2013-10-22

29 Million People Live As Modern Slaves--And Some Are Closer Than You Might Think

Slavery hasn't been eradicated, just pushed under the rug. But this map shows where the problem is still hiding--both around the world and around the corner.

"Modern slavery" takes on many forms, including human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, and the 8-year-old forced into marriage with a Yemeni man five times her age. Altogether, though, the number of modern slaves is huge: almost 30 million people, according to a new report.

Take a look at the map above to see the countries with the greatest prevalence of slavery. They include Mauritania, in West Africa, Haiti, and Pakistan. India has by far the greatest number of modern slaves, at 13.9 million, followed by China (2.9 million), Pakistan (2.1 million) and Nigeria (701,000).

But it's not as though countries in the West are without sin. There are 59,644 modern slaves in the U.S., according to the report, which is prepared by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian NGO. There are 37,817 in the Czech Republic, from a population of roughly 10 million, and despite that country now being part of the European Union. The U.K. has more than 4,200 modern slaves.

There are still countries West Africa and South Asia where people are born into "hereditary slavery." Other times, victims are captured and kidnapped, or forced to work in situations they cannot escape from. "The chains of modern slavery are not always physical--sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear, or even a ‘marriage’ that is forced on a young woman or girl without her consent can be used to hold a person against their will without the need for locks or chains," the report says.

Modern slavery is poorly understood, so it remains hidden within houses, communities and worksites. Criminals are creative and will use any available means to conceal, rationalize, and justify slavery--be it race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, ‘custom’ or any other excuse or vulnerability they can exploit. Modern slavery is not always as self-evident as some other crimes, such as homicide or even theft. Modern slavery involves an extreme abuse of power, which is not always immediately apparent but requires understanding the people and the relationships involved.

Walk Free's study has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates. The Walk Free Foundation says the problem persists because it is often hidden, and because the people involved don't have votes or any kind of voice. That makes them easy for governments to ignore, if they want to.

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