MARIEL BAI, Sudan – Slavery, a human rights horror of the past, is alive and well in Sudan’s present.
With a civil war raging around them, government-backed soldiers are reportedly enslaving thousands of women and children in the southern part of the country.
Most of the captured are brought north, where they are often raped, beaten and abused. Many are Christian and are forced to submit to Islam, the dominant religion in northern Sudan.
One victim, a young woman named Anguer, was taken as a slave four years ago when her parents were killed in a government-backed militia raid. She was forced to tend the cows of her "owner" and eventually, says Anguer, bore the man a three-year-old son.
"When I grew up," she said, "he took advantage of me."
Earlier this year, Anguer was freed through a program called "slavery redemption." Under the scheme, western groups like the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International pay Arab middlemen in Sudan to seek out, identify and retrieve abducted women and children from northern Sudan.
CSI's John Eibner said the group has freed more than 48,000 women and children from slavery and returned them to their homeland.
The going rate for a human being is around $35, but can go higher with mark-ups such as payoffs to government officials.
"It's only a matter of money," a slave retriever named Abaker said. "If you have the money, you can do it in secrecy." Some say buying back slaves only encourages slavery. They insist that the only way to end the harvest of human beings is to stop paying the price of retrieval.
"As a long-term policy it doesn't work, because there is a danger that it creates a market,” said Gill Lusk, of the independent magazine Africa Confidential.
Groups in the redemption movement disagree, and say there has been a decline in abductions since their efforts began.
Many lay blame for the trade at the feet of the Sudanese government, but it disclaims any official support for slavery and blames it on the area's troubled past — and present.
"It's all due to [the] war we have there," said Khidi Haroun Ahmed, Sudan's Charge d'Affaires to the United States.
In noisy street protests, U.S. activists are demanding Washington take concrete action to end the practice. They have even traveled to Sudan to participate in their own redemption missions.
For those lucky enough to get caught in the redemption web, life is not much better. Anguer, for example, is no longer enslaved, but her future remains uncertain.
She has lost her immediate family, and because she now has a child out of wedlock, her chances of attracting a husband are very slim. She is one more living casualty in a slavery process many want to see become history.