World Facts

Slavery Today: Countries With The Most Modern Slaves

Millions of people are said to be in a situation of modern slavery, with the highest populations found in India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI), there are an estimated 45.8 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. Below is an overview of countries by largest populations of people said to be in a situation of slavery.

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.

10. Indonesia - 736,100 modern slaves

In Indonesia, 736,100 people are in a situation of modern slavery. This translates to around 0.286% of the country's population. Men, women, and children can all be victims of modern slavery in Indonesia today. Those most vulnerable are the migrant population, who are at risk of being trafficked into forced labor. Many of those in forced labor are employed in industries like construction, fishing, farming, and domestic work. Human trafficking exists in all provinces of Indonesia. The lack of institutional inspections and a lack of birth reporting are said to contribute to modern slavery in the country.

9. Democratic Republic of the Congo - 873,100

Political instability is the core cause to explain why there are so many people in modern day slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) according to GSI. The current estimate of slaves there is equivalent to 1.13 percent of the country’s population. Locals displaced by wars often end up working as slaves in the country’s resource-rich mines, which are at times controlled by warlords or corrupt army officials. Men are trapped in debt bondage, from where they must work for food, accommodations, and to repay back their "employers’" money they borrowed to buy mining tools. This practice is especially prominent in the regions of North and South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga, where deposits of gold, tin, coltan, and tantalum are found. Due to instability, women and young girls also fall prey to sexual exploitation, a form of slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is widely documented around much of the rest of the world.

8. Nigeria - 875,500 modern slaves

Compared to the 701,000-strong figure for slaves in Nigeria from a few years ago, that number is still growing alongside the population. There are about 875,500 people working as slaves in Nigeria today, per the most recent reports, amounting to about 0.481 percent of the country’s population. Boys from the country, according to GSI, are trafficked to work as juvenile slaves, often doing so as street vendors, domestic servants, or miners. They are also forced to work in stone quarries, farms, or as beggars around West Africa. Dubious young Nigerian girls also get tricked, as they will get jobs as nannies in Western countries but end up as sex slaves in cities in the United Kingdom, Italy, or Belgium. Others get into forced marriages or work as domestic servants, but are not paid as they are without legal immigration status, a fact that their employers exploit to enslave them. The issue of girls being abducted and turned into sex slaves is especially rampant in Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorists wreak havoc, and the consequent instability allows the slave trade to flourish.

7. Russia - 1,048,500 modern slaves

Over a million people live in modern day Russia as slaves, equivalent to 0.732 percent of the country’s population, according to GSI. These workers (often foreign migrants) work in forced labor situations in the agriculture, construction, textiles, and timber sectors, while women and children are suffer sexual exploitation. Brothels in Russia have girls trafficked as sex slaves from such neighboring countries as Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics. The country also serves as a transit point for men, women, and children trafficked into and out of countries like China, Oman, Bahrain, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea, where many are forced to work as slaves, or be used as commercial sex workers.

6. North Korea - 1,236,600 modern slaves

Although North Korea ranks 6th on the list by population, the country actually has the highest percentage of the population who is estimated to be involved in modern day slavery, at 4.373%. It is said that the government of North Dakota 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".

5. Uzbekistan - 1,236,600 modern slaves

In the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, 3.973 percent of the population are under the shackles of modern day slavery, according to GSI, equivalent to 1,236,600 people. Much of this slavery is concentrated in the cotton-growing agricultural sector, where there is state-sanctioned forced labor. The government forces over a million farmers to grow cotton, and forces them to harvest it every autumn for the state's benefit. According to anti-slavery advocacy groups, those wishing to avoid picking pay $200 to their local government, which is a huge burden to the very poor. These farmers are also forced to sell their cotton to the government at extremely low prices, yet the government, by way of exporting the cotton, earns over $1 billion in revenues depending on the world’s market prices, and this money goes into the country’s ruling elites' pockets. While picking the cotton, there have been illnesses reported, such as those due to malnutrition, after weeks of endless, tiring labor.

4. Bangladesh - 1,531,300 modern slaves

Over one million Bangladeshis are modern day slaves. The real number may be even higher, as 7.4 million children aged from 5 to 17 years old are in child labor, according to UNICEF. These children work in fisheries, agriculture, textile industry, mining, brick kilns, recycling, and garbage collection industries, among others. Young Bangladeshi girls also get tricked into working as house girls, where they are overworked, underpaid or not paid, and will at times be sexually abused. Children trafficked to neighboring countries like Thailand work as sex slaves or are used to smuggle drugs or guns. Human traffickers also smuggle men to countries like Thailand where they work for little to no pay in the exploitative, but lucrative, fishing sector there. In such countries, Bangladeshi illegal workers get into debt bondage and must work for long times for the benefit of their slave masters until their debts are paid, if they ever are. In Bangladesh, unsafe factories also collapse and kill those workers locked up inside them, most of whom are already working for very low wages.

3. Pakistan - 2,134,900 modern slaves

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, 1.13 percent of the country’s population is enslaved today. 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, and bond and free combined is reported to employ 4.5 million people in the country.

2. China - 3,388,400 modern slaves

The Global Slavery Index reports that China has over 3 million slaves. Rapid modernization is cited as being the main driver for slavery in the country. These slaves work in construction, mines, heavy industries, and housekeeping. Each year, millions of people regarded as domestic migrants leave their homes in rural impoverished areas to go work elsewhere in China. Desperation exposes the poor migrants to forced labor, sexual exploitation, and forced marriages. Sexual slavery is also prominent in China, as young girls from countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are trafficked into China to be sold as brides.

1. India - 18,354,700 modern slaves

India is regarded as the modern day slave capital of the world. According to Free the Slaves, slave-holding culture is deeply entrenched in the country. Slaves work in brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery factories, quarries, farms, and private homes as servants. When one is unable to pay a debt, they are seized by the debtor and compelled to repay it through endless labor. The interest rates charged are high enough to ensure that slaves are never able to pay off their debts. Debts also have unreasonable terms, such as when the slave misses work due to sickness, the debt grows. A whole family, children included, can also be forced to work for the debtor. There is also sexual slavery in India. wherein young girls and women in debt sell their bodies on the red-light districts to be able to pay off debts. Much of this exploitation occurs in impoverished portions of Indian society, where uneducated people don’t even know they have any rights to protect the from such practices.

Which Country Has the Most Slaves?

RankCountryPopulation in Modern Slavery (Estimated)
6North Korea1,100,000
9Democratic Republic of the Congo873,100

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