New Release: 2022 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (Human Trafficking)

The International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released the 2021 Global and Regional Estimates report. The estimates indicate that there are 50 million people living in situations of modern slavery on any given day, either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into. This number translates to nearly one of every 150 people in the world. Through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global community has committed to ending modern slavery among children by 2025, and universally by 2030.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk of modern slavery and made the road to the 2025 and 2030 target dates an even more difficult one. The principal sources of data are from nationally representative household surveys – 68 forced labor surveys and 75 forced marriage surveys – jointly conducted by ILO and Walk Free, as well as the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) anonymized case data set on victims of trafficking collected by IOM and its partners.

According to the report, Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, deception, abuse of power or other forms of coercion. It comprises of two principal components – forced labour and forced marriage. The 2021 Global Estimates indicates that 49.6 million people are living in situations of modern slavery on any given day, either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into. Forced labour accounts for 27.6 million of those in modern slavery and forced marriage for 22 million.

Forced labour as set out in the ILO Forced Labor Convention, 1930, refers to “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” Women and girls make up 11.8 million of the total in forced labour. More than 3.3 million of all those in forced labor are children. A simple comparison with the 2016 global estimates indicates an increase of 2.7 million in the number of people in forced labour between 2016 and 2021. The initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic were accompanied by widespread reports of forced labour linked to the crisis.

Forced labor is highest in the Arab states at 5.3 per thousand people, compared to 4.4 per thousand in Europe and Central Asia, 3.5 per thousand in both America, Asia and Pacific regions and 2.9 per thousand in Africa. It is reported that 86% of all forced labour is imposed by private agents – 63% in forced labour and 23% in forced commercial sexual exploitation. State imposed forced labour accounts for the remaining 14% of people in forced labour. The initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic were accompanied by widespread reports of forced labour linked to the crisis. More than half of all forced labour occurs in either upper- middle income or high-income countries. People in forced labour are subjected to multiple forms of coercion to compel them to work against their will. Women in forced labour are much more likely than their male counterparts to be in domestic work. Migrant workers face a higher risk of forced labour than other workers. An estimated 6.3 million people are in situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation on any given day. This number includes 1.7 million children in commercial sexual exploitation. Over half of all children in forced labour are in commercial sexual exploitation. It is reported that 3.9 million people were in state-imposed forced labour at any point in time in 2021.

Forced marriage refers to situations where a person has been forced to marry without their consent. As set out in the joint general recommendations of the UN’s committee and the Committee on Rights of the Child (CRC), child marriage is considered a form of forced marriage.  An estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriage on any given day in 2021. Women and girls make up 14.9 million of this total. This is a 6.6 million increase in the number of people living in a forced marriage between 2016 and 2021. Nearly two-thirds of all forced marriages, an estimated 14.2 million, are in Asia and the Pacific. This is followed by 14.5 % in Africa (3.2 million) and 10.4 % in Europe and Central Asia (2.3 million). Women and girls subjected to forced marriage account for 14.9 million. Three in every five people in a forced marriage are in lower-middle income countries. It was noted that family members were responsible for the vast majority of forced marriages. Half of those living in forced marriages were coerced using emotional threats or verbal abuse. The report indicates that once they were forced to marry, there is a greater risk of sexual exploitation, violence and domestic servitude and other forms of forced labour.

It was noted that COVID-19 has exacerbated the underlying drivers of all forms of modern slavery including forced marriage.

In conclusion, some of the key policy priorities recommended for addressing forced labour and forced marriage in the lead up to the 2030 target date for ending modern slavery were mentioned as follows:

  • Respect for the freedom of workers to associate and to bargain collectively is indispensable to a world free from forced labour.
  • Extend social protection, including floors, to all workers and their families.
  • Promote fair and ethical recruitment.
  • Strengthen the reach and capacity of public labour inspectorates.
  • Ensure protection for people freed from forced labour.
  • Ensure access to remedy for people freed from forced labour.
  • Address migrant’s vulnerability to forced labour and trafficking for forced labour.
  • Address children trapped in forced labour.
  • Mitigate the heightened risk of forced labour and trafficking for forced labour in situations of crisis.
  • Legislative and policy responses should have a gendered lens as women and girls are disproportionately.
  • Ensure adequate civil and criminal protections in national legislation.
  • Address underlying social-cultural norms and structures that contribute to forced marriage.
  • Invest in building the agency for women and girls.
  • Protect the rights of those vulnerable to forced marriage and trafficking for forced marriage.
  • Address the vulnerability of migrants, particularly children.

Finally, it was acknowledged that reliable information and statistics on forced labour, forced marriage, and human trafficking are critical to promoting awareness and understanding of the problem, and to inform policy responses.

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