India tops global slavery index, with 14m enslaved

An estimated 35.8 million globally are enslaved, some 20 per cent more than last year

Some 14 million people in India are enslaved, deprived of their liberty and exploited, with the Asian country topping a global poll of modern day slavery.

The annual Global Slavery Index estimated 35.8 million globally are enslaved, some 20 per cent more than last year.

The top five countries in the index – India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Russia – together account for 61 per cent of the world’s modern slavery, or 22 million people. Modern slavery includes human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, or commercial sexual exploitation.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region accounts for 6.1 per cent of the global total, said the study, with more than 2 million people enslaved in the region.

“There is an assumption that slavery is an issue from a bygone era. Or that it only exists in countries ravaged by war and poverty,” said Andrew Forrest, chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, which produces the annual index. “These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists.”

Conflict in MENA countries, coupled with a deterioration of job prospects in source countries such as Eritrea and Sri Lanka, mean the region should expect higher numbers in the coming years, the report warned. It also urged governments in the region to do more to educate local populations on the risks of exploitation.

Release of the index’s findings follows as Queen Noor of Jordan warned starkly that trafficking and slavery are real and growing in her country as a result of an influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The UN has warned that child marriage among Syrian refugees in Jordan has more than doubled since the start of the conflict, leaving girls vulnerable to abuse and poverty.

India faces the largest absolute numbers of modern slaves by far with 14.2 million people – or 1.14 per cent of the population. The next country in the rankings, China, has 3.24 million people living in slavery.

Modern day slavery in India disproportionally affects lower castes, tribes and religious minorities as well as women from Bangladesh and Nepal in search of work, the study revealed. Recent reports suggest that one child goes missing every eight minutes in India, it added.

Australia-based Walk Free Foundation aims to end modern slavery in a generation. The NGO says modern day slavery exists in all the 167 countries surveyed.

The foundation said better data collection accounts for the 20 per cent hike in global numbers this year.

Photo credit: Sanjit Das/Legatum Limited 2014