Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

Modern Slavery Is On The Rise

The latest data compiled by the ILO reveals that modern slavery is not only thriving but also increasing, despite growing awareness and economic progress. The Asia-Pacific, which is the world’s most populous region, leads in perpetuating modern slavery
October 9, 2022
Low priority: Debate on modern slavery has remained in the discursive stage, instead of addressing the conditions that lead to it

In early September, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a startling report that brought into focus the magnitude of ‘modern slavery’. Slavery in the conventional sense might have been abolished or has been deemed illegal in most parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean its manifestations in different forms have ceased to exist. The report, “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriages”, throws up startling statistics on some of the most regressive practices that prevail around the world.

The growing inequity in the distribution of natural and common resources and wealth is, in fact, pushing more people into modern slavery despite decades of economic progress.

The report—prepared by the ILO, Walk Free and the International Organisation for Migration—states that approximately 50 million people around the world are trapped into modern slavery on any given day, “either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into”. This means one in every 150 people is entrapped in modern practices of slavery. The report points out that this is not a transitory phenomenon—entrapment into forced labour can last for years and forced marriages last almost the lifetime of the sufferers.

Though member nations of the United Nations have a commitment to eradicate modern slavery of children by 2025 and universally by 2030 under SDG Target 8.7, given the magnitude of the practice, this goal appears unachievable. A combination of natural factors and man-made crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and wars in Europe and Africa have further exacerbated all forms of modern slavery by pushing more people into extreme poverty due to the loss of jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic and internal and external migration.

“As is usually the case, it is those who are already in situations of greatest vulnerability—including the poor and socially excluded, workers in the informal economy, irregular or otherwise unprotected migrant workers, and people subject to discrimination—who are most affected,” says the report.

The ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930, defines forced labour as “all work or service which is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. Forced marriage, the ILO observes, “is a complex and highly gendered practice. Although men and boys are also forced to marry, it predominantly affects women and girls. Forced marriages occur in every region of the world and cut across ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. The many drivers of forced marriage are closely linked to longstanding patriarchal attitudes and practices and are highly context specific”.

The ILO estimates that a total of 49.6 million people, including children, are in modern slavery on any given day, which translates to 6.4 people per thousand men, women and children. Out of this, 12 million children alone are trapped in this practice, while women and girls comprise 54% of the total. Not surprisingly, the Asia-Pacific region, which comprises some of the most populous countries, has the highest number of people entrapped in modern slavery.

Forced Labour: A bane for humanity


The numbers reveal that modern slavery was on the rise even before the pandemic, and the trend accelerated after Covid-19 hit the global workforce. Almost 10 million people fell into it in the past five years. The number of people who were pushed into forced labour also increased by 2.7 million during the corresponding period with the number of people per thousand increasing from 3.4 to 3.5.

In absolute terms, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the maximum number of people in forced labour, but Arab countries with a ratio of 5.3 per thousand people account for the highest prevalence rates. Interestingly, Europe and Central Asia have the second highest prevalence rate of 4.4 per thousand people, while the Americas and the Asia-Pacific with a prevalence rate of 3.5 per thousand people occupy the third spot.
According to these estimates, the private sector accounts for 86% of forced labour in the form of forced labour exploitation and forced commercial sexual exploitation. At 14%, even the State puts a large number of people into forced labour.

Forced Marriages: Coercion into acceptance

The second component of modern slavery is forced marriages. The ILO estimate says a staggering 22 million people are living in a forced marriage. “Forced marriage is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that leads to the infliction of physical, mental, or sexual harm or suffering. It has both short- and long-term consequences, and negatively impacts the capacity of individuals to realise their full rights,” notes the report.

The 2030 Agenda makes it clear that member states have to eliminate child, early and forced marriages as part of SDG Goal 5.3. Of the 22 million people in forced marriages, women and girls account for 14.9 million. Further, there has been an increase of 6.6 million people living in forced marriages between 2016 and 2021, with the number of people per thousand increasing from 2.1 to 2.8

The survey found that approximately two-thirds of those forced to marry are female, which translates to 14.9 million women and girls and three out of every five people forced into marriage hailed from low or lower-middle income countries. Around 26% of forced marriages take place in high and middle-income countries.

Being the most populous region in the world, it comes as no surprise that the Asia-Pacific accounts for the maximum number of people living in forced marriages. But in terms of per thousand people, the Arab world with a prevalence rate of 4.4 indicates a high degree of coercion when it comes to personal choices.

The vast majority of the respondents, amounting to 73%, held the family responsible for pushing people into forced marriages, while 50% said that they were forced into it either due to coercion or verbal abuse. A majority of the respondents said that parents were responsible for pushing them into forced marriages.

Note: Selected portion of the ILO report on Global Estimates of Modern Slavery has been reproduced under Creative Commons licence