India has the largest number of people in the world who are living in conditions of slavery caused by poverty, handed-down social customs and weak enforcement of anti-slavery laws, according to a new first-ever global slavery index.
The study, published Thursday by the Australia-based rights group Walk Free Foundation, found 14 million Indians living in slavery-like conditions, and almost 30 million people globally. The west African nation of Mauritania ranked highest in the index in terms of percentage of population living in slavery-like conditions (with about 150,000 out of a population of 3.8 million). But in absolute numbers, India ranks the highest.
“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 says. “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.”
The index ranked 162 countries based on human trafficking, forced labor, slavery or slavery-like practices including debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict.
The index says India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh together constitute 76 percent of the total estimate of 29.8 million people in modern slavery. That estimate is higher than the International Labor Organization’s estimate of 21 million victims of forced labor.
The report points out the failure of the Indian government to make use of its “power and resources” to eradicate slavery.
“Until recently, the response to human trafficking focused almost exclusively on the sexual exploitation of women and children, and other forms of human trafficking including those affecting men were barely recognized,” the report says. “National leaders tend not to recognize the violent criminality of bonded labor and instead see it as a vestige of poverty.”
The report says that bonded labor “continues to be prevalent” in India although it was abolished in India three decades back under the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 1976. This year amendments were made to the Penal Code, which now criminalizes most forms of human trafficking and forced labor.