The pandemic, climate change and conflicts, have exacerbated conditions, creating a fertile time for forced labor, forced marriage and child labor. Nearly 50 million people – one out of every 150 people in the world are caught up in modern forms of slavery according to a report released Monday by the United Nations International Labor Organization. How can the world stand by as slavery once again becomes a scourge in the world?
Modern slavery is all around us, but often just out of sight. People can become entrapped making our clothes, serving our food, picking our crops, working in factories, or working in houses as cooks, cleaners or nannies. From the outside, it can look like a normal job. But people are being controlled – they can face violence or threats, be forced into inescapable debt, or have had their passport taken away and are being threatened with deportation.
Many have fallen into this oppressive trap simply because they were trying to escape poverty or insecurity, improve their lives and support their families. Now, they can’t leave.
The number of people caught up in modern slavery – forced labor or forced marriage – ballooned by 10 million between 2016 and 2021.
Modern slavery takes many forms. The definition of modern slavery includes people who “cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, deception, abuse of power or other forms of coercion.” The most common are:
• Human trafficking. The use of violence, threats or coercion to transport, recruit or harbor people in order to exploit them for purposes such as forced prostitution, labor, criminality, marriage or organ removal.
• Forced labor. Any work or services people are forced to do against their will under threat of punishment.
• Debt bondage/bonded labor. The world’s most widespread form of slavery. People trapped in poverty borrow money and are forced to work to pay off the debt, losing control over both their employment conditions and the debt.
• Descent–based slavery. Most traditional form, where people are treated as property, and their “slave” status was passed down the maternal line.
• Slavery of children. When a child is exploited for someone else’s gain. This can include child trafficking, child soldiers, child marriage and child domestic slavery.
• Forced and early marriage. When someone is married against their will and cannot leave. Most child marriages can be considered slavery.
The situation had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, violence, the war in Ukraine and inflations, all of which worsened conditions and swelled debt levels for many workers. With 300+ million people slipping into severe poverty, tens of millions of climate migrants and tens of millions fleeing violence both military and from criminal syndicates, there are many more vulnerable people to be prey for human traffickers.
Many fall prey to job advertisements that seem legit, but turn out to be prisons where the applicants work long hours with little food, no medical care and other deprivations and threats of violence.
Modern slavery is present in basically every country, with more than half of cases of forced labor and a quarter of forced marriages in upper-middle-income or high-income countries.
Migrant workers and refugees are more than three times as likely as locals to be affected which is why climate change is such a driver of slavery. Hundreds of millions of people were forced to flee this year from disasters caused or exacerbated by climate change. For many, there is no returning as their house is gone or fields and livestock destroyed. They then become vulnerable to exploitation and slavery.
The ILO also said women and children are by far the most vulnerable. Children account for one out of five people in forced labor, with more than half of them stuck in commercial sexual exploitation.
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