Completing what Wilberforce began

Will 2014 see the end of slavery?

Published 06 January 2014  |  
AP

Slavery and globalisation go hand in hand, like a bad marriage or a broken horse and carriage. As world markets open up to the free and legitimate movement of goods, services and people, there will always be gang masters looking to trade in human flesh.

And Christian groups in Wales are taking up the fight to set the captives free.

An anti-trafficking calendar Chained No More has been published to raise money for the Newport-based charity Cymru Against Human Trafficking. Almost all of the 100 calendars have now been sold, raising almost £1,000.

And in Cardiff, a black tie and ball gown event was recently held to celebrate the money raised in 2013 through various treks in Wales for the Hope for Justice charity. The total amount of money raised from treks and pledges on the night totalled over £16,000.

The slave trade conjures up 18th century images of crowded ships and shackled bodies, but today's nefarious entrepreneurs prefer more invisible chains. Playing on their victims' desperation for money and security, prostitution, drugs and blackmail are the new and charming means of enslavement.

Last year Frank Field MP, chair of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking revealed that there an estimated 10,000 victims of slavery in the UK - a staggering figure.

In 2014, the UK government hopes to enact the Modern Slavery Bill, consolidating into a single act the offences used to prosecute slave drivers. The move will make sure the worst perpetrators can receive a life sentence while those who already have a conviction for a very serious sexual or violent offence will face an automatic life sentence.

James Brokenshire, Crime and Security Minister, said: "The Modern Slavery Bill will also send the strongest possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up."

The Bill has met with general approval but major concerns are being raised. For example, Anti Slavery International fears that the victims of modern slavery will fair no better if the Bill becomes law.

Its director Aidan McQuade said: "We welcome the move to consolidate anti-slavery legislation in one bill; however, the lack of provisions for victim protection in the bill means that not only does it fail the victims of this horrendous crime but also is a missed opportunity for prosecuting the criminals behind it.

"Currently many trafficked persons are often not identified as victims, especially if their immigration status is irregular when they are more likely to be detained and removed from the country than protected. Many victims are prosecuted, for example those found forced to work on cannabis farms. If the victims are not recognised, then the crime is not recognised and the criminals go unpunished."

The Evangelical Alliance is calling on churches to carry on with its historic role of rattling the slave cages by lobbying their MPs and asking the bill to be strengthened. Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "For evangelicals this is unfinished business, we've been fighting slavery for hundreds of years, and we are still at it today. This bill needs to live up to its promise. It has the potential to tackle modern slavery but the government needs listen to the campaign groups in order to achieve that aim."

There is real expectation that 2014 will complete the work begun by Wilberforce and others in 1807. And as earthly powers agree that slavery is the unacceptable price of globalisation, maybe we'll see glimpses of heaven's kingdom on this planet. Maybe, just maybe.

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