There are currently more slaves living in India than in the rest of the world, with estimates ranging between 14 and 18 million. Slavery is very much still a lucrative business and it nets traffickers around $150 billion a year. To make this even more shocking, one-third of the profits is produced in developed countries. Slavery is a global problem, with a large number of people being forced into agriculture, beauty, fashion, and sex industries in order to help that more advantaged profit from them. Modern slavery takes a wide variety of forms throughout the world.

Debt bondage and bonded labour are today’s most widespread forms of human slavery. This occurs when someone is forced to work off their debt within abhorrent conditions. Often, entire families are forced into this work and the debt can be passed down through generations. This type of slavery goes hand in hand with poverty, as many are forced into taking on loans in order to try and feed their families. A 2016 report found that in the state of Tamil Nadu, 351 of 743 spinning mills use bonded labour schemes, otherwise known as Sumangali schemes. Moreover, many slaves in India work in the brick kiln industry. A report in Punjab has found that 96% of brick kiln molders have taken on loans and all of them had their wages withheld at least eight to ten months. With around 23 million being employed in brick kilns in India alone it is evident to see how widespread this problem is.

Child slavery is unfortunately very much still present today, with a quarter of slaves today being children. Child slavery includes child trafficking, child soldiers, and child domestic slavery. Moreover, child marriage, whilst having been outlawed in 1978 is still present today. However, we can see several initiatives to try and stop it. For example, the state of Haryana introduced a programme in 1994 called Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (translated “My daughter, my wealth”). This programme gives a cash amount of ₹25,000 (US$330) to a girl’s parents if she is unmarried at 18. There are also large cases of child laborers, with 10.1 million children working in India today. Whilst child labour is not child slavery, forcing children into domestic slavery, forced labour, and using children for profit (such as begging, prostitution, and petty crime) are and it is very difficult to distinguish the two. 

Within modern slavery, almost three-quarters (71%) are women and girls. Moreover, more than 70% of victims of forced sexual exploitation were in Asia and the Pacific. A huge part of modern slavery is sex trafficking. India has one of the highest gender imbalances in the world, due to a preference for male babies, and this creates a dangerous demand for men to marry. Women who are forced to marry -often men from another state- are repeatedly subject to abuse as well as shunning from the local communities. It is incredibly difficult for a woman to get support, as she has no economic standing and there is no easily accessible help in place.

So what is being done to stop this in India? India has already criminalised most forms of modern slavery. However, this is very clearly easier said than done. The poverty, India’s unaffordable legal system, and the ambiguity of these terms all make it incredibly difficult to stamp out slavery in India. For instance, the gig economy in India makes it hard to see how many workers are being employed and in what conditions they are treated. Moreover, the legislation needs to be strengthened, and more measures need to be put in place to prevent modern slavery. Furthermore, there needs to be a more global response, especially in economic terms. Companies must investigate their supply chains and put pressure on their suppliers to make sure there is no modern slavery. NGOs have been effective in releasing people from slavery as well as educating people about modern slavery. However, teaching communities about different types of modern slavery is a huge challenge. India has seen a decline in slavery over the years but still has (just like the rest of the world) a long way to go to eliminate all types of modern slavery. 

Credits – Alex Horwich

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