Francis Bok (whose real name is Piol Bol Buk) was born in southern Sudan to a Dinka family.
When he was 7, his mother sent him along with some older children to the nearby town of Nyamlell to sell eggs and beans.
Things were going well in the marketplace when a group of Arab militiamen carried out a brutal raid, killing the men and dragging off women and children, among them young Bok.
His captor used the little boy as a slave to tend his goats and later his cattle, wielding power over him with threats of violence and by isolating him from his peers. Bok, who told his story in the new book, "Escape From Slavery," is just one of many children to have suffered this fate – not 200 years ago, but in contemporary Africa.
What makes Bok's story unusual is that after 10 years, he managed to escape – eventually to the United States, where he has become the spokesman for a campaign to end modern-day slavery.
Millions of women, children and men are enslaved around the world today, yet the United Nations is declaring 2004 the year to remember the abuses of the past.
Girls as young as five are trafficked into domestic work in West Africa. Families are forced to work as bonded slaves in South Asia. Women are used as chattel in Europe's sex industry.
Slavery is shockingly common in the world today: in homes, factories, farms and brothels. The most common form is bonded servitude, or holding people to work off debts with stratospheric interest rates. One widely held estimate puts the number of people in slavery at 27 million. The U.S. CIA estimates that up to 900,000 people are sold across international borders each year. The trade is illegal, and officially condemned, throughout the world. Yet it flourishes, earning perhaps $7 billion a year for its perpetrators.
The U.S. Department of State lists 72 nations -- including Brazil, China and the Czech Republic -- that aid slavery or are home to it. The five countries below are singled out as "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to eliminate trafficking in humans] and are not making significant efforts to do so":
• Burma: Internal factory work and prostitution; export to the Asian sex trade.
• Cuba: Forced labor; sexual exploitation connected with the government-run tourism industry.
• Liberia: Forcible conscription in the military as laborers, soldiers and sex slaves.
• North Korea: Forced labor; export of brides to China.
• Sudan: Sex slaves, domestic workers, laborers and soldiers.
Most slaves in the world today are justified – even encouraged – by radical Islam.
Little is studied or said about the trade, the opposite being true of slave trade directed toward the Americas. The last general assembly of the African Catholic bishops conferences took place in Dakar in October 2003, where a session was dedicated to the issue, being introduced by statements such as the following:
“Analyses of this issue have been prohibited at length. One cause of the paralysis of this historical conscience has been the attitude of many intellectuals and Muslim rulers regarding the trans-Saharan trade. For reasons of religious sensitivity they don’t want to properly admit to Arab and Islamic responsibility in this drama, whose evil effects still continue. Today in the Arab world the word ‘black’ simply means ‘slave.’ The tracks of the trans-Saharan trade have formed geographic roads leading to Maghreb and the Middle East.”
A book published in London in June 2003 by the British institute, Civitas, reports that in black populated areas of Sudan, like Bahr El-Ghazal, the Nuba mountains, South Kordofan and Darfur, there are reoccurring raids conducted by armed Arab groups “to kill most of the men and to abduct women and children into slavery.”
The book contains testimony by women and children who escaped from slavery and evidences that in the 1990s the practice was encouraged by the National Islamic Front, the leading party in Khartoum headed by Hassan Al-Turabi, an important leader in the Islamic world:
“Leading NIF figures mobilized the local Arab tribesmen; encouraged them to participate in the jihad; promised them the right to keep slaves as the bounty of war, assuring them that it is justified in the Koran, as a means of conversion to Islam; and provided logistical back-up on ‘slave raids’ with provisions of horses, weapons and troops.”
The book also contains interviews with Arab slave traders, who sustain that the sharia (Islamic law) authorizes them to enslave children and relatives of men with whom they are at war. They state that they sell slaves to Arabs in other countries.
Despite concerted efforts by the Women Trafficking and Child Labor Eradication Foundation to curb the growth of traffic in persons, it continues to boom with large numbers of victims and suspects deported to Nigeria daily. According to a recent report, Secretary of State Colin Powell disclosed that more than 800,000 to 900,000 children and women are trafficked every day around the globe.
Majority of the victims are deported from both Europe and Africa and from such countries like Belgium, Italy, Spain, Togo, Benin Republic, Cote-D'vior etc., which are classified and identified as harboring illegal routes and transits for trafficked persons from even Nigeria.
Meanwhile, as the 21st century slavery continues, the U.N. is building museums to the slavery holocaust that ended more than two centuries ago.
Koichiro Matsuura, the director-general of the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, making an official three-day visit to Ghana last week, launched this year's worldwide observance of the struggle against slavery of old.
Matsuura labeled the slave trade and slavery "one of the darkest chapters in the history of the world." He kicked off the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and Its Abolition at one of the dozens of slavery-related monuments on UNESCO's World Heritage List, the fortification called Cape Coast Castle.
According to a proclamation by the UN General Assembly, the commemorative year also marks the 200th anniversary of the successful uprising of enslaved Africans in Haiti, establishing the world's first black-ruled republic.
UNESCO does acknowledge slavery hasn't been completely eradicated. Yet, there seems to be more focus on the abuses of the past.
The UN's Economic and Social Council maintains a Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. In a statement last month, it said: "Slavery and slavery-like practices continue to be among the greatest human rights challenges facing the international community. Our vision to create a world free from the scandal of slavery and slavery-like practices remains unrealized."
"Millions of children, women and men continue to languish in conditions of servitude," it added. "Regrettably, too many remain unaware that the problem of serfdom still exists."