Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob and first son of his mother Rachael, was a victim of ancient human trafficking. He also became head of the 11th tribe of Israel and a unique part of Israel’s history. Joseph was abducted, trafficked for domestic work, brutalized, sold and resold to bounded labor, a victim of attempted rape repeatedly by a woman, abused, imprisoned, and ignored, yet became a man who brought a food security bill for the whole Egyptian nation and made the nation a super economic power during years of severe famine.
The narration of Joseph found in the Bible is often thought of as a Biblical story and not connected with the contemporary issues facing us around the world today. Reviewing Joseph’s narrative, not from a theological and evangelical perspective, will throw light on the challenges of modern slavery systems and human trafficking. Perhaps, it will be helpful for those who are struggling to accept the challenges of human trafficking from Christian or Biblical perspectives.
His stepbrothers misled Joseph, which is similar to many cases in current human trafficking. People familiar with the victims mislead them with false promises of giving jobs and free education etc. Joseph, being thrown into a cistern by his stepbrothers, indicates the confinement that victims experience in most human trafficking cases.
His stepbrothers sold him to Midianite merchants for twenty shekels of silver. Twenty shekels of silver is equivalent to eight ounces of silver. Today, twenty shekels is approximately equal to $143. Perhaps, this was the first recorded instance of selling human beings for money. The Midianite merchants resold Joseph to Potiphar, an official of Pharoh. He became the captain of the guard as a slave. His sole purpose was domestic work as a bounded laborer. He was faithful to the service of his master, found favor in the eyes of Potiphar, and was thus given charge of his household.
Like many domestic female servants, Joseph was sexually abused. His master’s wife attempted to rape him repeatedly day after day. Because of his commitment to his master and fear of God, he overcame these rape attempts. When Potipar’s wife saw that she could not succeed, he was charged with an allegation of sexual abuse, which landed him in prison for years.
In prison he met two government officials of Pharaoh, a cupbearer and a baker, who were facing serious allegations against them. They were depressed due to these allegations, lost jobs, and justice denied. Joseph the interpreter of dreams at his father’s house, in the prison, and Pharaoh’s court, consoled the cupbearer and convinced the baker by interpreting the dreams that they each had. The baker was executed for the crimes he committed as Joseph foretold, and the cupbearer was reinstated into Pharoh’s court. Interestingly, the cupbearer forgot the consolation received from Joseph for two years until someone was needed to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and Joseph was summoned.
Finally, Joseph was rescued from bounded labor when he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams of seven years great abundance and seven years severe famine. Joseph found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh and was appointed as governor of Egypt.
Joseph, the dreamer, made a food security bill for Egypt and the surrounding tribal nations after he was rescued from human trafficking. A bill of agriculture was issued for a tax in order to prepare and store food grain from all over the land of Egypt during the abundant seven years so that the nation would not fall to ruin during the seven years famine. Joseph stored up quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea. It was so much, that he stopped keeping records.
Indian government managed to introduce a must awaited Food Security Bill 2011 on December 22 and it needs to go through both upper and lower houses before it becomes a law for the nation to secure food for over one billion people in India. Joseph knew the importance of the bill in order to save lives of many under his care.
Then the seven years famine began and spread all over the land of Egypt and surrounding nations. No food stores were left in the region accept in Egypt, and people from all over the region came to Egypt to buy food including his stepbrothers and his father Jacob. Egypt became a super economic power due to these great reserves of grain.
Joseph’s story is not just a Biblical narrative. It gives us insight into the human condition. In this narrative it is the issue of selling human beings for money and subsequent slavery. The world has declared that human trafficking is the largest crime next to armed drug trafficking. The story of Joseph will help people to understand the grave concerns involved with the victims of human trafficking. It can also serve to encourage the anti-trafficking initiatives.
For Joseph, it was God who helped him throughout, from the cistern, to being sold to the Midianite merchants, to slavery in Potiphar’s house, to enduring sexual abuse by family members, to being falsely accused and imprisoned. For Joseph, it was God’s intension that he testifies to his brothers when they asked for his forgiveness.
But for modern man, hundreds of thousand who are trafficked into forced sexual bondage, bounded labor, domestic work, and mafia thugs, who will be their voices and who care to redeem them? Who is there to restore hope to their lives?
Seema (name changed) a 13 years old girl, now 15, is a victim of Orissa’s Kandhmal communal violence, which took place in 2008-09. Hundreds of home, churches, and lives were destroyed. Thousands were rendered homeless and displaced. Seema’s parents were displaced, and her village and home destroyed. A known villager with false promises of work deceived her and her 19-year-old sister, along with two other girls. They were sold and brought to a placement agency in Delhi in early 2010.
They were sexually abused and raped repeatedly for five days by different people in the placement agency before they were sent to work as domestic workers in different homes. They worked without pay or proper food, and were abused by family members.
An anti human trafficking team rescued them after 9 months when the matter was reported to the All India Christian Council. Three of them were rescued from Delhi and a neighboring state. Seema’s sister is still untraceable even after the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi police to find her. Two of Seema’s friends have been restored to their families in Orissa after they were rescued. Seema continues rebuilding her life under the care of the All India Christian Council’s shelter home in Delhi.
Seema’s future is finally being restored after she has been given coaching class to read and write in English and half way through a beautician vocational training. Once she completes her course, will able to get a livelihood for herself and her poor parents living in an isolated village in a think forest in Orissa.
Indian Dalit and tribal women and children are vulnerable to human trafficking. North Eastern communities are in great danger at the hands of human traffickers. The issue remained unchallenged with the current socio-economic, educational, and employment crisis in the North East India region. More challenge will face in the region, when the International Highways are soon opened as per as Indian government’s “LOOK EAST” policy with ASEAN countries, where the region could become a hub for entry and exit of human trafficking.
With care and concern, many victims of human trafficking, like Seema, can find hope and a future like Joseph, who became a man rescued, made a food security bill for the nation and helped to make Egypt a super economic power.
Madhu Chandra is a social activist and research scholar based in New Delhi. He works as Regional Secretary of All India Christian Council and Spokesperson of North East Support Centre & Helpline.