More than fifty million people live in a situation of modern slavery

The number of people in a situation of modern slavery has increased significantly over the past five years. There were 10 million more people in slavery in 2021 than global estimates in 2016. Women and children remain disproportionately vulnerable.

These forms of slavery occur in almost every country in the world and cross ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries. More than half (52%) of all forced labor and a quarter of all forced marriages are in upper-middle or high-income countries.

Cases of forced labor (86%) occur in the private sector. Forced labor in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounted for 63% of all forced labor, while forced commercial sexual exploitation accounted for 23% of all forced labor. Nearly four out of five people subjected to violent commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.

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State-imposed forced labor accounts for 14% of people subjected to forced labor.

Nearly one in eight people in forced labor are children (3.3 million). More than half of them are in a situation of commercial sexual exploitation.

As for the modality of forced marriage, it is estimated that 22 million people lived in this situation on any single day in 2021. This represents an increase of 6.6 million from global estimates in 2016.

The true incidence of forced marriages, especially those involving children under the age of 16, is likely much higher than current estimates can capture; they are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages. Child marriages are considered forced because the child cannot legally consent to the marriage.

Forced marriage is closely related to deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context-dependent. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (over 85%) were driven by family pressure. Although two-thirds (65%) of forced marriages take place in Asia and the Pacific, given the size of the regional population, the prevalence is higher in Arab countries, with 4.8 people per 1,000 in the region being in a forced marriage situation.

Migration is another determinant of global slavery. Migrants are three times more likely to be in forced labor than older non-migrant workers. Although labor migration has generally positive effects on individuals, households, communities and societies, this finding shows how migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and human trafficking, whether through irregular or poorly managed migration, or through unfair and unethical practices for hire.

“It is scandalous that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the continued violation of basic human rights,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We know what needs to be done and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulations are essential. But governments cannot do it alone. International standards provide a solid foundation and a multi-stakeholder approach is needed. Trade unions, business organisations, civil society and ordinary citizens have a crucial role to play.”

Antonio Vitorino, IOM Director-General, said: “This report highlights the urgency to ensure that all migration is safe, orderly and regular. Reducing migrants’ vulnerability to forced labor and human trafficking depends above all on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect and fulfill the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants – and potential migrants – at all stages of the migration process, regardless by their migration status. All of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.

The report offers a series of recommended actions that, taken together and quickly, would go a long way towards ending modern slavery. These include: improving and enforcing labor legislation and inspections; to end state-imposed forced labor; strengthening measures to combat forced labor and human trafficking in businesses and supply chains; extending social protection and strengthening legal protection, including raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception. Other measures include addressing the increased risk of trafficking and forced labor for migrant workers, promoting fair and ethical recruitment and increased support for women, girls and vulnerable people.

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