India has the largest population of modern slaves in the world with more than 18 million people trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers, a global survey report said on Monday.
The Global Slavery Index by human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation said the number was 1.4% of India’s population, the fourth highest among 167 countries with the largest proportion of slaves.
“Existing research suggests all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage,” said Grace Forrest, co-founder of the Australia-based foundation.
The survey said an estimated 45.8 million people are living in modern slavery globally and 58% of them are concentrated in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
The Gallup survey was conducted across 15 states and covered nearly 80% of India’s population, the foundation said.
The report coincided with the Centre unveiling a draft bill that envisages punishment for gangs involved in human trafficking and scrutiny of placement agencies, many of which are accused of forcing children into bonded labour and prostitution.
The Cabinet recently cleared proposals to “address new forms of bondage such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour”. India abolished bonded labour in 1976 but gangs continue to trap people from poor rural areas with the promise of better jobs. Most of them are sold into domestic work, prostitution, or to brick kilns, textile units and farms.
The foundation requested the Centre to frame a policy for private employers so that they keep a check on bonded labour in their supply chain, an issue repeatedly raised by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who runs a campaign called Bachpan Bachao Andolan against child labour.
His organisation said on Monday the true test of the draft bill “will lie in ensuring time-bound prosecution and rehabilitation, and fixed accountability and stringent monitoring parameters for law enforcement agencies”.
The survey produced case studies to highlight individual cases, underpinning social and economic reasons behind this.
“This is an old disease in the village that if you are not able to pay off your debts you will have to work as a bonded labour in the field of a powerful person. My husband was employed far from the village so that he cannot run away,” the report quoted a woman as saying.
Another woman working as a domestic help said she was never paid wages and “in the name of debt, I was made a victim of sexual violence”. It said a skewed sex ratio in some parts of India “has fuelled trafficking of women for forced marriage”.
The report also highlighted the recruitment of child soldiers by militant groups active in several states, including Jammu and Kashmir, and Jharkhand, and the Northeast.