Slavery never died: India leads in number of modern day slaves

Almost 30 million people are slaves globally, says study.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: Slavery never died. In fact, the evil is alive and kicking and prevalent at different levels in India. Reminiscent of African slave trade of the 17th and 18th century, when unsuspecting natives were tricked or forced into a life of slavery in distant lands, these acts of horror are being enacted with alarming regularity in 21st century India.

Human traffickers blend into unsuspecting villages in India especially in its central parts, use the powers of persuasion and the hope of dreams, luring teenage girls and boys with the promise of city jobs, nice clothes and fat salaries. Many of these teenagers are school drop outs and whenever the work in the fields taper off, the future in their tiny villages seem bleak and the chimera of city lights finally take-over their psyche  pulling them towards Delhi or Mumbai where they finally get lost in the huge under–belly of these metropolises, often never heard from again.

What seemed like a glamorous move to the big city often became a nightmare of abuse for the young people. Girls are sold off into unpaid prostitution; teenage boys are brought to factories where they work long hours for no money and only enough food to keep their bodies barely alive.

According to the recent Global Slavery Index (GSI), which provides a ranking of 162 countries surveyed, the highest number of slaves are found in India, followed by China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Taken together, these countries account for 76% of the total estimate of 29.8 million in modern slavery.

According to Walk Free, a Perth–based rights group, the largest estimated number of people in modern slavery is India, which is estimated to have between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people enslaved. The largest proportion of this problem is the exploitation of Indians citizens within India itself, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labor.

The country with the second highest absolute numbers of enslaved is China, with an estimated 2,800,000 to 3,100,000 in modern slavery. The China country study suggests that this includes the forced labor of men, women and children in many parts 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 2,000,000 to 2,200,000 people in modern slavery.

“Today some people are still being born into hereditary slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia,” the report said. “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.”

The Global Slavery Index 2013 defines slavery as the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception. The definition includes indentured servitude, forced marriage and the abduction of children to serve in wars.

Researcher Kevin Bales hoped the index, the first annual report to monitor slavery globally, would raise public awareness as numbers were at an all-time high and it would increase pressure on governments to take more action. ‘’Hopefully this report will be a wake-up call for rich countries as well,” Bales told a news agency.

He dismissed the view that poverty was the key factor behind slavery and instead blamed corruption, calling for laws to stop organized gangs. “Consistently when we analyzed the statistics we found that corruption came out as more powerful than poverty in driving slavery,” said Bales, a professor of contemporary slavery at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull in northern England.  “Fundamentally this is a violent crime issue.”

In 2013, modern slavery, according to the report, has taken many new avatars and is known by many names: slavery, forced labor or human trafficking. ‘Slavery’ refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed. ‘Forced labor’ is a related but not identical concept, referring to work taken without consent, by threats or coercion. ‘Human trafficking’ is another related concept, referring to the process through which people are brought, through deception, threats or coercion, into slavery, forced labor or other forms of severe exploitation. Whatever term is used, the significant characteristic of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves 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.

What the report reveals is something very new. For the first time ever the data is combined and analyzed into one single report in order to determine the estimate of prevalence of slavery in over 162 countries. The GSI allows us to have a global picture of the situation of modern slavery – something that has never been done before.

For next year’s Index (2014), the research team will conduct random sample surveys in key countries and provide narratives for all countries included in the report which will outline the situation of modern slavery, the government response and recommendations to tackle this problem.

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