Latest figures reveal more than 40 million people are living in slavery

Two reports providing the latest global and regional estimates of the number of victims of modern slavery and child labour are to be released today, 19 September.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), human rights group Walk Free Foundation, and International Organization for Migration said 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016 – but added this was a conservative estimate.

The figures, from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, show 24.9 million people across the world were trapped in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage previous year.

The second report, Global estimates of child labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016, was produced by the ILO and provides the most recent data on the extent of child labour. One reason is that modern slavery is a hidden crime that’s hard to identify. The figures are different because the teams used different statistical techniques and different technical definitions of modern slavery.

In the past, two of the most widely quoted figures have been those produced separately by the ILO and the Walk Free Foundation.

“We know that if there are 40 million people in modern slavery, only tens of thousands of victims are being helped, assisted and supported, whether through the criminal justice system or through victim support systems”, Fiona David, Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research said. It isn’t possible to say that slavery has been eradicated globally if we haven’t been measuring slavery’s reach around the world.

The new global estimate also deals with forced marriage, the first time it has been included in any reporting of modern slavery figures. Notably, women and girls make up 88 percent of forced marriages, as well as 99 percent of sexual exploitation. About 15.4 million are forced into marriage, more than a third of whom are under 18, while a majority are girls under 15. When it comes to forced labor, the most common form of coercion was withheld wages, with debt bondage a widespread tactic.

Researchers hope to compel world leaders to take the issue more seriously by using a new methodology that incorporates a large amount of new data from sources such as the International Organization for Migration and that combines the work of Walk Free and the ILO.

The ILO, a United Nations agency that deals with labor standards, has also put out its own figures in the past that tended to be lower than Walk Free’s estimates – further confusing the matter.

The report found that modern slavery was most prevalent in Africa (7.6 victims per 1,000 people), followed by Asia and the Pacific (6.1 per 1,000). Lack of data for Arab countries means that the number of those trapped in slavery could be much higher in those regions.

The report identified forced labor in all kinds of industries.

An estimated 16 of 25 million people in forced labor were in the private sector, including in domestic work, construction, agriculture and fishing.

According to the report, 90 percent of all children in child labor are in the Africa and the Asia and the Pacific regions.

Half of forced laborers were victims of debt bondage, who were made to work to repay a debt or other obligation, and almost four million adults and one million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation. Although 15 to 17-year-olds are above the minimum working age of 15, the ILO considers them to be in child labor if their work may be physically or psychologically injurious to their well-being. The report is being released to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly, where progress made towards Sustainable Development Goals – a series of agreements made among countries to improve the world by 2030 – will be discussed. “We’re really at very early days at equivalent with modern slavery”, David said.

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