Sixty-six years after independence, India has the dubious distinction of being home to half of the world’s modern day slaves. The first Global Slavery Index has estimated that 13.3 million to 14.7 million people — roughly equal to the population of Kolkata — live like slaves in the country.
The index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, ranked 162 countries based on three factors that include estimated prevalence of modern slavery, a measure of child marriage and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. Modern slavery includes slavery, practices such as debt bondage, forced marriage and sale or exploitation of children as well as human trafficking and forced labour.
According to the index, there are 29.6 million people in modern slavery globally. India leads the world, followed by China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
These 10 countries account for 76% of the world’s modern slaves. India ranks fourth in terms of modern-day slaves as a percentage of the population, just after Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan. In Mauritania, 4% of people are regarded as slaves largely because they inherit the status from their ancestors.
The study says that in India there’s some exploitation of foreign nationals, but by far the largest proportion of slaves are Indians exploited by other Indians within the country, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labour. India is one of the few countries that has not ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
The country with the second highest number of enslaved is China, with an estimated 2.8 to 3.1 million in modern slavery. This includes forced labour in many parts of the economy, including domestic servitude and forced begging, commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage, says the study. Pakistan is estimated to have 2 to 2.2 million in slavery.
Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom are tied with the lowest rankings in the index. These countries are not slavery-free, with the UK alone estimated to have 4,200-4,600 such people. Iceland has the lowest numbers — less than 100. While Asia and Africa are home to the vast majority of modern slaves, no continent is free from modern slavery.
“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent. This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world,” said Nick Grono, CEO of Walk Free Foundation.
The index was created in consultation with an international panel of experts and has been endorsed by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, former Australian PM Julia Gillard, and philanthropists Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and Mo Ibrahim. WFF was founded by Andrew Forrest, the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, and his wife Nicola in May this year.