Address challenges in slavery eradication

A survey of the prevalence of forced slavery in 167 countries has shown that it exists in some form in most parts of the world and India  shamefully has the largest number of people of all ages working under duress. 

The Global Slavery Index,  published by an Australia-based organisation, ranks India on top with 14.29 million slaves out of a world total of 35.8 million. The study and the index are not malicious attempts to put India or other backward countries, where the practice is most rampant, in a poor light. Other organisations have also presented similar data.

The UN has estimated that over 30 million people are slaves in some field or the other. Modern day slavery is considered a multi-billion dollar industry and reports from year to year have disturbingly shown that it is growing in size. It is banned by law everywhere but thrives even openly.

While India has the highest number of slaves, China comes second with 3.24 million and Pakistan third with 2.06 million. The numbers include bonded workers, victims of sexual trafficking, those caught in forced marriages and others who are forced to slave away in other people’s homes and in workplaces. Many are slaves for their lives.

They are present in brick kilns, carpet-making and textile industries, on farms and in organised begging rings. According to the ILO, at least 122 goods are produced in 58 countries in industries where enslaved people are a major part of the workforce. Most sectors where slavery is high are in the unorganised sector. It is more prevalent in the more populous and poorer countries where poverty is high and human development parameters in terms of education and health are low. Lack of development and slavery, which involves exploitation and payment of poor wages or just subsistence allowances, in fact, form a vicious cycle.

While poverty, absence of social and economic support and the failure of welfare measures to reach the needy people and families make them vulnerable to slavery, they are not the only factors that contribute to the pernicious practice. Tradition and custom, poor enforcement of the rule of law and lack awareness of basic human rights, create an environment for slavery. Bonded labour has been banned in India but the law is often flouted. Most victims are from the lowest strata of society, minorities, women, children and migrant workers. The report says India’s challenge in eradicating slavery is immense. It should hurt our conscience and both government and society have to rise to the challenge.

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