Hundreds of children are still sold into slave labour
The shipping of millions of Africans to work as slaves on sugar and cotton plantations in the United States and the Caribbean ended in the early 1800s.
But far from being confined to history, other forms of slavery still continue.
Millions of men, women and children around the world - including many Africans - are forced into servitude.
Human trafficking and slavery is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. So serious is the problem that the United Nations has made 2004 an anti-slavery year.
In west Africa, children are trafficked between countries, often sold by their own parents, to be used as servants in the houses of richer people and on agricultural plantations.
In some countries like Mauritania and Niger, people are born into a class where they are viewed and treated as only being suitable for slave labour.
BBC's Africa Live is asking: Why does slavery still exist today? Have you been a slave or do you know someone in such a situation?
This debate is now closed. A selection of your comments appears below
I had the unfortunate experience of going to the Philippines and Thailand when I was in the armed forces. There, my male friends were offered 14-15 year old girls and boys and quoted different prices for the ones that were virgins. I did see many men rent the young boys and girls. The western world has their hands deep in the problem, our ethnocentrism has allowed us to convince ourselves that servitude and abuse is acceptable to practice upon other cultures. Slavery exists because there is a demand for it. And unfortunately, it is our demand...
While we preach that human dignity is the birth right of every citizen of this planet, we take vacation trips to the Philippines and rent a newly kidnapped 14-year-old boy or girl.
Astrid Morreale, USA
African parents love their children as everyone else does. So why are they selling their kids? The answer is very simple. In Africa and some other Asian countries, the parents make as many kids as they can to secure their retirements when they get old.
Abdirashid Sheikh Mohamud, Minneapolis, MN , USA
There are millions of people who have no food, water or shelter. And if somebody offers them money to be his/her slave, they would accept it without doubt because these people are fighting for their lives and they will do anything to stay alive.
Tewodros Kebede, Ethiopia
Slavery is more in the mind than in the hand. All men are born equal but some are more equal than the other. But do you have to be black to be a slave?
Victor Ajagbusi, Nigeria
Slavery cannot be abolished in my country as long as the so-called big men who have reduced our country to what it is today still remain in power. Of course they will need the poor ones to still be enslaved to them. Only God will save the poor ones in my country.
Godson Chinwe Kingsley, Nigeria
Lots of young women from my country Ethiopia go to Arab countries both mostly illegally to work for the rich Arab families. They do this to improve their own life and their family's back home. The sad thing it's a few of them who are "successful". Most of them suffer from mental abuse and physical mistreatment: they are raped, bitten by the house wives because of jealousy, don't get paid properly and sometimes don't even get it at all. Thanks to capitalism, there always will be slavery!
With wars in most parts of the world now, slavery has gained momentum in the sense that some wars encourage and provide shields for slave dealers. Take Sudan for example, children as young as eight are captured from the South and taken to work in the North as slaves. As long as people's powers are taken from them by some few individuals, powerless people will always be the victim of this satanic act.
Monyoro Alex, Sudanese in Australia
Slavery is something misunderstood by many people in Africa. For instance, in Sudan, where I come from, parents permit their children go with Arab tribes and then they return to their regions during summer time. Both parents and children think that it is a privilege for their children to make money from Arab tribes. Today slavery has been connected with business that is why it has become so difficult for anti-slavery campaigners.
Peter Tuach, USA
Slavery is not a simply-defined issue. In Northern Cameroon, Chadian immigrants are treated like dirt. While living in the small town of Guidiguis, I noted that all the hardest labour was left to illegal Chadian immigrants. Some of them appeared to have wandered across the border in desperate search for food and employment. Some are taken in by families as "domestiques". Whether 8 or 50 years old, they work from pre-dawn to late at night. In return they receive minimal food and (possibly) a place to sleep. Is this slavery?
Colin S. Ray, Japan
We're all slaves, even in the western world. Why else would everyone spend their entire lives working away from their loved ones and family, only allowed to see them at evening time and the first thing in the morning if they are lucky. The only difference is that the chains in the western world are psychological ones.
I think the word slavery is used too loosely nowadays because that's the only way the western media think they can do to let the entire world compare these poor, disadvantaged people to the heinous crimes they committed centuries ago.
Slavery has never been confined to the dustbin of history. All across Sahelian Africa, slavery in its ancient form is being practiced. The masters are the Arabs and their kith and kin and the slaves obviously the black Africans.
Yahaya Jalingo , Liberia
Africans need to show love to one another so we cannot be neglected by the European.
Yaya Fofana, Liberia
To Yussuf Dayib Ali, Nairobi, Kenya who thinks that slavery was invented by Europeans. Slavery has been a part of all civilisations. If you look back through history thoroughly you will see evidence that Africans raided numerous European coastal towns - in Spain, France and even Ireland. Lets keep this in context and get the facts straight so we can properly deal with the problem.
Jonathon Morris, Shropshire, England
Legalised slavery may have ended in the early 1800s, but it has been reinvented today. Masters remain at the top of the food chain - we have all been duped. Colonialism equals dependency which equals slavery. Nothing has changed except that we are the willing participants. When we leave our family, our community or country as professionals and migrate to other countries to work in a harsh, unfriendly environment, we enslave ourselves no matter how you rationalise it.
Linus Agu, Seattle USA
Slavery in Africa relies on poverty and power, because those who have power can do what they like it. African governments should abolish barbaric slavery on the continent. If slavery has been abolished in 1833, slavery should continue no more, but the Arab countries still claim superiority over indigenous Africans. As far as the Dinka or Monyjang history is concerned, Dinka was never enslaved by the Arabs. I know my Dinka or Monyjang fellows are being exploited by Arab tribes in northern Sudan and the African governments are not taking action. The international community must bring these savage tribes to justice.
Michael Nuul Mayen, Manitoba,Sudanese in Canada
It's a pity slavery still exists. This is because of our greediness. Africans play a big role in promoting this barbaric act by selling their own children to enrich themselves.
Kisanya Vincent, Nairobi, Kenya
Slavery in Africa was created by the European colonialist when agricultural plantations forced African labourers to work on their farms with poor pay and poor working conditions. African immigrants in European cities are forced to work in odd jobs and their passports are detained. They have no contact with the outside world and their families. Multi-national companies in Africa are the source of slavery in Africa today.
Yussuf Dayib Ali, Nairobi, Kenya
It is heart rendering that in this century, people are still subjecting others to sub human treatment in the name of slavery. In Africa, people view the modern form of slavery as being OK. Even parents willingly give their children to people they know who will subject them to inhuman treatment in exchange for money. Poverty and ignorance is at the root of it all. The world will find it almost impossible to convince the average African to change this line of thought.
King Yemmy Adu, Nigeria
Slavery will always exist as long as there is a gap between the rich and the poor. It is the same not only in Africa but also in other continents. Thousands of poor Rwandans work in rich people's firms or houses and they are treated like slaves. They are voiceless and not allowed to express their needs and wants. They don't know that the United Nations designated 2004 as an anti-slavery year, and even if they did know, it means nothing to them.
Albert P'Rayan, Indian expat in Rwanda
We have to fight what is behind the existence of human trafficking which forces parents to sell their beloved children. Chronic starvation may be the significant cause of 21st century slavery in Africa. Africa has to take responsibility to get rid of such an abominable situation by uprooting the main cause of it.
Daga Said, Seattle, Ethiopian in US
Slavery exists for one simple reason - exploitation. Human trafficking and slavery are not an African phenomenon. The reasons for human misery, whether child trafficking, child labour or prostitution, are manifold. A sad fact is that the majority of nations still demonstrate their total indifference and ignorance with regard to human trafficking.
Gunter W, Cologne, Germany
Slavery still exists and it may become a common way of life, just like robbery and murder. Some people refuse to respect human life especially those of different races. It will only stop if everyone learns to accept and appreciate the differences of all members of the human race.
I am a slave. My labour is always cheap, my produce is always disdained and my future is sealed by western countries. We black people are still slaves - it's only become more sophisticated. Do we deserve it? As long as we continue to rape our countries, yes!
Inequality between rich and poor sends powerless people into a backward world. A lot of children in developing countries are forced to work as sex slaves because of poverty. Rich people do not care about their human rights and just treat them like slaves. People in developed countries only care about their lives and their benefits. As long as this continues, the present situation won't change.
Little Maki, Japan
Many Africans especially in Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia have teenagers as young as 12 who are sent to rich Arab countries to serve their masters. They never go out and do not have enough food. Those who are lucky, escape, but some die if they challenge their masters.
D. Abebe, UK
I worked in New York for a technology company. We worked as 'modern' slaves suffering from extreme exploitation, intimidation, poor wages, verbal and physical abuse, and long hours. Sometimes we did not receive any payment. They exploit foreign workers. Slavery exists in all forms, whether it's in the third world or developed nations. It will never end as long as there is support for it by someone up in the chain. Despite several complains about my experience, nothing has been done.
Anon, NYC, USA
Slavery still exists even today. Recently, I met a woman working for almost nothing. For 24 hours a day she looked after a rich diplomat's child and his house. She would not accept my help out of fear of violence or deportation and I deeply regret not forcing the matter at the time. She and the family have disappeared from the area. I hope the employer will be punished one day, however, I have accepted that it will inevitably be this woman who will suffer, whether the authorities know about it or not.
Stephanie Parkes, Switzerland
Slavery exists because of the poverty that has ravaged the affected regions. The economy of the modern world is skewed towards developed economies. Unemployment and poor standards of living are the cause of this shameful menace.
Olufemi Ijadimbola, Nigeria
Slavery is very difficult to understand. It takes many different forms as legislations regulating it change. In my home country Cameroon, it is a practice involving a conspiracy between the government, the rich and the multinationals. If you are not born into a wealthy class, tribe or family, then you are bound to suffer and miss out on the most basic of facilities.
Rexon, Cameroonian in UK
Slavery still exists in its various forms. In the USA, employers can work their people to death on ridiculously low wages, often in unsafe working conditions. They strip the workers of their liberties by trying to tell them how to live without providing shelter, food, clothes or medical care. If you are one of those employers, shame on you!
Amy Kreitzer, Kettle Falls, USA
Most Africans can be considered as slaves. We're slaves to war, disease, poverty and hunger and the rest of the world looks on in indifference.
Thabo Kesiswame, Zimbabwe
I was probably a slave when I entered the US 15 years ago. Confined to a farmland, in the middle of nowhere, some where in North Carolina. One can probably become a slave when the fear of being deported exceeds the pain and sufferings one undergo, coupled with ignorance. I walked out of that God forbidden place without a single problem. Today, I own my own home, a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters.
Allie K, U.S.A
In my country Ghana, and I'm sure this goes for most African countries, families "donate" their young daughters between the ages of say 8 and 20 to more "affluent" families. Sometimes, the more "affluent" family might be just a single notch better than the "donating" family. The understanding is that these girls from poor families would live with their hosts, work for them and enjoy a "better" standard of life. They are often made to work from the crack of dawn till late in the night for no pay. What's more, the majority live under many other kinds of ill treatment which includes, physical and emotional abuse, as well as sexual assaults from the males in their host families. I believe that as the gap between the rich and poor narrows in Africa, and when educational opportunities increase, this phenomenon will die a natural death. No amount of legislation, though, could end this practice.
Benjamin Obeng, USA
As long as there is more money to be made from slavery than the potential for punishment, slavery will exist.
Slave trade has not been abolished in my country. The truth of the matter is that we had a freedom from the hands of our colonial masters. In Nigeria today the citizens are been enslaved by those who claim to be the peace makers and political leaders. We are still under neo-colonialism which is more or less slavery.
Onyeka Etumudor, Nigeria.
Slavery exists because some people feel that they are better than others. Sometimes, slavery occurs because some people think that you owe them your servitude because they helped you in, when you were in need. I was once used as a slave. When I immigrated to the US, I was forced to work for this family because they claimed to be helping me. It was very difficult for me to say no. But, when I said no, I meant no. And it was the end of my slavery. Africans have to learn how to say no to slavery.
The same beliefs that were held in the 1800s are the same today. We still have racism. This isn't about economics and anyone who feels that way is obviously not an African. I have seen educated and wealthy Africans been treated like dirt. It is an African problem, plain and simple and unless we as Africans have more respect for ourselves, we are going to be victimized over and over again.
In the mid-1990s I helped facilitate a project evaluation in Kenya for staff working with street children. Having discussed strategies for tackling 'child domestic labour' (which at that time we characterised as a modern slavery, I asked the 12 or so staff if any of them had children who were 'employed' (which usually meant no wages, access to school, etc.) to look after children, do the cooking, etc. Only one of the staff claimed not to have a 'child domestic worker'. What struck me was the 'normality' of such cultural practices which ran parallel to, and seemed relatively untouched by donor-driven campaigns.
Tim in London, UK
Slavery is undoubtedly the worst crime to humanity, it is unfortunate that this crime still rears its head in some parts of the world. This is largely because when the hardship of abject poverty, famine and uncertainty is rife in a place, the possibility of being able to stand for one's self is completely eroded, this obviously makes the people prone to be trafficked for this inhuman cause.
Eseme Ojaruega, Dominican Republic
Slavery exists because some people always have and always will feel superior to others and feel entitled to "own" others.
Fred Jordan, Mexico
When we hear of such barbaric practices, that happpen today, one should ask the following question. Is this the twenty first century? Are the reported cases of slavery in Mauritania,Niger, Sudan and other countries verifiable? I believe that slavery in Africa today is not practiced as it was in the 1800's. Maybe its class inequality not plain simple slavery.
Mubarak Salah, United Kingdom
Capitalist slavery exists in the US, using illegal immigrants - mostly from Central and South America. Factories and such promise lucrative wages and benefits, then seize everything the immigrants brought with them and forbid them to contact anyone. Any complaint is met with a threat to hand them over to local law enforcement - who won't be nearly as nice and polite as immigration - most dissenters are simply shot - there will always be another ready to walk into the trap. It's an unlimited supply of free labor, like a twisted American Dream: here, slaves don't even cost anything! This is most prevalent in the President's home state of Texas, I might add.
Everyone in Western countries is responsible for slavery in the 21st century, and the most evident slaves are those women working in the sex industry. Who is responsible for them being in that situation? Clients. We need to inform people about it, clients always think that these girls like their job and are happy about it.