Nearly 50 million people were living in modern slavery at the end of 2021, of whom 27.6 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriages, according to a report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
In reporting an increase in the number of people in forced marriages, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said, "It is scandalous that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights.”
In the last five years the number of people in modern slavery has increased by 10 million, the problem cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines, and women, children and migrants remain particularly vulnerable.
The problem exists in almost every country in the world, and more than half (52%) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages are in upper-middle-income or high-income countries, according to the ILO's Global Estimates on Modern Slavery - Forced Labour and Forced Marriage report.
The Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than half of the global total (15.1 million people), followed by Europe and Central Asia (4.1 million), Africa (3.8 million), the Americas (3.6 million), and the Arab States (0.9 million).
Women and girls account for 11.8 million of the total number of people in forced labour. More than 3.3 million children in forced labour are out of school.
The majority of forced labour cases (86%) are in the private sector, with sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounting for 63% of the total.
Meanwhile, forced commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 23% of all forced labour and almost four out of five persons subjected to forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.
State-imposed forced labour accounts for 14% of those in forced labour. The five sectors that account for the largest share of adult forced labour (87%) are services (excluding domestic work), manufacturing, construction, agriculture (excluding fishing) and domestic work.
Women in forced labour are much more likely than their male counterparts to be engaged in domestic work, while men in forced labour are much more likely to work in the construction sector.
Women are more likely to be coerced through wage withholding and abuse of vulnerability, and men through threats of violence and sanctions.
The study also estimated that 22 million people were living in forced marriage in 2021, an increase of 6.6 million from 2016 figures.
The true incidence of forced marriages, particularly those involving children aged 16 and under, is likely much higher than current estimates can capture, which 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. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (over 85%) were driven by family pressure.
Forced marriage is closely linked to deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes and practices, and is highly dependent on specific contexts.
Although two-thirds (65%) of forced marriages occur in Asia and the Pacific, when regional population size is taken into account, the prevalence is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1.000 in this situation.
Migrant workers are three times more likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers, and are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking, either through irregular migration or through unfair and unethical recruitment practices.
António Vitorino, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the report "underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly and regular". "Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and human trafficking depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants," Vitorino said.
Among the report's recommendations are improving and enforcing labour laws and inspections; ending state-imposed forced labour; strengthening measures to combat forced labour and human trafficking in enterprises and supply chains; and expanding social protection.
Also, raise the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception, address the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrants, promote fair and ethical recruitment, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable people.
Photo. Children, women and migrants are among the groups most vulnerable to modern slavery through forced labour, mainly conducted by the private sector and even in high-income countries, including forced marriage. © Marcel Crozet/ILO