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What is modern slavery?

Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century.

The practice still continues today in one form or another in every country in the world. From women forced into prostitution, children and adults forced to work in agriculture, domestic work, or factories and sweatshops producing goods for global supply chains, entire families forced to work for nothing to pay off generational debts; or girls forced to marry older men, the illegal practice still blights contemporary world.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery.

There are many different characteristics that distinguish slavery from other human rights violations, however only one needs to be present for slavery to exist. Someone is in slavery if they are:
  • forced to work - through mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, gender and races.

WHAT FORMS OF SLAVERY EXIST TODAY?

Many forms of slavery involve more than one element or form listed above. For example, trafficking often involves an advance payment for the trip and organising a promised job abroad which is borrowed from the traffickers. Once at the destination, the debt incurred serves as an element of controlling the victims as they are told they cannot leave the job until the debt is paid off.

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Bonded labour in brick kilns, IndiaBonded labour in India's brick kilns.
© Pete Pattisson

Talibes - children forced to beg, Senegal Talibés - children forced to beg, Senegal
© Émilie Régnier
Children forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan Children and adults are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan
Descent based slavery Women in Niger born into a 'slave' caste