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CfB Bureau

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An estimated 45.8 million men, women and children around the world are today trapped in modern slavery – 28% more than previously estimated. They are enslaved through human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation. This is revealed in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, the flagship research report published today by the Walk Free Foundation.

North Korea is the country with the greatest prevalence of modern slavery, with 4.37% of its population estimated to be enslaved. It is also the country with the weakest government response in terms of actions taken to combat modern slavery. The next highest prevalence of slavery is found in Uzbekistan (3.97%), followed by Cambodia (1.65%). In terms of absolute numbers, India remains the highest with an estimated 18.35 million enslaved people, followed by China (3.39m), Pakistan (2.13m), Bangladesh (1.53m) and Uzbekistan (1.23m). Combined, these five countries account for almost 58% of the world’s enslaved, or 26.6 million people.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 28% more people are enslaved than reported in the 2014 edition. This significant increase is due to enhanced data collection and research methodology. Survey research for the 2016 Global Slavery Index included over 42,000 interviews conducted in 53 languages across 25 countries, including 15 state-level surveys in India. These representative surveys cover 44% of the global population.

Slavery in India

The report concedes India has achieved remarkable change past few decades, but given it’s population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key 'fault lines' such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. “In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage,” the report says.

Quantification of modern slavery in any country is difficult, but is doubly so in a country as large and complex as India. Whereas in other countries, a national survey was used to estimate prevalence, in India, we chose to proceed with surveys at the State level. In 2016, random-sample surveys were conducted by Gallup in 15 States, and collectively these surveys account for nearly 80 percent of the Indian population.

The survey data suggest that there are more than 18 million people or 1.4 percent of the total population, who are living in conditions of modern slavery in India. Industries implicated in the survey data include domestic work, the construction and sex industries, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour, and forced begging.

Bonded labour

While bonded labour has been outlawed for decades, survey data and pre-existing research confirms that this practice still persists. Narratives available from the survey respondents identify that some respondents perceived their situation to be one of bonded labour, some of which is inter-generational. In other cases, it appeared that bonded labour reflected debt lending practices and continuation of a feudal mindset.

Bonded labour is not only illegal, research confirms that it has serious negative health impacts for those affected, who typically work in unsanitary and dangerous working conditions with no access to health care.

Domestic service

Examples of forced labour of domestic workers were described by survey respondents. While not all domestic workers are abused, domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable group as work takes place in private homes and largely out of the reach of regulation. Official figures in India suggest that there are more than 4.2 million men, women and children working as cooks, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and caregivers across the country. These estimates are from 2004 and experts suggest that there may be many more workers unaccounted for in these statistics.

Domestic workers in some states are excluded from labour laws and can experience excessive overtime, withholding of wages or receive insufficient remuneration. It is reported that girls as young as ten continue to be hired in private homes. Domestic workers can be subject to threats of and actual physical violence and in, some cases, sexual abuse.

Forced begging and prostitution

Street begging by adults and children is a prominent feature of many Indian cities. Though many beggars do so out of economic desperation, survey data confirms that criminals also force people to beg. Existing research and the 2016 survey data also confirm the existence of forced prostitution.

Existing National Crime Records Bureau data indicate there were almost 5,500 cases across India under existing human trafficking laws in 2014. As the law does not differentiate between human trafficking and sex work, and there are no formal guidelines on who is identified in rescue and raid situations, it is impossible to know if every one of these cases involved force or children, or whether some were simply cases of economic survival.

Forced marriage

More than 50 percent of women are married in India before the legal age of 18. Despite the illegality of sex-selective termination of female foetuses, the introduction of sexdetermination by ultrasound has seen some areas of India experience significant gender disparity and a dearth of available brides. The subsequent demand for brides, particularly in rural communities where many girls of marriageable age have migrated to cities for employment, has fuelled the trafficking of women for forced marriage.

It is reported that in some instances, girls are forced into marriage and then used as unpaid labourers—local day labourers cost US$140 for a season but a bride can cost only US$100 as a once off payment.The northern state of Haryana has India's most distorted sex ratio—114 males for every 100 females.

The Walk Free survey questions had been carefully designed to draw a very clear distinction between arranged marriages, and forced marriages. Cases of forced marriage were identified through the survey process.

Source: globalslaveryindex.org

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