Although many of us in the Western world tend to think of slavery as belonging to a past age, this is far from the case. A recent survey carried out by the Australian human rights group, the Walk Free foundation, estimates that there are still around 29.8 million people living in servitude around the world. Today slavery encapsulates the status of those in forced labour, any human who is bought, sold or trafficked, forced or servile marriages and the exploitation of children for work or combat as well as descent-based slavery (those who inherit their status as slaves through generations). All in all, it's a grim picture for those almost 30 millions people worldwide.
Most of those featured on this list of enslaved nations are in the developing world where there are often few if any resources to protect those who at risk. Cultural traditions, too, mean that what for us is deemed as inhumane slavery for others may be a fact of life in an unequal world. Women and children are those most at risk of slavery, in particular through arranged or forced marriages at a young age, as well as through human trafficking which sees people traded and used as drug mules, prostitutes and labourers. Such practices see families torn apart and humans degraded.
The statistics here rank countries according to the number of people currently living in servitude in the country, although the overall populations of these nations are in themselves enormous. When taken as a percentage of the entire population, the numbers living servitude are starker for some countries not included on the following list: At present the small West African nation of Mauritania has the largest proportion of its civilians living as slaves, at 4%. Below, however, we're taking a look at the countries with the largest net number of slaves in the world and examining the reasons for the continued disregard for basic human rights in the 21st century.
10 Bangladesh 343,192
9 Burma: 384,037
8 Democratic Republic of Congo: 462,327
7 Thailand: 472,811
6 Russia: 516,217
5 Ethiopia: 651,110
4 Nigeria: 701,032
3 Pakistan: 2,127,132
With over 2 million people enslaved in Pakistan, the extent and severity of the problem is clear. Bonded labour is seen as the primary form of enslavement in the country, with as many as 1.8 million men, women and children living in such conditions, according to the Asian Development Bank.
2 China: 2,949,213
1 India: 13,956,010
The sheer number of people currently enslaved in India is truly shocking. Almost 14 million people are enslaved in the region with the caste system's legacy still contributing to the country's massive social and economic inequalities despite the nation's recent employment of the system for affirmative action among those in the lower caste.
Bonded labour - which runs through generations of Indian families - human trafficking, child labour, forced marriages, forced labour and the sexual exploitation of women are all taking place in the country. Slaves are mainly trafficked within India itself, but with many separated from their families, there is little if any chance of them escaping to a better life. Debt bondage between landowners and their tenants is another common form of servitude and exploitation. As in the case of Nigeria, Indian law does not permit much of this behaviour but has no way of stopping such practices in remote rural regions. Many are critical of how little progress has been made with regard to women’s rights and human trafficking in the country and the nation’s reluctance to tackle child labour is seen as a clear sign that not enough is being done to protect Indian citizens.
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