Text Only
Accessibility Options
Default Text Size icon Large Text Size icon Largest Text Size icon
Set your Postcode This will personalise content such as news & events with the latest from your area.
Register For
Skip Content Skip Content

Modern Slavery



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

Human Trafficking and SlaveryThe 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.




Forced labour is any work or service which people are forced to do against their will, under threat of punishment. Almost all slavery practices contain some element of forced labour.

It affects millions of men, women and children around the world. It is most often found in industries with a lot of workers and little regulation. These include:

  • Agriculture and fishing
  • Domestic work
  • Construction, mining, quarrying and brick kilns
  • Manufacturing, processing and packaging
  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation
  • Market trading and illegal activities

Forced labour is the most common element of modern slavery. It is the most extreme form of people exploitation.

Although many people associate forced labour and slavery with physical violence, in fact the ways used to force people to work are more insidious and ingrained in some cultures.

Forced labour often affects the most vulnerable and excluded groups, for example commonly discriminated Dalits in India. Women and girls are more at risk than boys and men, and children make up a quarter of people in forced labour.

Migrant workers are targeted because they often don’t speak the language, have few friends, have limited rights and depend on their employers.

Forced labour happens in the context of poverty, lack of sustainable jobs and education, as well as a weak rule of law, corruption and an economy dependent on cheap labour.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers fall victim of forced labour in Thailand’s fishing industry


Where and how big is the problem?

It’s a global problem, although some regions have larger numbers of people affected than others.

Number of people in forced labour worldwide (estimates by the 2012 International Labour Organization):

  • 20.9 million people across the world
  • 11.7 million in Asia and Pacific
  • 3.7 million in Africa
  • 1.8 million in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 1.5 million  in developed economies (US, Canada, Australia, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand)
  • 1.6 million in Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States
  • 600,000 in the Middle East
  • 18.7 million people in the private economy
  • 4.5 million are in forced sexual exploitation
  • 14.2 million are in labour exploitation in industries such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing
  • 5.5 million children are in forced labour
  • 2.2 million are forced to work under governments and military rules




Debt bondage, also called bonded labour or debt slavery, is the most common form of modern slavery. Despite this, it’s the least known.

Debt bondage occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. They are tricked into working for little or no pay, with no control over their debt.

Most or all the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work becomes invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed.  They face coercion, violence, intimidation if they try to leave.

Bonded labour is most widespread in South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. Often entire families have to work to pay off the debt taken by one of its members. Sometimes, the debt can be passed down the generations and children can be held in debt bondage because of a loan their parents had taken decades ago.

Debt bondage in a wider sense is spread much beyond South Asia and is an element of many other forms of slavery such as forced labour and trafficking. People borrow money to pay their traffickers for a promised job abroad. Once at their destination their passports are taken away and they cannot leave until they pay off the debts they owe to their traffickers.

Where does debt bondage exist and how big is it?

Bonded labour has existed for hundreds of years. Debt bondage was used to trap indentured labourers into working on plantations in Africa, the Caribbean and South-East Asia, following the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In South Asia it still flourishes in agriculture, brick kilns, mills, mines and factories. In India hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are forced to work as bonded labourers in brick kilns and agriculture, often suffering extreme exploitation and abuse.

Today the International Labour Organisation estimates a minimum 11.7 million people are in forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region, the majority of these are in debt bondage.

Bonded labour flourishes because of poverty and widespread caste-based discrimination. Limited access to justice, education and jobs for discriminated groups makes it difficult to get out of poverty.

The need for cash for daily survival forces people to sell their labour in exchange for a loan. In South Asia bonded labour is rooted in the caste system and predominately affects Dalits (a caste called the ‘Untouchables’).

Despite the fact that bonded labour is illegal the laws are rarely enforced, particularly where the people who exploit those from more vulnerable groups belong to the ruling classes.

Our projects support bonded workers in claiming their rights. We also lobby governments to apply laws fairly and equally.


Descent-based slavery describes a situation where people are born into slavery because their ancestors were captured into slavery and their families have ‘belonged’ to the slave-owning families ever since. Slave status is passed down the maternal line.

This form of slavery can still be found across the Sahel belt of Africa, including MauritaniaNiger, Mali, Chad and Sudan. Many other African societies also have a traditional hierarchy where people are known to be the descendants of slaves or slave-owners.

People born into descent-based slavery face a lifetime of exploitation and are treated as property by their so-called ‘masters’. They work without pay, herding animals, working in the fields or in their masters’ homes. They can be inherited, sold or given away as gifts or wedding presents.

Women and girls typically face sexual abuse and rape, and often have to bear their masters’ children. In turn, their children will also be owned by their masters.

Children can also be taken away from their mothers at an early age. They start work at an early age and never attend school.

Escaping slavery is enormously challenging. It is hard for people to adapt to independent life and find decent work. Many thousands of people who have long left their masters (even generations before) still bear the social status of ‘slave’ and as such face ongoing discrimination.

Obtaining identification documents to access the most basic civil rights such as the right to vote and go to school, or to open a bank account, can be a challenge because of lack of birth certificates for people of slave descent.


Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, an estimated five million children are in slavery worldwide, including in the UK.

Child slavery is often confused with child labour, but is much worse. Whilst child labour is harmful for children and hinders their education and development, child slavery occurs when a child’s labour is exploited for someone else’s gain.

Child slavery includes:

Children used by others for profit, often through violence, abuse and threats, in prostitution or pornography, forced begging, petty crime and the drug tradeForced child labour, for example in agriculture, factories, construction, brick kilns, mines, bars, the tourist industry or domestic workChildren forced to take part in armed conflictsChildren forced to marryWhy do children work?

Most children work because their families are poor and their labour is necessary for their survival. Children are often employed because, compared to adults, they are more easily controlled and are unlikely to demand higher wages or better working conditions.

For poorer children from rural areas, school is not an option. Education can be expensive or schools are too far away.

As well as being a result of poverty, child labour also perpetuates poverty. Many working children do not have the opportunity to go to school and often grow up to be unskilled adults trapped in poorly paid jobs.

Child work, child labour, child slavery?

The terms around exploitation of children can be quite confusing so here is a short guide.

Child work. Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child’s development, helping them learn useful skills. Often, work is a vital source of income for their families.

Child labour. Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education and development.  Child labour tends to be undertaken when the child is in the care of their parents.
Worst form of child labour. “Hazardous work” is the worst form of child labour. It irreversibly damages children’s health and development through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives.

Child slavery. Child slavery is the enforced exploitation of a child for their labour for someone else’s gain.

Child trafficking. Trafficking involves transporting, recruiting or harbouring people for the purpose of exploitation, using violence, threats or coercion. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, trafficking is merely the act of transporting or harbouring them for exploitative work. When away from their families, they are at the mercy of their employers.

Child marriage. Many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years. But when a child didn’t give their consent to a marriage, is exploited within it or is not able to leave, that child is in slavery.

Children in armed conflicts. Children forced to take part in armed conflicts don’t only include child soldiers but also porters or girls taken as “wives” for soldiers and militia members. Children involved in conflict are severely affected by their experiences and can suffer from long-term trauma.

Facts about child slavery

 Worldwide 5.5 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (ILO)

168 million are estimated to be in child labour (ILO)

120 million child labourers are below the age of 14 (ILO)

85 million children are in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development (ILO)more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.

More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into union before age 15 (UNICEF)

300,000 children are estimated to serve as child soldiers, some even younger than 10 years old (UNICEF)

15.5 million children are in domestic work worldwide – the overwhelming majority of them are girls (ILO)In the UK,

981 children were referred to authorities as potential victims of trafficking in 2015 (National Crime Agency)


Marriage involving children under 18-years-old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe. UNICEF estimates that 11% of women worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15. Although boys can be affected by the practice, it is mostly girls who suffer slavery as a consequence of child marriage.

There has been growing awareness about the negative consequences of child marriage, especially for girls, including the impact of marriage on children’s education and risks to their physical and psychological health. 

It should be noted that many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years.

However, child marriage can also obscure what are actually cases of slavery or slavery-like practices.

Child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if one or more of the following elements are present:

• If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage;

• If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats, and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations; 

• If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.Children are in a weaker position to give free, full and informed consent to marriage than adults, even if they appear to ‘agree’ or don’t express refusal. 

Many children have little or no control over their movements or person within marriage, including over sexual relations. Girls in particular are commonly controlled through violence, threats and humiliation, as well as experiencing isolation and loneliness.

Children may not realistically be able to leave their marriage. For example, they may not be able to support themselves financially or may fear repercussions from in-laws and the wider community, as well as their own families.

Girls who leave their marriages without support are often vulnerable to other forms of slavery and exploitation. 

The information above was provided by the website of Anti-Slavery International.  You can find more information on their website here - /www.antislavery.org

Powered by Contensis