Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

Op-Ed: Slavery is alive and well and living in London

By Alexander Baron     Aug 20, 2011 in Crime
Slavery in Britain was abolished in 1807, in the USA in 1863, and in the whole world by 1981. Sadly, not everybody heard.
Risk Factors Influencing HIV Infection Incidence in a Rural African Population: A Nested Case-Control Study is the title of a 2006 article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, a prestigious peer reviewed academic journal that has been published continuously since 1904.
Anyone the slightest bit au fait with the medical literature will realise that contributing to an article in such a journal is in a different league from signing up with a blog and bombarding the world with the fruits of one’s researches and opinions. One of the thirteen contributors to the aforementioned article was Dr Rebecca Balira.
What would Sherlock Holmes be able to deduce from that minimal information? That she is a highly educated woman, probably a PhD? That she is probably over 30, maybe a shade older? That five years later she would be gaoled at Southwark Crown Court for keeping a slave?
This extraodinary case came to light last November wheh Tom Pettifor reported in the Daily Mirror that Dr Balira had smuggled a young Tanzanian woman, Methodia Mathias, into Britain where she subjected her to “premeditated and sustained” abuse . Westminster magistrates were told the “servant” was physically assaulted and made to work up to 19 hours a day. Her employer, if one may call her that, retained her visa and even arranged for a new passport. The previous month, a similar case came to light, of a woman who was held as a slave in all but name for four years. Here, in the UK.
At her trial, Dr Balira claimed her victim was lying because she wanted to stay in the UK. The jury thought otherwise, and she was convicted of “knowingly holding another in servitude”, which earned her a six month sentence; she received two months concurrent for common assault, and was ordered to pay her victim £3,000 compensation.
Shocking though this case is, yesterday the BBC reported on something far worse. The government of Madagascar chartered a plane to return home no less than 86 women from Lebanon, some of whom had been subjected to up to fifteen years of virtual slavery after being lured to the country on the pretext of working as domestic servants.
Along with usury and prostitution, slavery is the oldest and most dishonourable institution known to man. Over the Millennia it has had many faces; to be a slave in Ancient Rome was not the same as being a slave on a Deep South plantation; slavery has also been known by a wide variety of names throughout history, and still is today. Slaves may no longer be branded, or murdered with impunity, but a slave still has no meaningful human rights, and while slaves are, as always, drawn from the weakest and most vulnerable parts of society, slave owners are often otherwise highly intelligent and cultured men and women, as the case of Dr Balira shows.
There are a number of organisations worldwide fighting slavery today, including the London-based Anti-Slavery International.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Rebecca Balira, Methodia Mathias, Southwark Crown Court, Slavery
More news from