Eight Arab princesses are currently on trial in Brussels for trafficking and abusing servants during their stay there nine years ago. The case has begun to attract international attention and is once again bringing the global problem of human trafficking to the forefront.
Sheikha Hamda al-Nahyan and her seven daughters brought 20 servants from the UAE for their 8 month stay in Belguim. They have been accused of holding these servants in slave-like conditions. The servants were prevented from leaving the building or eating without permission, and were tied up while the princesses were away. They were also forced to sleep on the floor at the foot of the princess’ beds.
In addition to charges of inhumane treatment, the princesses are also accused of failing to procure the correct visas and work permits for their servants as well as failing to pay wages.
This all came to light when one servant, who claimed to have not eaten or drank in over 3 days, escaped the hotel.
Despite these harsh accusations, the UAE will likely refuse to extradite them and the princesses are unlikely to face more than a several-hundred dollar fine.
Nicholas McGeehan, an expert on Gulf migrant workers explained that despite the abolishment of slavery, domestic slavery and human trafficking is not only tolerated but entirely accepted from the top down in many Gulf countries.
“[It is] perpetuated by ruling elites for whom it serves an important societal purpose in conferring status,” McGeehan said.”
McGeehan also noted that it is almost impossible for people like these servants to find the justice they deserve.
“The princesses are of course very important people with immense means and prestige, while the victims are very vulnerable,” McGeehan said. “The princesses hired three specialist lawyers who twice went to Belgium’s highest court to challenge procedure. Not everyone has the means to do that.”
Earlier this March another issue of domestic slavery came to light when a Kuwaiti women filmed her servant ‘falling out a window.’ It later came to light that the servant, an Ethiopian woman, was being kept there against her will and attempted to jump from a seventh-floor window in order to escape.
Similarly, a young woman who escaped from North Korea told her story about crossing into China to ‘freedom’ just for to be captured and sold into the sex trade.
Even in America, where we seem to be a world away from these issues, a recent viral Facebook post tells the tale of a flight attendant noticing something odd about a young woman and an older man on a flight only to realize the woman was being trafficked. After the flight attendant called police, the woman was later freed.
These cases remind us that, despite the nearly-global abolition of slavery, there are still nearly 27 million enslaved individuals in the world. Domestic slavery, workers without rights, and the sex trade are arguably more common now than ever before.
The key to ending human trafficking lies in awareness and eliminating the flow of cash making slavery profitable. We all contribute to the global problem of slavery when we are not conscious of where our products come from, cognizant of where our money goes, and considerate of individuals around us who may be trafficked or trafficking.
In a modern world with endless innovations, a constant flow of information, and a higher standard of living than ever before the continuation of slavery is unacceptable. We must work together to end this horrible practice both at home and abroad.