Human trafficking – millions of daily victims

Human trafficking

On any given day millions of people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Recent reports from the U.S. State Department, anti-human trafficking groups, and other global leaders focus on the serious problems of trafficking, forced labour, and modern-day slavery.

The breakdown

In 2021, 27.6 million people worldwide were subjected to forced labour.

That figure comes from a September 2022 report, “Forced Labor and Forced Marriage,” authored by the International Labor Organization, the U.N. International Organization for Migration, and the Australia-based human rights advocacy group the Walk Free Foundation.

According to the joint report, 17.3 million people were victims of forced labour exploitation, 6.3 million were victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, and 3.9 million people were victims of state-imposed forced labour on any given day in the year 2021.

These figures include about 3.3 million children subject to forced labour. Half of these children are sexually exploited for commercial gain.

The Walk Free Foundation on June 16 published its separate analysis, including rankings of individual countries, in the latest edition of its Global Slavery Index.

It estimates that 28 million people were subject to forced labour last year, while another 22 million were found to be in forced marriages.

Forced marriages are particularly prevalent in Arab states and are generally imposed by family members. Women, migrants, refugees, and other people in crisis are disproportionately affected.

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 50 million people — one in 150 — were living in modern slavery at some point in 2021, an increase from 40 million people in 2016.

Notably, there is debate about how to define victims of trafficking and slavery: The U.S. State Department webpage about human trafficking notes that “modern slavery” is not defined in international or U.S. law.

Some instances of forced marriage may meet U.S. or international definitions of human trafficking, but not all cases do. It recommends using only the figures for forced labour.

Despite different views, Grace Forrest, the founding director of Walk Free, emphasised the need to combat trafficking and slavery.

“Modern slavery permeates every aspect of our society,” Forrest said in a June 16 statement on the release of the Global Slavery Index.

“It is woven through our clothes, lights up our electronics, and seasons our food.

“At its core, modern slavery is a manifestation of extreme inequality. It is a mirror held to power, reflecting who in any given society has it and who does not. Nowhere is this paradox more present than in our global economy through transnational supply chains.”

The Global Slavery Index bases its estimates on thousands of interviews with survivors collected in representative household surveys across 75 countries.

In its reckoning, “modern slavery” refers to exploitative situations in which a person cannot refuse or leave due to threats, violence, coercion, or deception.

It includes forced labour, prison labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, forced commercial sexual exploitation, and the sale and exploitation of children.

People who flee conflict, natural disasters, political repression, or migrate to seek work are particularly vulnerable.

Human trafficking and exploitation: how countries rank

The Global Slavery Index, which includes forced marriage, ranks North Korea the worst: More than one in 10 people are estimated to be in conditions of modern slavery. In Eritrea, about nine in 100 people are estimated to be modern slaves.

About three in 100 people in Mauritania are slaves, with fewer proportionally in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tajikistan, and the United Arab Emirates. About one in 100 people in Russia, Afghanistan and Kuwait are in modern slavery.

Over half of all people living in modern slavery are in G20 countries and these countries help fuel enslavement by importing products and supplies reliant on forced labour.

Among G20 countries, India has 11 million people in modern slavery, China has 5.8 million people, Russia has 1.9 million people, Indonesia has 1.8 million, Turkey has 1.3 million and the U.S. has 1.1 million people, according to the report.

Human trafficking and forced labour are closer to home than many Americans think.

The Global Slavery Index warns that migrant workers in the agricultural sector in the U.S. and Canada are vulnerable to forced labour.

The index cites the use of forced prison labour in American public and private prisons. Supply chains to the U.S. market are also at risk of using forced labour, the report says.

Some U.S. visitors to the Caribbean help fuel “sex tourism” reliant upon the sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors.

More in US

The Global Slavery Index ranked countries’ governments on various factors related to modern slavery:

  • how countries identify and support survivors;
  • how criminal justice systems work to prevent modern slavery;
  • governments’ anti-slavery coordination and accountability at the national and regional level;
  • how countries address risk factors, social attitudes, and other institutions that enable modern slavery;
  • the extent to which government and business eliminate forced labour from the production of goods and services.

According to the index, the U.K., Australia, and the Netherlands have the strongest government responses to modern slavery, followed by Portugal and the United States. Continue reading

  • Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment, Palmerston.

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