Modern slavery widespread in India

  • Abhijit Patnaik,
  • Updated: Oct 17, 2013 22:24 IST

A new study has put the number of people in modern slavery worldwide at an estimated 29.8 million. India tops the list for nation-wise figures, with almost 14 million people trapped in different forms of slavery.

These shocking figures, released in a new Global Slavery Index report, measure debt bondage, forced marriage, sale or exploitation of children, human trafficking and forced labour across the world.

The index, released by the Walk Free foundation, an NGO, ranks India fourth in terms of prevelance of slavery (as a proportion of population). Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan are ranked above India, in that order. The largest proportion of the problem is the exploitation of people within India itself -- from severe forms of inter-generational bonded labour to the worst forms of child labour to commercial sexual exploitation, and forced marriage.

“We now know that just ten countries are home to over three quarters of those trapped in modern slavery. These nations must be the focus of global efforts,” Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation, said in a statement.

Many of India’s enslaved have not been moved from one place to another – they are enslaved in their own villages. Earlier this year, the Trafficking in Persons(TIP) report released by the US State department had put the number of people in some sort of forced labour at an estimated 20 to 65 million : men, women, and children mainly in debt bondage to a local landowner, forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories.The TIP report cites instances where women and girls from the northeastern states and Odisha have been sold or coerced into forced marriages in states with low female-to-male gender ratios, including Haryana and Punjab and forced into prostitution.

The National Human Rights Commission, in a report last year, highlighted other cases. For Example, in Meghalaya, extraction of coal in private coal mines in the Jaintia Hills region is exclusively undertaken by bonded manual labourers who have come to work in the mines from neighbouring states to beat acute poverty.

Some of the reasons for high numbers caught in slavery in India are the difficulty in accessing protections and government entitlements, such as the food rations card, corruption or non-performance of safety nets (such as the National Employment Guarantee, primary health care and pensions) and practices of land grabbing and asset domination by high caste groups. Some of those affected by slavery in India do not officially exist – they have no birth registration or ID so it can be hard for them to access protective entitlements.

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