Sadly, the answer to this question is yes. According to Anti-Slavery International, over 27 million people around the world are slaves, and at least 200 million people exist in some form of bondage. Many people are surprised to learn that modern slavery is a thriving industry, because they associate the term “slavery” with the Triangular Trade that once existed between Europe, Africa, and America. Technically, slavery is globally banned, but people are still bought and sold in slave markets, and are also coerced into working through physical, mental, and economic threats. Numerous advocacy organizations work to educate people about slavery and to free the slaves worldwide.
A slave is not merely someone who is treated as property which can be bought or sold. If someone is forced to work through threats and intimidation, he or she is a slave, because the work is not being undertaken with free will. An individual who is also heavily controlled by his or her employer, whether physically, mentally, or financially, is also a slave. Finally, restrictions on a person's freedom of movement can also be considered a form of slavery: many slaves work in chains, or are not permitted to leave certain areas without reprisals.
There are a number of different types of modern slavery including human trafficking, bonded labor, arranged marriage, and forced labor. Human trafficking refers to the transport of individuals, usually across borders, and often for sex work. In the United States alone, approximately 800,000 women and children are trafficked yearly, according to the United States State Department. In most instances, victims of trafficking are brought to industrialized nations for sex work, often with promises of high paying respectable jobs. In some cases, the victims are sold by their own families, who are desperate for money.
Bonded labor is especially common in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. A bonded slave is technically free, but heavily indebted to an employer, who advances a loan to help the laborer pay for medical care, buy a home, or handle some other serious expense. The bonded laborer is kept forever in debt as the employer continues to advance loans, and ultimately will never get ahead. Often his or her family members will become slaves by descent, forced to work off the debt of their parents.
Arranged marriage is considered by many to be a more nebulous form of slavery. In many nations, young women and girls are forced into marriages without consent. In some cases, the women live highly restricted lives and are essentially used as household servants. Some women forced into arranged marriages are beaten, forced to work in sweatshops, or pushed into sex work, usually to profit their husbands. In addition to the lack of freedom an arranged marriage implies, many of these women live in virtual slavery.
In the case of forced labor, slaves are physically coerced into work by a government, organization, or company. Child soldiers in Africa are an example of forced labor, as are sugar cane cutters in South America. Forced laborers often work at gunpoint, and endure immense physical and psychological stress. Many forced laborers are children, who are kidnapped, bought, and sold as disposable commodities.
Children and women are the most frequent victims of slavery. Millions of women and children are sold yearly, and work in a variety of dangerous conditions. Carpet weaving, brick making, and agricultural industries often rely heavily on slaves. In Africa especially, a household may have several slaves who are of a different ethnic or religious background than their owners; this is especially common in Mali. Slaves fight for revolutionary movements, labor in factories, till fields, and work in sex parlors around the world. People who would like to learn more about how they can make a difference can look up local chapters of anti-slavery advocacy organizations such as Anti-Slavery International and Free the Slaves.