Slavery Today: Countries With the Highest Prevalence of Modern Slaves

Think slavery is a thing of the past? The reality reveals that this is simply not the truth.
Think slavery is a thing of the past? The reality reveals that this is simply not the truth.
  • There is 40.3 million slaves in the world today.
  • North Korea has the highest prevalence of slaves in any country.
  • Nearly a quarter of enslaved individuals are children

According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI), there are an estimated 40.3 million slaves in the world today. This modern day slavery is in many instances not all too different from that in medieval times, as people are still being owned as property by others in some countries around the world. However, unlike ancient forms where slaves were not paid at all, in modern day slavery payment may be there for those in bondage, though meager and riddled with exploitation. The International Labour Organization estimates that 26% of modern slaves are children. Although slavery is officially abolished in every jurisdiction in the world, it does not mean that contemporary slavery does not exist. In fact, if anything, it just means that slavery is harder to track and occurs far from the eye of local authorities. Below is an overview of countries by the largest populations of people said to be in a situation of slavery.

10. Iran - 16.2 per 1,000

Modern slavery occurs in Iran, where around every 16.2 people for every 1,000 are affected. Some of the ways in which modern slavery presents itself is through organ harvesting, the smuggling of children, and the enrolling of citizens in involuntary servitude. Women and girls from Iran and sometimes smuggled across the border to be sold in neighboring countries. Iran is also used as a transition area for traffickers working between South Asia and Europe. Although the government technically outlaws slavery, the government's slow response and lack of resolutions has led to much criticism.

9. Cambodia - 16.8 per 1,000

Cambodia is caught up in the slave trade, with around 16.8 people out of every 1,000 involved. Although the government is clear on their stance of making human trafficking a crime, it remains a large problem in Cambodia, particularly when it comes to the trafficking of children. Women and children in Cambodia are either sold by their families or tricked into forced labor, forced prostitution, forced marriage, and more.

8. Pakistan - 16.8 per 1,000

Debt slavery, or bonded labor, is the most rampant form of modern slavery in Pakistan, according to the Global Slavery Index, with the Punjab and Sindh provinces being the hot-spots for such practices. Nationally, 16.8 people out of every 1,000 are enslaved. Poor families become trapped into slavery when they approach an affluent person in need of a loan for an emergency like a sickness. The affluent person adds the entire family into his collection of “property” in return for providing medical financing. The family is forced to work for long hours for low wages, of which half is retained by the affluent person. This loan at times may take a generation or more to be repaid, and, until then, the whole family will still remain the property of the affluent person. In Pakistan, it’s common for wealthy persons to own brick kilns, coal mines, and carpet-making factories, or to conduct agriculture, like the farming of cotton, wheat, or rice, with much of the work being carried out by forced labor. Brick kilns are the factories where much of this slavery occurs.

7. South Sudan - 20.5 per 1,000

South Sudan, one of the world's youngest countries, is unfortunately also one of the most prone to the slave trade, with around 20.5 people for every 1,000 a victim. For decades, South Sudan and Sudan have been regions ravaged by brutal civil war and genocide. It is said that many people, many of them children, were kidnapped by government-backed militia during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is difficult to get an accurate view of the situation in South Sudan as the country is still experiencing a heavy amount of internal conflict.

6. Mauritania - 21.4 per 1,000

Mauritania is a country found in northwest Africa. It is also known for being one of the world's most common source and destination of human trafficking, with an estimated 21.4 out of every 1,000 residents trafficked. Human trafficking occurs in Mauritania in both the urban and rural regions. Unfortunately, there are no formal programs within the country to support victims of the slave trade. There is a phenomenon in Mauritania where forced labor is passed down by generation, causing a cyclical problem.

5. Afghanistan - 22.2 per 1,000

Afghanistan is both the source and the destination for the illegal slave trade. It is estimated that around 22.2 out of every 1,000 people in Afghanistan are victims. While many people, many of them children, are held within Afghanistan they are also often sent to neighboring countries like Pakistan and India. One prominent form of slave labor in Afghanistan is forced begging, while organized rings force children to beg for money in city centers. Like South Sudan, it is difficult to get an absolute reading on the problem in Afghanistan as the country is still filled with internal strife.

4. Central African Republic - 22.3 per 1,000

Unfortunately, the Central African Republic is no stranger to human trafficking. Many of the victims, which are estimated to number 22.3 people for every 1,000, are children. Many of these children are forced into conscription and serve as child soldiers. The efforts of the Central African Republic government to combat trafficking have been criticized as insufficient. However, the government's resources are limited.

3. Burundi - 40 per 1,000

Burundi has the third highest prevalence of forced labor in the world, with 40 people in every 1,000 involved. Like other entries on this list, Burundi suffers from an unstable government and a very low quality of life, where many children do not to go school. The HIV infection rate in Burundi is also high, at around one in 15 adults. Much of the slave labor experience in Burundi is said to be imposed by the state.

2. Eritrea - 93 per 1,000

Eritrea is a country found in the Horn of Africa. It has the world's second highest ratio of modern slaves, with an estimated 93 people in every 1,000 involved in modern day slavery. The majority of modern slavery in Eritrea is said to be at the hands of the government, who force conscription upon their residents.

1. North Korea - 104.6 per 1,000

A staggering 104.6 people for every 1,000 is involved in modern slavery in North Korea. It is said that the government of North Korea send workers abroad to work in forced worked situations, including textile factories in neighboring China. The United Nations refers to modern day slavery as one of North Korea's "crimes against humanity." Many of the people involved in North Korea are are children. These children may be forced to participate in forced agricultural work. The process of withholding food or limiting food as punishment is not unheard of. The government of North Korea was given a "D" rating when it comes to how well they were responding to modern slavery.

Which Country Has the Most Slaves?

RankCountryEstimated Number of Modern Slaves (Per 1,000 People)
1North Korea104.6
4Central African Republic22.3
7South Sudan20.5

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