A woman holds a placard with the message "I Have a Dream" as she attends a protest against slavery in Libya outside the Libyan Embassy in Paris. Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
You may be one of those who think slavery was abolished about 150 years ago. The reason you think that is that you probably have a job you chose to work at willingly.

Forced labour was legally prohibited many years ago in most countries, especially in Europe.

Likewise, slavery and forced labour are prohibited by Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But in many parts of the world, including Europe, people are still made to work like slaves despite these legal prohibitions.

Forced labour is practised in many ways, several of which are beatings, threats, blackmail, confinement, detention, the confiscation of passports and to pay off debts.

Modern slavery is not only a problem in underdeveloped countries. Modern slaves can be found in the very heart of Europe.

This is not some well-concealed practice, as many would believe; it takes place right in front of the eyes of the whole world.

Almost every day, there is a new piece about modern slaves in the press. One of which, recently published by Euronews, is about two refugees named Peter and Sara, forced to work as slaves in London.

Human traffickers found Peter in Greece when he was 15 years old and sold him as a sex slave. Sara is an Asian student who is forced to work 15 hours a day.

They were both prevented from contacting immigration offices with death threats.

In the same story, another “slave” was a person who was forced to work for £13 (R238) a day and was beaten and imprisoned to prevent his escape.

The title of the piece is actually the summary of the entire article: “Here’s the 21st century exploitation catalogue.”

While the official number of people treated as slaves in Britain is believed to be about 10000 to 13000, the actual figure may well exceed 80000.

There’s an outright slave market in London, where police report that the people forced to work as slaves for different purposes will be sold for 13000 (R209924) per person. Indeed, London is not the only place where modern slavery is an issue.

According to the Maplecroft Institution’s “Modern Slavery Index 2017”, the European countries posing the highest number of slavery victims are Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria.

According to Unicef, the number of refugee children has increased five-fold since 2010, exceeding 300000.

Unicef director Justin Forsyth points out that a majority of refugee children travel alone and are easily exposed to violence, sexual abuse, rape, drug addiction, and forced labour.

The report, published by the International Labour Organisation, reveals the extent of forced labour. The illicit money obtained in this way reaches $150 billion annually, $99bn of which is gained through sexual abuse.

Profits from construction, production, mining, water, electricity and transportation services amount to $34bn, while those who are sold to work in domestic services provide a profit of $8bn.

The profit earned through forced labour is not shared with these workers, nor is any tax paid on it.

It seems that this situation has allowed the number of forced labourers in the world to climb to 25 million today.

As migration from north Africa and the Middle East to Europe increased after the Arab Spring, there has also been a great increase in the number of slavery cases.

Some European countries are trying to avoid the migration problem by resorting to physical measures to keep immigrants and refugees from their borders.

Regrettably, they make no effort to focus on the source of migration.

In order to prevent slavery on a global scale, it is necessary to stop regional conflicts and the overall wealth level of underdeveloped regions must be increased; it is also necessary to eliminate the badly lop-sided distribution of income in these countries.

To achieve this, for starters, it is necessary for governments to produce solutions for problems such as a lack of job opportunities and education and to successfully implement them.

However, the fundamental solution lies with the reinforcement of such material measures along with spiritual education.

The self-centred and selfish understanding that is only concerned with self-comfort (a mentality born out of material concerns) must be replaced with a human-oriented perspective based on living together, sharing and co-operation.

It is necessary to show, with facts, that purely materialistic concerns bring only economic and social destruction to countries and societies, and the spirit of co-operation must be developed as a replacement for this mentality.

A big part of this task falls to governments, non-governmental organisations, and the media. Moving towards human-oriented policies will be the most important step in resolving the refugee problem.

* Harun Yahya is an internationally acclaimed author.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus