50 million Modern Slaves – 10 million more than 2018

Slavery and slavery-like practices

Slavery was the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern. Yet, in the face of universal condemnation, slavery-like practices remain a grave and persistent problem.

Globally, an estimated 22 million people are trapped in forced marriages. Almost two-thirds of these occur in the Asia and the Pacific region, with the highest prevalence in the Arab States.

Most forced marriages are arranged by a family member; 73 per cent of are forced to marry by their parents.

Children living in extreme poverty and economic instability are particularly vulnerable to forced marriage, with families using it as a means to reduce costs, gain wealth through a dowry or bride price, or to provide certainty for a child’s future in times of crisis.

The practice is particularly widespread in Kyrgyzstan, with an estimated 12,000 cases taking place each year.

Forced marriage can also become a feature of conflicts, with women and girls being abducted and forced to marry fighters.

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, can similarly drive a rise in forced marriages, says Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Children, and girls in particular, become more susceptible because vulnerable families are already being stretched,” she said.

Of women living in a forced marriage on any given day in 2021, one in 10 women had been subject to a kidnapping or coerced into international travel.

Forced marriage can also lead to forced labour, with husbands sending their young wives to work in factories or domestic servitude. 

Debt bondage remains a common form of slavery. Typically, a person pledges their labour – or the labour of someone they control – until their debts are paid off. 

Victims are often tricked into working for little or no pay, and in many cases forced to pay off extortionate fees associated with their recruitment, accommodation or food. 

Irregular work lends itself to debt bondage, with men in the construction industry particularly vulnerable. Similarly, some illegal – and remote – industries like forest clearing means workers are unable to report exploitative practices.

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