Almost 50 million people were living in modern slavery at the end of 2021, of which 27.6 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriages, according to a report published by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Noting the increase in the number of people in this situation, the director general of the ILO, Guy Ryder, said that “it is scandalous that the situation of modern slavery does not improve. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights.”
In the last five years, the number of people in modern slavery has increased by 10 million, the problem crosses ethnic, cultural and religious lines, and women, children and migrants remain especially vulnerable.
The problem exists in almost every country in the world, and more than half (52%) of all forced labour and a quarter of forced marriages are in upper-middle or high-income countries, according to the report “ Global Estimates on Modern Slavery – Forced Labor and Forced Marriage ” by the ILO.
The Asia and Pacific region accounts for more than half of the world total (15.1 million people), followed by Europe and Central Asia (4.1 million), Africa (3.8 million), America (3.6 million) and the Arab States (0.9 million).
Women and girls represent 11.8 million of the total number of people in forced labour. More than 3.3 million children in this situation are not in school.
Most cases of forced labour (86%) occur in the private sector, with sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounting for 63% of the total.
Meanwhile, forced commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 23% of all forced labour and nearly four out of five people subjected to forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.
Forced labour imposed by the State reaches 14% of the people subjected to this situation.
“It is scandalous that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights”: Guy Ryder.
The five sectors that concentrate most of the forced labour of adults (87%) are services (excluding domestic work), manufacturing, construction, agriculture (excluding fishing) and domestic work.
Women in forced labour are much more likely than their male counterparts to be in domestic work, while men in forced labour are much more likely to work in the construction sector.
Women are more likely to be coerced through wage withholding and abuse of vulnerability, and men through threats of violence and sanctions.
The study also estimated that 22 million people were living in a forced marriage in 2021, an increase of 6.6 million from 2016 figures.
The true incidence of forced marriages, particularly those involving children aged 16 and under, is probably much higher than current estimates, which are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages, can capture.
Child marriages are considered forced because the child cannot legally consent to the marriage. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (over 85%) were driven by family pressure.
Forced marriage is closely linked to deep-seated patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context-dependent.
Although two-thirds (65%) of forced marriages take place in Asia and the Pacific, taking into account the size of the regional population, the prevalence is higher in the Arab States, with 4.8 people per 1,000 in that situation.
Migrant workers are three times more likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers, and they are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking, whether due to irregular migration or unfair and unethical recruitment practices.
António Vitorino, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the report “underlines the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly and regular.”
“Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and human trafficking depends, first of all, on national political and legal frameworks that respect, protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants,” he said.
Among the report’s recommendations are improving and enforcing labour laws and inspections; putting an end to forced labour imposed by the State; strengthening measures to combat forced labour and human trafficking in businesses and supply chains, and expanding social protection.
Likewise, raise the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception, address the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrants, promote fair and ethical hiring, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable people.
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