Modern Day Slavery: Who is at Risk?

It is a myth that slavery ended with abolition. Another myth is that slavery is something that happens in other countries.

Although the practice is no longer acceptable in law anywhere on the globe, the truth is that tens of millions of people throughout the world are caught up in human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, bonded labour and other systems, collectively referred to as modern day slavery.

Over 40 Million Global Slaves: Who are the Victims?

According to latest figures from the International Labour Organisation, there are now an estimated 40.3 million slaves worldwide.

Most modern day slavery is connected to the labour market with nearly 25 million people engaging in forced labour, raising a staggering $150 billion each year for those who control them.  A harrowing proof of the existence of slavery in Libya was revealed in 2017 with video footage of groups of men being auctioned off as farm labourers. It prompted the Libyan government to appeal for international help and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres to call for UN actors to actively pursue the issue.

Forced marriage is the next largest category of modern day slavery with just over 15 million cases worldwide, many involving children.

Children are also exploited as slaves with an estimated 10 million of them forced to work in sweatshops. Compared to child labour, which is itself a big problem, child slavery is even worse and involves children working for the financial gain of their controllers.

Then there are the 4.8 million or so victims of prostitution and sexual exploitation, 99 per cent of them women and girls.

Although human trafficking affects people of any age, gender, nationality and background, those living in poverty are at greatest risk. Unable to secure legitimate employment, they fall prey to fake opportunities such as overseas job offers. Some of these workers end up in debt bondage, forced into labour to pay off loans. Others are coerced into crime or prostitution. Once their passports have been removed, they are unable to escape and may fear being arrested if they reported their situation to the authorities.

Modern day slavery is not restricted to developing countries. There are an estimated tens of thousands of slaves in the UK with people from Albania, Nigeria, Poland, Romania and Vietnam most heavily represented.

What can be Done About Modern Day Slavery?

Since 2009, in the UK, there has been a National Referral Mechanism in place aimed at identifying and supporting the victims of human trafficking. An increased emphasis on protection – including immunity from prosecution for minor crimes committed whilst slaves – was written into the Modern Slavery Act of 2015.

While continuing to enforce and develop these policies is critical, it is education which is the real key to overcoming modern day slavery once and for all. With a thorough grounding in citizenship, especially human rights, young people are more likely to grow up respecting everyone as individuals rather than commodities. By challenging discrimination at every level including race, religion, gender, social and economic background, the soil in which modern day slavery grows will become less fertile.

Citizenship education will also help young people to be aware of what is going on in their communities and to spot the signs of exploitation. This will help protect them from harm while empowering them to recognise the signs and report any suspicions.

2020 Dreams Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery workshops use proven strategies to engage with young people on these hugely important issues. We provide workshops throughout the UK and across different types of institution from primary and secondary schools to PRUs and Young Offenders’ Institutions.