By The New Indian Express
The 2014 Global Slavery Report , conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that India has the highest number of individuals living in slavery out of any country. Out of an estimated 35.8 million men, women and children living under conditions of modern slavery, 14 million are in India, followed by 3 million in China and 2 million in Pakistan. Modern slaves are defined as individuals subject to forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. This is a considerably broader understanding of slavery that addresses human and labour rights beyond the conventional understanding of the term as human property.
The challenge India faces in eliminating modern forms of slavery is immense. Across India’s population of over 1.2 billion, all forms of modern slavery, including inter-generational bonded labour, trafficking for sexual exploitation, and forced marriage, exist. Evidence suggests that members of lower castes and tribes, religious minorities, and migrant workers are disproportionately affected by these. Modern slavery occurs in brick kilns, carpet weaving, embroidery and other textile manufacturing, forced prostitution, agriculture, domestic servitude, mining, and organised begging rings. Bonded labour is prevalent across India, with families enslaved for generations.
The rub is that in most of its modern variants, slavery has been declared a criminal offence in India. Clearly, the enforcement and implementation of key policies and laws is lacking. Moreover, given the continued role of caste politics, social factors play a role in poor labour and human security outcomes for certain sections. The Dalits, who are the most vulnerable, have the least social protection against severe forms of exploitation. Similarly, the relatively poor state of women’s and children’s rights in India leads to significant discrimination and high rates of sexual violence against them. Apart from better enforcement of laws, social and economic empowerment of the vulnerable sections is, therefore, the only solution.