IMAGINE being bereft of all social, economic and financial support.
Imagine not knowing where the next meal for yourself and the children is coming from.
With no money to feed and clothe yourself or children, as well as no social or political connection at all to even get started, imagine also a promise from the blue, pregnant with opportunity.
The opportunity of travelling to a better country where conditions are much better, where finding a job is much easier, where earning good money is assured and even saving for a brighter future is a certainty.
For many people such opportunities are not thought through for a minute; they are jumped at!
Also invigorating is the opportunity of giving one’s children the basics in life that will set them on course to prosperous adulthood.
These are the scenarios that make parents give out their children for a pittance and forever, to fish in the Volta River and other coastal areas, or become servants to better off families in faraway countries.
These are also the circumstances that make parents leave their children and families behind, with the hope of a better future in sight.
Most often these opportunities end up in tears and disappointment for those who embarked on them as they end up at in places where they become worse off than before.
The deprivation of the past is compounded, while one loses all basic rights that underpin humanity and sanity.
These are modern forms of slavery that include human trafficking, child labour and forced servitude.
As social and economic derivatives were the impetus of slavery in the 15th Century, so also now, economic and social demands drive modern slavery.
Around the 15th Century when slavery started, it contradicted the fundamental rights of men and women.
Apart from that, as the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Mr Koichiro Matsuura, pointed out in his speech during the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23, 2008, slavery provoked “profound global, economic, social and cultural transformations.”
These long-lasting transformations and their consequences on the African continent resulted in the international recognition of slavery as “crime against humanity” in the declaration of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.
Slavery now emerges in several subtle forms that are not as grotesque as the documentaries shown of the slave trade in the past, but the new forms of slavery are equally abhorrent.
Human trafficking, child labour, sexual exploitation of all kinds, etc, etc, are all modern forms of slavery in which victims may not be seen being physically hauled away in chains and ships, but they are seen going on their own volition.
However, behind the voluntariness of their choice are unseen emotional and mental pressures even as they surrender to all sorts of abuse and human rights violations.
In modern slavery, open forms of resistance are rarely seen, as victims under some social and economic pressures, succumb to dehumanising conditions.
It is to address wrong perceptions of slavery, past and present, its impact from the 15th Century, and how it operates in the contemporary world that UNESCO in 1994, launched its Slave Route Project.
The project seeks among other things to create a greater understanding of the slave trade and its consequences for modern societies in order to contribute to the establishment of a culture of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights, which underpin the mandate of UNESCO, according to Koichiro Matsuura.
The project will also increase awareness of the African presence around the world and highlight the contribution of the African Diaspora to the building of a new world.
Through research and the dissemination of information, a novelty under the project is the production of an Atlas of the Interaction of African Presence and its Heritage that will set out the indigenous African traditions, generated over the centuries and manifested in diverse cultural activities such as music, dance, crafts and festivals seen in Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.
Under the project, UNESCO member states are to set up country slave route projects and Ghana’s was duly set up by the government in 1999 under the Ministry of Tourism.
Since its inception almost a decade ago, the committee administering the project, which includes Professor James Kwesi Anquandah, have undertaken some field studies of historical and archaeological interest in Ussher Fort, Jemeni, Kasana, Salaga and the Abokobi area.
A couple of national and international conferences have been organised on slavery to garner ideas from local and international partners on how the phenomenon operated in the past, its impact and the lessons for the present.
The National Slave Route Project Committee, out of its efforts, has published the book “Trans Atlantic Slave Trade-Landmarks, Legacies and Expectations,” the proceedings of one of the international conferences, and the booklet “A Guidebook to the Major Pilgrimage Routes of Ghana,” while a map of the itineraries of the slave routes in the country has also been developed.
While commending the efforts of the former Minister of Tourism, Mr Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, as well as the Chief Director of the ministry, Ms Bridget Katsriku, and the Coordinator of the Project, Mr E. V. Hagan, Prof. Anquandah, at the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, last month, pointed out that more work needed to be done as well as increased participation and co-operation of key ministries, such as the ministries of Finance, Information and Education.
These collaborative efforts will ensure the sustainability of the local project, and carry the project further in the researching and documenting of the legacies of religion, philosophy, music, dance, language, etc, taken to the new world and practised there.
It will also ensure the dissemination of information on initiatives and the sensitisation of everyone to the devastating effects of slavery on societies and economies to ensure its total abolition in all forms.
National and international efforts put in perspective the atrocities of the past, and make all sensitised enough to stand against all modern forms of slavery.
In the words of Koichiro Matsuura, “While we should never forget the atrocities committed in the past, we should be equally vigilant in seeking to abolish the contemporary forms of slavery that affect millions of men, women and children around the world. Despite the arsenal of international instruments created to combat the exploitation of human beings, as well as the growing awareness of forced labour and the sale and prostitution of children, the disturbing truth is that such flagrant violations of human rights continue. They are the scourge undermining the social fabric of many societies, which UNESCO is working with determination to end.”
DAILY GRAPHIC, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2008, PG 27