From the earliest civilizations, people have taken others as slaves. Most people in the U.S. and other Western countries today agree that slavery is a crime against humanity. Not everyone throughout history has seen it this way, however, and slavery was a part of society for thousands of years in nearly every culture around the globe – and, in many places, it still exists today.
Slavery the World Over
In China, the Great Wall was built with forced labor. Historians estimate that around one million Chinese slaves died during the construction. The bodies were used to fill in the wall itself.
In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs built their society on slavery. Foreign tribes who were captured during wars could experience severe treatment, including being sacrificed in religious rituals.
Ancient Rome and Greece were also built on slavery, and one can even find slavery described in the Bible.
Also, between 1530 and 1780, around one million Europeans were captured as slaves by the Muslim nations in North Africa.
There is one place that has had more slavery than anywhere else in the world: Africa. It was especially common in the regions that bordered the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Here African tribes met people from the Middle East and Europe who had various goods that they wanted to buy, such as guns. They offered slaves as payment. Some African tribes became wealthy from the slave trade. The Arabs enslaved at least 28 million and perhaps as much as 112 million Africans in the Middle East.
According to Ghanaian professor and minister John Azumah, around 11 million African slaves ended up in the Americas, mostly the Caribbean and South America. The United States also has a history of slavery; around 400,000 slaves were shipped here. The Spanish and Portuguese brought more than ten million African slaves to South America and the Caribbean. Europeans participated in the African slave trade for around 300 years, from the 16th to the 19th century. The practice was mostly not accepted in their homelands, but it flourished in the colonies in the Americas.
The Abolition Movement
In the United Kingdom, there was a movement to abolish slavery, and by 1833 the British Parliament enacted the Slavery Abolition Act, which bought slaves in most of the British Empire their freedom. The movement was largely led by Christians, who found the practice barbaric and inhumane.
In the United States, abolition occurred under President Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party. Slavery was finally abolished in America by the end of the Civil War in 1865, with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Over the following years, Britain and the United States played an important role in ending slavery around the world. They used their power to pressure countries to make the practice illegal. As late as 1962, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to stop slavery.
Because of the influence of the United States and the United Kingdom, there is far less slavery today in the world than at any other time in recorded history. But there are still many slaves. According to the United Nation’s International Labor Organization, there are 40 million slaves in the world today.
Africa is still the place with the most slavery. Today, nearly 1% of Africans are held as slaves. After the civil war in Libya, there are now markets where blacks are sold openly.
China has almost the same number of slaves as Africa. For instance, nearly one million Muslim Uyghurs are held in forced labor camps under harsh conditions.
The Future of Slavery
What will the future of slavery be? History has shown that slavery is the norm and that we are living in an unusual time where Christians abolished the practice, and not only in the West. Yet we can see examples of places that are returning to the practice. Will the future see the eradication of slavery, or its resurgence? Only by learning the history of slavery and continually working to prevent it can humanity stop slavery eventually worldwide.