New Estimate: 30 Million ‘Modern Slaves’ Exploited Worldwide

Childhood's End: Boys pan for gold in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Global Slavery Index, a new comprehensive measure of compelled labor, estimates that there are 29.8 million people enslaved around the world. The countries with the highest numbers of enslaved people are India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Taken together, these countries account for 76 percent of the millions trapped in modern slavery, according to the report.

The inaugural index ranked 162 countries, reflecting a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. The index was published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.

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Mauritania, a West African nation with deeply entrenched hereditary slavery, is ranked number one. It is estimated that there are between 140,000 and 160,000 people enslaved in Mauritania, a country with a population of just 3.8 million. Haiti, a Caribbean nation with deeply entrenched practices of child slavery (known locally as the restavek system) is ranked second on the index. An estimated 200,000 to 220,000 people are in modern slavery in Haiti, a country with a population of just 10.2 million. Pakistan, with its porous borders to Afghanistan, large populations of displaced persons and weak rule of law, is third on the index with as many as 2,200,000 people in various forms of modern slavery.

The country with the largest number of people in modern slavery is India, with between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people enslaved. Slavery in India includes some foreign nationals, but by far the largest proportion of this problem occurs through the exploitation of Indian citizens, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labor.

China had the second highest number, with an estimated 2.8 million to 3.1 million. In China the forced labor of men, women and children can be located in many sectors of the economy, including domestic servitude and forced begging, the sexual exploitation of women and children and forced marriage.

The country with the third highest absolute number in modern slavery is Pakistan, with an estimated 2 million to 2.2 million people. The United States ranked 134 with an estimated 59,644 enslaved.

“Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labor, slavery or slavery-like practices (debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict), victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex or the thrill of domination,” the index authors conclude.

A “staggering and harsh reality,” some people are still being “born into hereditary slavery,” according to the report, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia. “Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage’, unpaid labor on fishing boats or as domestic workers. Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.”

Modern slavery can involve using children in the military, whether as combatants, porters, cooks or for other jobs. The chains of modern slavery are not always physical. Sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear or even a “marriage” that is forced on a young woman or girl can be used to hold a person against her will without the need for locks or chains.

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