Slavery in the Modern World

Global Slavery Index 2013
Global Slavery Index 2013

Last month the Walk Free Foundation released their inaugural report attempting to quantify the number of people enslaved worldwide. The Global Slavery Index 2013 has concluded that almost 30 million people fall under their definition of slavery. Similar reports from the International Labor Organization and the State Department had estimated 22 and 27 million respectively. This new report clearly lays out the concentration of slavery in the world by country- implicating India, China, and Pakistan as the worst offenders in absolute terms. These three countries alone account for roughly 60% of the reported number of enslaved peoples. Mauritania, Haiti, and Pakistan are ranked as the top 3 countries with the highest prevalence of slavery relative to their population size.

Modern slavery, though it can take many forms, is generally defined as “one person depriving another people of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to leave one workplace for another, their freedom to control their own body.” Forced labor, what most people think of when they hear the term slavery, is specifically when a person is forced to work against their will through coercion or threats of coercion. While most forced labor (68%) involves activities in agriculture, construction, or manufacturing, an estimated 22% involves sexual exploitation. Bonded labor is the most common form of slavery, in which a person is forced into labor by an employer due to a debt owed. The employer stipulates that the indebted worker cannot find any other form of employment and will pay them little or nothing at all. Generally the debt can never actually be repaid despite their work exceeding the value of the original loan and in some cases is passed on through generations leaving some children born into servitude. Trafficking is also considered a form of slavery by which people are lured away from their homes through coercion or deception. Often trafficking leads to another form of slavery where people have their passport taken and are forced to work for little to no wage to repay a debt or simply to survive. Of course, other forms exist related to caste and ethnic structures or servile marriages.

The slavery Index estimates that there are 13,300,000 – 14,700,000 enslaved people in India, almost half of the global total. Slavery in India is largely internal with women and children of the lower castes or indigenous groups being the most vulnerable. In some instances people are lured away from rural areas to wealthier cities by false prospects of employment only be forced into a form of bonded labor or sold to wealthy families where they are often physically or sexually abused. Some sectors well known for their bonded laborers are stone quarries, brick kilns, construction and mining. India does have legislation banning most forms of slavery however officials do little to enforce these laws. One article states, “Officials don’t care, and sometimes even want maids for their own houses, [which is] partly why they’re silent on this.” India is also one of the few countries that has yet to ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention. Recently (April 2013), India has passed a more comprehensive ban on modern slavery though it has yet to be seen how this will be utilized by enforcement agencies.

Though some may assume slavery no longer exists in the United States, there are an estimated 57,000-63,000 people enslaved within the U.S. today and, according to the index, almost all forms of modern slavery are present here. From bonded labor to sexual exploitation slavery in the U.S. affects populations of a wide range of socio-economic class, race, and age. Some of the most vulnerable groups include temporary visa holders, domestic servants to international diplomats, LGBTQI peoples, runaways, homeless youths, and sex workers. Much of these activities occur on interstate highway routes, truck stops, urban centers, and agricultural, fishing or forestry related industries. Though the State Department released an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, they had not analyzed the U.S. until 2010. U.S. citizens forced into sexual exploitation are often younger than those from abroad with an average recruitment age of 12-14. “The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that at least 100,000 American children are the victims of commercial sexual trafficking and prostitution each year.” Foreign workers are sometimes lured into the agricultural sectors with the promise of well-paying jobs only to have their passports and visas taken and forced to work in remote areas. The government has taken great strides in addressing the issue and fostering cooperation between relevant agencies and streamlining prosecution practices. They have also been supporting the efforts in civil society to identify and assist victims of modern slavery such as Truckers Against Trafficking and the Polaris Project.


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