It’s 2020 and modern slavery still exists in Malaysia

If you thought it was a thing of the past, I’ve got bad news for ya.

I know what you’re thinking – mana ada modern slavery kat Mesia? Mustahil!!!!! But gais, as heart breaking as it is, I’m sorry to report that it really is a thing.

Based off data, it is estimated that more than 40 million people are victims of slavery around the globe but actually the figure might be way higher. Modern slavery exists in almost every country, no matter how developed it is, and Malaysia is one of them.

In fact, according to the Global Slavery Index (2018), it was estimated that 212,000 people were enslaved in Malaysia. So yeah, modern slavery is a crisis we should really talk about.

Err… wait. What even is modern slavery?

When you hear the word “slavery”, you probably think of America or a time from dulu-dulu. But treating a person as property is something that is still going on right now.

Modern slavery (also known as forced labour) is all around us, but often we are just not aware of it. It is the severe exploitation of other people for profit.

Often victims of modern slavery end up becoming trapped in work like:

  • making our clothes.
  • serving our food,
  • working in our farms and factories,
  • sexually exploited in commercial sex,
  • working as cooks, cleaners or caretakers (like some of our kakaks we might have grown up with).

Many of them are forced to do this type of work (and worse) against their will. It doesn’t matter whether they come to Malaysia legally or not – perhaps they came here for work or studies or to just start fresh.

They can be migrants, refugees, people in poverty, women, children with hardships that push them into making risky decisions to provide for their selves and their families. Unfortunately, their trust and desperation are taken advantage of by criminals and they are turned into modern slaves. And COVID-19 also has made it even riskier for victims of trafficking and forced labour.

What types of modern slavery are there?

So all over the world there are a few kinds of slavery and, newsflash, none of them are good.

    I’m sure we mostly dengar pasal the most traditional form of slavery. People are treated as property, and their “slave” status ends up being passed down through their family. So, if their ibubapa were slaves, the children end up becoming slaves too. This is called descent-based slavery.
    Human trafficking is the illegal trading of people. So sometimes migrants are sold, and this usually lands them in things like sex work and criminal activity against their will. And FYI, trafficking isn’t something that just happens across countries – people can even be trafficked/sold in their own country!

>>READ: Fortify Rights & SUHAKAM Report – Sold Like Fish

    This is the most common form of slavery. Everywhere, people who are trapped in poverty are forced to work to pay off debt. And in most cases, their debt is never repaid. Even if they manage to somehow habis bayar hutang, these people have a high chance of ending up back in poverty and the cycle continues.

WAIT. All this is happening in our country? How is this possible?!

Well, not all. We technically don’t have descent-based slavery here, so phew I guess??

I mean, Malaysia ekcheli has done quite a bit to tackle forced labour and trafficking. The gomen is working on a new National Action Plan Against Trafficking in Persons, supported by UNICEF and NGOs, to protect children from all this. However, there’s still more do.

‘Cause despite our best efforts, modern slavery still happens here. In many cases,  migrants leave their home countries because they’ve been offered good jobs here tapi bila sampai, their passports and visas get snatched by their employers. With their passports and visas taken away, a lot of these people are stuck here and fear being reported to immigration authorities.

>>> Explore: R.AGE Student/Trafficked

So no choice lah. They end up having to stay here in very harsh, inhumane living and working conditions. Some people only get meals once a day and have to work for more than 12 hours a day.

Can you believe that some people still see these victims as the bad guys?! Padahal diorang tak buat apa-apa pun!

What can I do to stop modern slavery?

Modern slavery persists because many people turn a blind eye to it. We need to all be a part of the collective calling for an end to modern slavery!

Tenaganita is one human rights organisation dedicated to helping and protecting migrants, refugees, women and children from exploitation, abuse, discrimination, slavery and human trafficking. So if you know a victim and would like to report an abuse, call them at +603 7770 3671 / 3691 or report it on their website. You can also lend your time to volunteer kalau mampu!

Thankfully, we also live in the age of the internet so there’s stuff you can do there too! Project Liber8 is an online platform that gets involved with youth to create a #SlaveFreeMalaysia. They’re also working with UNICEF to raise awareness about human trafficking through the Advoc8 on the Road initiative.  … which is part of the “Protecting children affected by migration in Southeast, South, and Central Asia” project by UNICEF, and co-funded by the European Union and UNICEF! So please check out their social media to educate yourself further and add your voice to the chorus of people calling for an end to modern slavery! The more coverage this issue gets, makin susah for people to ignore it!

So gais – let’s be active about this issue. Stay aware, create conversations and make yourself heard okay. Trafficking and modern slavery have to end because migrants are people too and they deserve the chance to live their best lives just like you and me.

This blog was written sempena World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, July 30th. It’s a call to stop the exploitation of people through forced labour and to help those affected rebuild their lives. 

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Tati Wira

A 20-something fierce believer of children's rights!
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