Slavery: South Asia

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Countries with the most slaves: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the world; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, June 6, 2016

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


India, world's slave capital

Global Slavery Index: 2014

The Times of India, November 18, 2014

Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, November 18, 2014

Home To 37% Of Global Enslaved Population

With over 14.2 million in India being involved in forced labour and being victims of trafficking -for sexual exploitation and forced marriage, the country is home to the largest number of people trapped in modern slavery . Globally , 35.8 million people are enslaved across the world. Of them, 23.5 million people are in Asia, two-thirds of global total in 2014 (65.8%).

The Global Slavery Index 2014 announced that India and Pakistan alone account for over 45% of total global enslaved population and have highest prevalence of modern slavery in Asia.

The Index said “Particularly in countries such as India and Pakistan, nationals -often including entire families -are enslaved through bonded labour in construction, agriculture, brick making, garment factories and manufacturing“. The report this year found 23% more people across the world are involved in modern slavery than previous estimated.

Modern slavery exists in all 167 countries with five countries accounting for 61% of the world's population living in modern slavery.

The 2014 Global Slavery Index has been published by the Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights organization with a mission to end modern slavery in a generation.

The report looks at prevalence (the percentage of a country's population that is enslaved) as well as the total number of people living in modern slavery in each country. It estimates that over 23.5 million people in Asia are living in modern slavery . This is equivalent to almost twothirds of the global total number of people enslaved. Of these, over 14.2 million are in India and over 2.05 million are in Pakistan, which demonstrate the highest prevalence of modern slavery in Asia (1.141% and 1.13% of their populations respectively).

“Some countries with the biggest challenges are also taking important steps to tackle the problem. India for example has strengthened its criminal justice framework through legislative amendments and has established 215 Anti-Human Trafficking Police Units.Much more needs to be done,“ said the global report.

Global Slavery Index, 2016

The Hindu, May 31, 2016

India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of people in the world trapped in modern slavery with 18.35 million victims of forced labour, ranging from prostitution and begging, according to a new report, which estimated that nearly 46 million people are enslaved globally.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, released by Australia-based human rights group Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 45.8 million people, including women and children, are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world, compared to 35.8 million in 2014.

The report said India has the highest absolute numbers of people trapped in slavery with 18.35 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population, while North Korea has the highest incidence (4.37 per cent of the population) and the weakest government response to deal with it.

Five countries account for 58% of the world’s enslaved

Incidences of slavery were found in all 167 countries in the index, with Asian countries occupying the top five places.

China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million) were behind India in the list. The index said that these five countries combined accounted for almost 58 per cent of the world’s enslaved, or 26.6 million people.

Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion and abuse of power or deception.

The research included over 42,000 interviews conducted in 53 languages across 25 countries, including 15 State-level surveys in India. These representative surveys covered 44 per cent of the global population.

Govt. actions and responses

The study also tracked the government actions and responses to the modern slavery and of the 161 assessed, 124 nations had criminalised human trafficking in line with the U.N. trafficking Protocol and 96 nations had developed national action plans to coordinate government response.

It noted that while India had more people enslaved than any other country, it had made significant progress in introducing measures to tackle the problem.

“It has criminalised trafficking, slavery, forced labour, child prostitution and forced marriage. The Indian government is currently tightening legislation against human trafficking, with tougher punishment for repeat offenders. It will offer victims protection and recovery support,” it said.

Those governments taking the least action to combat modern slavery are North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

Global Slavery Index, 2018

Ambika Pandit, July 20, 2018: The Times of India

India Tops List With Prevalence Rate Of 6.1 Victims Per 1,000

In its report, the Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were nearly 8 million people living in “modern slavery” in India — a claim strongly contested by the government on the grounds that its parameters were poorly defined and too wide-ranging.

The report said that in terms of prevalence, there were 6.1 victims for every thousand people. Among 167 countries India ranked 53 with North Korea at the top of the list with 104.6 per 1,000 and Japan registering lowest prevalence rate of 0.3 per 1,000. However, in absolute numbers India topped the list on prevalence. China found itself at 111 place with a prevalance rate of 2.8 per 1,000. Defining “modern slavery”, the Walk Free Foundation, which brought out the report said, “In the context of this report, modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking”.

Reacting to the report’s conclusions, officials in the government who are associated with the framing of the anti-trafficking bill currently in the Lok Sabha questioned the definition adopted for the research and also the sample size for interviews and questions posed to those surveyed.

The view emerging from the ministry of women and child development was that the Index was “flawed” in its interpretations as the terminology used is very broad based and words like “forced labour” need a more detailed definition in the Indian context where socio-economic parameters are diverse and nuanced. Arbitrary application of criteria make estimates unreliable if not placed in social and economic context of a country.

The Foundation in its report pointed out that although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term which refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and abuse of power.

The estimation data were drawn from 54 surveys conducted in 48 countries which included a module on Modern Slavery, with a total sample of 71,158 individual interviews. “The final set of risk factors were selected from an exhaustive list of variables to optimally predict confirmed cases of forced labour and forced marriage. The model was then used to generate average predicted probabilities of modern slavery by country”.

Top brass at the WCD ministry have also questioned the sample size. “Is that not too small a number across such a diverse and wide spectrum of countries? Also questions like were `you ever forced to work’ by an employer or a recruiter or ever been forced to marry cannot be answered in simple yes and no,” a senior official said.

The report also claims that India is at risk due to “global trade and business”. It states that India will be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through products it imports.

Global Slavery Index, 2023

Udit Misra, June 15, 2023: The Indian Express

According to Global Slavery Index 2023, on any given day in 2021, as many as 50 million people were living in “modern slavery”. Among these 50 million, 28 million suffer from forced labour and 22 million from forced marriages. Of these 50 million, 12 million are children. To be sure, the phrase “modern slavery” has a specific definition.

What is modern slavery?

According to the index, “modern slavery” refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuses of power. Modern slavery is an umbrella term and includes a whole variety of abuses such as forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, slavery-like practices, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children.

The schematic alongside provides a broad framework of what all modern slavery covers.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations also resolve to end modern slavery. Target 8.7 of the SDGs states: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”

What is the Global Slavery Index?

The index presents a global picture of modern slavery. It is constructed by Walk Free, a human rights organisation and is based on data provided by the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, which, in turn, is produced by International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM).

This is the fifth edition of the Global Slavery Index and is based on the 2022 estimates.

However, the initial estimates are regional and to arrive at country-wise estimates, the index uses several representative surveys.

What are the country-wise findings?

There are three sets of key findings.

The first looks at the prevalence of modern slavery. The prevalence refers to the incidence of modern slavery per 1000 population. On this count, the following 10 countries are the worst offenders:

North Korea



Saudi Arabia



United Arab Emirates




“These countries share some political, social, and economic characteristics, including limited protections for civil liberties and human rights,” states the index.

Following are the countries with the lowest prevalence:











However, apart from prevalence, the index also calculates the countries hosting the maximum number of people living in modern slavery. Here the list is as follows:



North Korea







United States

“Collectively, these countries account for nearly two in every three people living in modern slavery and over half the world’s population. Notably, six are G20 nations: India, China, Russia, Indonesia, Türkiye, and the US,” points out the index.

Why are the findings of this index contested?

Notwithstanding the regular publication, the index has come in for sharp criticism even from those in the civil society that work on issues such as human trafficking. Bandana Pattanaik, International Coordinator of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) in Thailand, says that while authors of the Index “clearly have very good intentions” they end up “depoliticising the problems and distracting us from the real problems.”

Pattanaik points out several reasons for her disagreement with the index:

A universal, reliable calculation of modern slavery isn’t possible because modern slavery has no internationally agreed definition (unlike trafficking in persons which does). “‘Modern slavery’ is a made-up concept with no international legal definition and, in fact, the definition used in this Index has changed from year to year,” she points out.

The way the authors “estimate” the number of people experiencing modern slavery is partially based on a country’s “risk score”. But, Pattanaik points out, the factors that determine a country’s “risk” are many of the same factors that are used to determine whether a country is “developed” or “developing.” “It’s therefore unsurprising that the Index concludes that ‘Europe is the region least vulnerable to modern slavery’ and ‘Africa is the region most vulnerable to modern slavery’,” she says.

She also points out that some of the “so-called statistics” presented in the Index actually contradict qualitative analysis contained within the body of the report. For example, the index prominently displays the UK as having the “strongest government response to modern slavery.”

Yet buried much further down at page 28 is the finding that “the United Kingdom’s overall response [to slavery] has declined since 2018… [there has been] a worsening of measures on victim protection and access to visas… A proposed Illegal Migration Bill introduced in March 2023 is a potential violation of international law and the UN Refugee Convention and it shows that the UK is at risk of continuing its downward trend.”

In a nutshell, Pattanaik argues that “ranking countries in this way is stigmatising poorer countries and absolving richer countries of their responsibility for issues like trafficking in persons.”

However, while there may be several issues with an index of modern slavery — ranging from lack of clear definition to ranking methodology — the fact remains that workers in countries such as India do face considerable odds. The tortuous reverse migration witnessed during the first Covid lockdown brought this out in discomforting detail. Similarly, poor status of women, especially on the front of economic freedoms, is reflected in metrics such as one of the lowest female labour-force participation rates.

“In the post pandemic times and in the year of our presidency of G20, we could do something that will really address the precarity of millions of workers in our country,” states Pattanaik.

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