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Hindustan Times
October 22, 2013
India seems to have acquired the dubious distinction of being the leader of many demeaning trends, be it child labour, underage marriages and now we learn slavery. Although the practice had been abolished long ago, a new study shows that an estimated 29.8 million people live in slavery around the world. And nearly half this number is in India. Fourteen million Indians, the highest number in the world, live in conditions of slavery. This includes those trapped in debt, in forced marriages and those who have been trafficked,  according to the Global Slavery Index 2013 compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, a human rights organisation based in Australia. However, India can take cold comfort in the fact that it ranks fourth in terms of the prevalence of slavery as a proportion of the population. Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan are ranked above India in the 162-nation survey.

From inter-generational bonded labour to the worst forms of child labour, from commercial sexual exploitation to forced marriage, almost all forms of slavery are prevalent in India. While many remain trapped in debt bondage in their own villages, others are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, begging and domestic servitude. The recent assault of a 15-year-old maid in the upscale Vasant Kunj area in Delhi was just the tip of the modern-day domestic slavery iceberg. Every year, thousands of women and children are trafficked from states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal primarily for sexual exploitation and also for domestic work. Despite a 2006 ban on child labour, children can still be found working in brick kilns, cracker factories and coal mines which are among the many hazardous industries with appalling working conditions.  Bride-buying, though a non-labour form of slavery, is practised in Haryana and Punjab where the sex ratio is highly skewed.

There should be strict implementation of existing laws that will ensure that people who perpetuate modern-day slavery are severely punished. If India aspires to be a global power, its claims to such a status cannot be taken seriously if many of its own people continue to live in conditions of medieval drudgery.