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India has 14.7mn modern-day slaves

UP and Bihar have particularly high levels of hereditary debt bondage in rural areas: Survey.

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A global survey on slavery index by a leading anti-slavery organisation has said India has almost half of the modern-day slaves. The survey conducted by Australia-based rights organisation Walk Free Foundation, working for eradicating slavery from world, revealed that out of the total population of around 1.2 billion, around 14.7 million people in India are living in modern slavery conditions.

The Foundation’s estimate of 29.8 million slaves worldwide is higher than other attempts to quantify modern slavery. The UN estimates almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour.

The statistics puts India fourth on the global index in terms of percentage of people enslaved. West African nation Mauritiana,  Caribbean nation Haiti, and neighbouring Pakistan rank worse than India in terms of global percentage of the people enslaved.

The survey on India suggests that while this involves the exploitation of some foreign nationals, by far the largest proportion of this problem is the exploitation of Indian citizens within India itself, particularly through inter-generational debt bondage and bonded labour, trafficking from rural poor communities.

Child labour, commercial sexual exploitation and forced and servile marriage are the other important elements which entraps a citizen into modern-day slavery. “Indians in their own villages are often trapped in debt bondage to a local landowner or born into slavery because of caste, customary, social and hereditary obligations. UP and Bihar have particularly high levels of hereditary debt bondage in rural areas,” the report continues.

Walk Free Foundation claims that the index was created in consultation with an international panel of experts from international organisations, think tanks and academic institutions and has been endorsed by individual including former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former UK PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, philanthropists Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

“Most governments do not dig deeply into slavery for a lot of bad reasons. There are exceptions, but many government do not want to know about people who can not vote, who are hidden away and are likely to be illegal anyway. Since hidden slaves can not be counted it is easy to pretend they do not exist,” said Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index.

The index, which draws on 10 years of research into slavery conditions around the world and was produced by a team of 4 authors supported by 22 other experts and advisers, is the inaugural edition of what will be an annual report into slavery. Walk Free policy and research manager Gina Dafalia said, “Our definition of modern slavery includes, for example, forced and servile marriage, a concept not included in the International Labour Organisation estimate, given the focus on ‘forced labour’.”

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