Poverty: Modern Form of Slavery

International human rights law dictates quite clearly that poverty is a violation of several human rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living which encompasses the rights to food, clothing, health, housing, medical care and social security.

The late leader Nelson Mandela went further at the Copenhagen summit when he eloquently described poverty as the “modern face of slavery”, so as humanity abolished slavery in the nineteenth century and criminalized it, it is now demanding the abolition and criminalization of poverty, because it causes new forms of slavery.

International efforts to eradicate poverty have started with the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the 1993 Vienna Conference, and the 1995 World Summit for Social Development and the Millennium and Ten Declaration (1997-2006).

The first of the Millennium Development Goals was to halve, by 2015, extreme poverty worldwide, as a moral, social, political and economic imperative.

However, the number of people forced into modern forms of slavery has risen by a fifth in recent years to around 50 million on any given day amid a surge in poverty and other crises.

The U.N.‘s International Labour Organization (ILO) recently revealed that crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts and climate change have led to unprecedented disruption to employment and education while exacerbating extreme poverty and forced migration.

Poverty in Numbers

  • There are 49.6 million people in situations of modern slavery on any given day, either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into.
    • Forced labour accounts for 27.6 million and
    • forced marriage for 22 million.
  • It accounts for nearly one of every 150 people in the world is under forced labour.

Forced labour:

  • Increase of 2.7 million in the number people in forced labour between 2016 and 2021, which translates to a rise in the prevalence of forced labour from 3.4 to 3.5 per thousand people in the world.
  • Asia and the Pacific is host to more than half of the global total (15.1 million), followed by Europe and Central Asia (4.1 million), Africa (3.8 million), the Americas (3.6 million), and the Arab States (0.9 million).
  • Forced labour is highest in the Arab States (5.3 per thousand people), followed by Europe and Central Asia (4.4 per thousand), the Americas and Asia and the Pacific (both at 3.5 per thousand), and Africa (2.9 per thousand).
  • More than half of all forced labour occurs in either upper-middle income or high-income countries.
  • 86 % of forced labour cases are imposed by private actors –
    • 5 sectors accounting for the majority of total adult forced labour (87 per cent) are services (excluding domestic work), manufacturing, construction, agriculture (excluding fishing), and domestic work.
  • The forced labour prevalence of adult migrant workers is more than three times higher than that of adult non-migrant workers.
  • 6.3 million people are in situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation at any point in time.
  • 3.3 million children are in situations of forced labour, accounting for about 12 per cent of all those in forced labour

Forced marriage:

  • There is a 6.6 million increase in the number of people living in a forced marriage between 2016 and 2021, which translates to a rise in prevalence from 2.1 to 2.8 per thousand people.
  • 2/3rd of all forced marriages (14.2 million people) is in Asia and the Pacific.
    • This is followed by Africa (3.2 million) and Europe and Central Asia (2.3 million).
  • Prevalence of forced marriage is highest in the Arab States (4.8 per thousand population), followed by Asia and the Pacific (3.3 per thousand population).
  • 60% in a forced marriage are in lower-middle income countries.
  • Most persons who reported on the circumstances of forced marriage were forced to marry by their parents (73 per cent) or other relatives (16 per cent).
  • Half of those living in forced marriages were coerced using emotional threats or verbal abuse.
    • Physical or sexual violence and threats of violence were the next most used form of coercion to force a marriage (19 per cent).

Measures to end modern slavery: the path for 2030:

Forced labour:

  • Respect for the freedoms of workers to associate and to bargain collectively is indispensable to a world free from forced labour.
  • Extend social protection, including floors, to all workers and their families.
  • Promote fair and ethical recruitment, to protect workers from abusive and fraudulent practices during the recruitment and placement process.
  • Strengthen the reach and capacity of public labour inspectorates, so they are able to detect and act on labour violations before they deteriorate into forced labour.
  • Ensure access to remedy for people freed from forced labour, to help recompense them for the consequences of their subjection to forced labour and to help in their recovery.
  • Address migrants’ vulnerability to forced labour and trafficking for forced labour.
  • Far more investment is needed in identification and protection measures for children in forced labour.
  • Partnership and international cooperation should be formed as the challenge of forced labour is complex for national governments or other stakeholders to address on their own.

Forced marriage:

  • As women and girls are disproportionately affected, legislative and policy responses should have a gendered lens.
    • This must include gender-sensitive laws, policies, programmes, and budgets, including gender-responsive social protection mechanisms.
  • Address underlying socio-cultural norms and structures that contribute to forced marriage.
  • Ensuring that women and girls have the opportunity and ability to complete school, earn a livelihood, and inherit assets plays a significant role in reducing vulnerability to forced marriage.
  • Protect the rights of those vulnerable to forced marriage and trafficking for forced marriage during times of crisis.

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