Information compiled by the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index (GSI) reveals modern day slavery is still prominent across the globe. Over 45 million people in 167 countries are owned as if they were property, but unlike ancient times, many of them are forced into hard labor but they aren’t paid at all. Children, adults, and entire families are forced into slavery due to financial debts, while women and girls are more likely to be trafficked and sexually exploited.
Here are the countries around the world who have the most modern day slaves.
With 18.4 million slaves in this South Asian country, India has the most slaves in the world. When they’re unable to repay a debt, many Indians are forced to work in the rice mills and clothing factories to repay what they owe. They’re then forced to work countless hours, and with interests rates so high, it makes it impossible for them to ever reclaim their personal and financial freedom. In some cases, an entire family can be forced to work together to pay off a debt. Sexual slavery among women and girls is also a huge problem in this country.
Back in the 1980s, China experienced a quick and rapid modernization that resulted in economic, cultural, and social shifts that greatly impacted its citizens. One major change was the number of people who began working in construction and the country’s minefields. They eventually became slaves to these industries, and forced labor continues to be a problem to this day. There are now 3.4 million slaves in China, including young Cambodian and Vietnamese girls who have been trafficked in for sexual slavery and sold as young brides.
Pakistan suffers from the same problem that’s occuring in India. As of 2016, 2.10 million Pakistanis were living as slaves. Poor families often approach those who are wealthy and beg them for a loan. The borrower is then forced to work low-paying jobs for hours on end. With high-interest rates tacked onto the loan, the debtor can keep the borrower enslaved for as long as they choose. In many cases, generations of families can be enslaved to work off the debt in the wealthy family’s brick kilns, factories, fields, and farms.
Child labor and forced labor are big issues in Bangladesh, and an estimated 1.5 million people are apart of the slave trade. Children as young as 5-years-old work in agriculture, mining, garbage collection, and fisheries; while young girls are tricked into working as unpaid maids and later suffer from sexual abuse. Children have also been smuggled in from other countries, such as Thailand, and forced to become drug mules.
Many adult slaves work in unsafe factories making as little as 20 cents per hour in buildings that are not up to code, such as the 2013 Dhaka factory building that collapsed and killed 1,000 laborers.
The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is the home to 1.2 million slaves, according to the GSI. Many of the slaves work in the cotton-growing industry. They pick the cotton on their own and are forced to sell it to the government at an extremely low price. The government, in return, exports the cotton to other countries at a markup. It’s a billion-dollar industry, but Uzbekistan’s modern day slaves aren’t the ones benefitting.
6. North Korea
North Korea has done a pretty good job at shielding the horrible atrocities that go on within its country. But data was still able to confirm at least 1.1 million of its citizens are living as slaves.
Defectors of the country have spoken about the northern state’s huge slave society that has been ruled by the Kim dynasty for multiple generations. Those who are caught breaking the law, talking poorly about the Kim family, or caught attempting to leave the country without permission can find themselves thrown into one of the country’s many labor camps. Food shortages within the camps and across the country mean malnutrition and famine are prevalent, and because North Korea is so isolated from the rest of the world, there really doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
An astounding 1 million people are living as slaves in Russia, according to the GSI. Most of the slaves are migrant workers, but they’re forced into the agriculture and textile industries where they are paid low wages that they can barely survive on. Women and young girls are frequently trafficked into Russia from other countries, such as Moldova and Belarus, and forced to work as commercial sex workers.
An estimated 880,000 people, from children to adults, are forced to work in Nigeria’s farms, mines, and stone quarries. It’s not uncommon to see young male slaves peddling products on the streets to repay a debt, while Nigerian girls are propositioned to work as nannies, only to be tricked into a life of working as a sex slave.
Indonesia ranked 9th on the GSI with an estimated 740,000 slaves in the country. The government has tried hard to put an end to modern day slavery, but it’s still running rampant in certain areas. Because so many of its citizens live in poverty and don’t receive formal education, they’re forced to work in poor conditions and earn a low wage. Many leave the country to escape poverty, but they soon find out that working abroad doesn’t provide them with a better lifestyle. Men and young boys are lured into working in the tobacco, rubber, and palm oil industries, while women and underage girls are exploited as domestic workers and later become victims of sexual abuse.
There are 570,000 modern day slaves in Egypt, and just like Indonesia, the country is working hard to provide protection for trafficiking victims. Many of those who have escaped the slave trade in Egypt have spoken about just how horrible the conditions are.
A young girl named Shyima Hall was sold into slavery by her parents when she was 8-years-old for $30 a month. She was smuggled into the United States by her capturers when she was 13 and forced to work from dawn until midnight cleaning their home and looking after their five children. As a slave, she was forbidden from going to school, never visited the doctor, and was trapped inside the walls of their home. An anonymous tip from a concerned neighbor sent investigators to the house where Hall was eventually rescued and her nightmare came to an end.
Later, she chose to stay in America and was granted U.S. citizenship. Her story is just one out of millions, but sadly, not all of them have this type of happy ending.