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The many forms of exploitation

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Rahmat Gul/AP

(Read caption) 14-year-old Raihana serves lunch at her home near Kabul, Afghanistan. she and her family are forced to work at a brick factory to repay a $900 debt.

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Millions of people worldwide are trapped in what amounts to modern-day slavery. 

Shackles and whips are seldom used, but individuals desperate for money are lured into jobs in which they work for meager wages, live under the threat of violence, are subject to sexual abuse, and constantly fear arrest or deportation. 

Of all the ways that workers are exploited, the most poignant stories tend to be those of women caught up in sex trafficking. A recent report by the Britain-based Anti-Slavery International group, for instance, notes that many women leave impoverished homes “with dreams in their eyes, fear and excitement in their minds at what awaits,” but too often are duped into a life of prostitution, where they are intimidated, abused, and blackmailed. A woman who manages to break free might still be charged with prostitution or illegal immigration. If she returns home, she faces shame. In some cultures, she faces death.

Stephanie Hanes’s Monitor cover story examines this difficult subject. She makes clear that forced prostitution must be combatted for the crime that it is. But because of the age-old human fascination with sex, it is all too easy to focus on that problem and overlook the many other ways that women, children, and men – as many as 27 million, by some estimates – are exploited in global industries built on cheap, often forced, labor. Everything from the produce we eat to the mineral components in our cellphones, from the clothes we wear to the unskilled workers cleaning our buildings, may be part of this system.

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