My Body, My Rights, My Call for Respect

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By Katie Bellamy Mitchell, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern

This February 14th, I’ll spend Valentine’s Day with people I love. And when I say I love them — my friends and family ­— I mean I value them. I mean I have decided my life is better when they are a part of it. It’s easy to take for granted, yet people around the world are denied the right to decide the people they share their lives with—even denied the right to make decisions over their own bodies. They are forced to accept others’ decisions about their healthcare, their sexual orientation, and whether they get married or have children.

To live, love, and make decisions free from coercion and threat of violence is a human right. Love is a decision that always means respect: for my body, for my rights, and for the bodies and rights of others.


Contemporary Slavery in Brazil a Sad Reality

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After responding to an anonymous claim filed last August, the Federal Police identified 14 individuals held as slaves at a farm in Brazil’s western state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The victims, natives to various northeastern states of the country, had travelled to Mato Grosso do Sul in response to attractive job offers and better lives.  Instead, they met slavery and abuse. They were subject to extremely poor living conditions and they lacked employment contracts, which left their rights fully vulnerable.  They worked 13-hour shifts for three entire months, without pay. Having no other option but to buy their food and basic goods for credit at the farm’s shop, they accumulated unintended and unmanageable debts, which empowered the farm owner to prevent the workers from leaving the farm’s premises.

Housing made of wood and canvas

Also, in the city of Sao Paulo an immigrant from Bolivia was recently arrested for subjecting six fellow immigrants into slavery. The suspect owned a sewing shop where people worked 15-hour shifts and were grossly underpaid.  Employees were made subject to conditions terribly unsuitable for dignified work.  Like in the case from Mato Grosso do Sul, the Bolivian employees had no employment contract and were kept unaware of their most basic employment rights.

According to the UN, in 2008 there were up to 40,000 contemporary slave laborers in Brazil. Workers are generally young men recruited from a state characterized by extreme poverty, illiteracy and rural unemployment.