possession was present in some degree to adults, but "children retained the legal incapacities of dependence even after they had become productive members of households".[6] It was reported by scholars that, "this distinctive status shaped children's standing within familial households and left them subject to forced apprenticeship, even after emancipation".[6] There were slave owners who did not want child slaves or women who were pregnant for fear that the child would have "took up too much of her time".[5]

The conditions of slavery for pregnant women varied regionally. In most cases, women worked in the fields up until childbirth performing small tasks. "four weeks appears to have been the average confinement period, or 'lying-in period', for antebellum slave women following delivery in the South as a whole".[8] Slaveholders in northern Virginia, however, usually only permitted an average lying-in period of about "two weeks before ordering new mothers back to work".[7] The responsibility of raising and tending to the children then became the task of other children and older elderly slaves. In most institutions of slavery throughout the world, the children of slaves became the property of the owner. This created a constant supply of people to perform labor. This was the case with, for example, thralls and American slaves. In other cases, children were enslaved as if they were adults. Usually, the mother's status determined if the child was a slave, but some local laws varied the decision to the father. In many cultures, slaves could earn their freedom through hard work and buying their own freedom.[citation needed]

Modern day[edit]

Although the abolition of slavery in much of the world has greatly reduced child slavery, the problem lives on, especially in developing countries. According to the Anti-Slavery Society, "Although there is no longer any state which legally recognizes, or which will enforce, a claim by a person to a right of property over another, the abolition of slavery does not mean that it ceased to exist. There are millions of people throughout the world—mainly children—in conditions of virtual to slavery."[9] It further notes that slavery, particularly child slavery, was on the rise in 2003. It points out that there are countless others in other forms of servitude (such as peonage, bonded labor, and servile concubinage) that are not slavery in the narrow legal sense. Critics claim they are stretching the definition and practice of slavery beyond its original meaning and are actually referring to forms of unfree labor other than slavery.[10][11] In 1990, reports of slavery came out of Bahr al Ghazal, a Dinka region in southern Sudan. In 1995, Dinka mothers spoke about their abducted children. Roughly 20,000 slaves were reported in Sudan in 1999.[12] "The handmade woolen carpet industry is extremely labor-intensive and one of the largest export earners for India, Pakistan, Nepal and Morocco." During the past 20 years,[timeframe?] about 200,000 and 300,000 children have been involved, most of them in the carpet belt of Uttar Pradesh in central India.[13] Many children in Asia are kidnapped or trapped in servitude, where they work in factories and workshops for no pay and receive constant beatings.[9] Slaves have reappeared following the old slave trade routes in West Africa. "The children are kidnapped or purchased for $20–$70 each in poorer states, such as Benin and Togo, and sold into slavery in sex dens or as unpaid domestic servants for $350.00 each in wealthier oil-rich states, such as Nigeria and Gabon."[9]


Trafficking of children includes recruiting, harboring, obtaining, and transporting children by use of force or fraud for the purpose of subjecting them to involuntary acts, such as commercial sexual exploitation (including prostitution) or involuntary labor, i.e., enslavement. Some see human trafficking as the modern form of slavery. Human trafficking is the trade of human beings and their use by criminals to make money. The majority of trafficking victims are adults, predominantly made up of women forced into prostitution, but children make up many victims forced into prostitution. [clarification needed]

In Ukraine, a survey conducted by the non-governmental organization (NGO) La Strada-Ukraine[14] in 2001–2003, based on a sample of 106 women being trafficked out of Ukraine found that 3% were under 18, and the US State Department reported in 2004 that incidents of minors being trafficked was increasing. In Thailand, NGOs have estimated that up to a third of prostitutes are children under 18, many trafficked from outside Thailand.[15]

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography estimates that about one million children in Asia alone are victims of the sex trade.[16]

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Save the Children, World Vision and the British Red Cross have called for an immediate halt to adoptions of Haitian children not approved before the earthquake, warning that child traffickers could exploit the lack of regulation. An Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman said that child enslavement and trafficking was "an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months".[17]

Child soldiers[edit]

The United Nations defines child soldier as "A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys, and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes."[18] In 2007, Human Rights Watch estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 children served as soldiers in current conflicts.[19] In 2012, this estimation rose to be around 300,000 in only twenty countries.[20] Around 40% of child soldiers are believed to be girls, that have been taken and used as sex slaves and 'wives'.[21]

Forced labor[edit]

More girls under 16 work as domestic workers than any other category of child labor, often sent to cities by parents living in rural poverty[22] such as in restaveks in Haiti.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keith Bradley (7 March 2016). "slavery, Roman". Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.7311. ISBN 978-0-19-938113-5. Retrieved 27 June 2023. Children born to a slave mother (vernae) were typically themselves slaves
  2. ^ Seung B. Kye (2021). "12. Slavery in Medieval Korea". In Craig Perry; David Eltis; Stanley L. Engerman; David Richardson (eds.). The Cambridge World History of Slavery, Vol. II: AD 500–AD 1420. Cambridge University Press. p. 297. doi:10.1017/9781139024723. ISBN 9781139024723. the heritability of slave status was enacted as evidenced by the Matrilineal Succession Law (chongmopŏp) of 1036, which stated that the offspring of nobi shall inherit the status of the mother
  3. ^ Burkholder, Mark A.; Johnson, Lyman L. (2019). "1. America, Iberia, and Africa Before the Conquest". Colonial Latin America (10th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 10. the Maya […] once enslaved, the status could become hereditary unless the slave were ransomed
  4. ^ (Ames 2001, p. 3)"the children of slaves in many areas were also slaves”
  5. ^ a b Stephenson, Mimosa (November 2011). "Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: An Argument for Protection of the Family". Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas: 40.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Catherine (February 2010). "Ties That Bind, Bonds That Break: Children in the Reorganization of Households in Postemancipation Virginia". Journal of Southern History: 74.
  7. ^ a b c d e Pargas, Damian (December 2011). "From the Cradle to the Fields: Slave Childcare and Childhood in the Antebellum South". Slavery & Abolition. 32 (4): 477–493. doi:10.1080/0144039X.2011.601618. S2CID 143877395.
  8. ^ a b Pargas, Damian Alan (December 2011). "From the Cradle to the Fields: Slave Childcare and Childhood in the Antebellum Plantation South". Slavery & Abolition. doi:10.1080/0144039X.2011.601618. S2CID 143877395.
  9. ^ a b c "Does Slavery Still Exist?". Anti-Slavery Society. Archived from the original on 2018-08-08. Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  10. ^ Pat Dolan, Nick Frost (2017). The Routledge Handbook of Global Child Welfare. Taylor & Francis. p. 170. ISBN 9781317374749.
  11. ^ Beyond Voluntarism: Human Rights and the Developing International Legal Obligations of Companies. ICHRP. 2002. p. 32. ISBN 9782940259199.
  12. ^ Miniter, Richard (July 1999). "The False Promise of Slave Redemption". The Atlantic.
  13. ^ "Child Labor in the Carpet Industry". Anti-Slavery Society. 3 April 2007. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  14. ^ "La Strada Ukraine". Archived from the original on 2010-09-04. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  15. ^ "United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute". Archived from the original on 2005-10-24.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2010-05-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Call for halt to Haiti adoptions over traffickers, The Times, January 23, 2010.
  18. ^ Tremblay, Stephanie. "Child Recruitment and Use". United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict | To promote and protect the rights of all children affected by armed conflict. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  19. ^ Staff. Campaign Page: Child Soldiers, Human Rights Watch. [verification needed]
  20. ^ "Ten facts about child soldiers that everyone should know". The Independent. 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  21. ^ Theirworld (2020-04-03). "Child soldiers". Theirworld. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  22. ^ "In Togo, a 10-Year-Old's Muted Cry: 'I Couldn't Take Any More'". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2018.


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