The English word slave comes from Old French sclave, from the Medieval Latin sclavus, from the Byzantine Greek σκλάβος, which, in turn, comes from the etymon of the ethnonym Slav, because in some early Medieval wars many Slavs were captured and enslaved. An older interpretation connected it to the Greek verb skyleúo 'to strip a slain enemy'.
There is a dispute among historians about whether terms such as unfree labourer or enslaved person, rather than "slave", should be used when describing the victims of slavery. According to those proposing a change in terminology, slave perpetuates the crime of slavery in language; by reducing its victims to a nonhuman noun instead of "carry[ing] them forward as people, not the property that they were". Other historians prefer slave because the term is familiar and shorter, or because it accurately reflects the inhumanity of slavery, with "person" implying a degree of autonomy that slavery does not allow for.
A poster for a slave auction in Georgia
, U.S., 1860
Portrait of an older woman in New Orleans
with her enslaved servant girl in the mid 19th century
Indenture, otherwise known as bonded labour or debt bondage, is a form of unfree labour under which a person pledges himself or herself against a loan. The services required to repay the debt, and their duration, may be undefined. Debt bondage can be passed on from generation to generation, with children required to pay off their progenitors' debt. It is the most widespread form of slavery today. Debt bondage is most prevalent in South Asia.
Chattel slavery, also called traditional slavery, is so named because people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of the owner and are bought and sold as commodities. Typically, under the chattel slave system, slave status was imposed on children of the enslaved at birth. Although it dominated many different societies throughout human history, this form of slavery has been formally abolished and is very rare today. Even when it can be said to survive, it is not upheld by the legal system of any internationally recognized government.
"Slavery" has also been used to refer to a legal state of dependency to somebody else. For example, in Persia, the situations and lives of such slaves could be better than those of common citizens.
Forced labour, or unfree labour, is sometimes used to refer to when an individual is forced to work against their own will, under threat of violence or other punishment, but the generic term unfree labour is also used to describe chattel slavery, as well as any other situation in which a person is obliged to work against their own will and a person's ability to work productively is under the complete control of another person. This may also include institutions not commonly classified as slavery, such as serfdom, conscription and penal labour. While some unfree labourers, such as serfs, have substantive, de jure legal or traditional rights, they also have no ability to terminate the arrangements under which they work, and are frequently subject to forms of coercion, violence, and restrictions on their activities and movement outside their place of work.
Human trafficking primarily involves women and children forced into prostitution and is the fastest growing form of forced labour, with Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico having been identified as leading hotspots of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Examples of sexual slavery, often in military contexts, include detention in "rape camps" or "comfort stations," "comfort women", forced "marriages" to soldiers and other practices involving the treatment of women or men as chattel and, as such, violations of the peremptory norm prohibiting slavery.
In 2007, Human Rights Watch estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 children served as soldiers in current conflicts. More girls under 16 work as domestic workers than any other category of child labor, often sent to cities by parents living in rural poverty such as in restaveks in Haiti.
Forced marriages or early marriages are often considered types of slavery. Forced marriage continues to be practiced in parts of the world including some parts of Asia and Africa and in immigrant communities in the West. Sacred prostitution is where girls and women are pledged to priests or those of higher castes, such as the practice of Devadasi in South Asia or fetish slaves in West Africa. Marriage by abduction occurs in many places in the world today, with a national average of 69% of marriages in Ethiopia being through abduction.