Slavery in the Twenty-First Century

The Walk Free Foundation has released The Global Slavery Index 2013. The Index provides an estimate of the number of people living as slaves in the twenty-first century. The Index lists 162 countries around the world where some form modern slavery exists and the estimated number of people who are living in forced servitude.

According to The Walk Free Foundation, “Slavery refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed.” Slavery in the twenty-first century takes different forms, such as forced labor or human trafficking.

The Walk Free Foundation describes modern-day slavery as follows:

“Forced labour” is a related but not identical concept, referring to work taken without consent, by threats or coercion.

“Human trafficking” is another related concept, referring to the process through which people are brought, through deception, threats or coercion, into slavery, forced labour or other forms of severe exploitation.

Whatever term is used, the significant characteristic of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves one person depriving another people of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to leave one workplace for another, their freedom to control their own body.

Below is an excerpt taken from The Global Slavery Index 2013 listing a few of the countries where slavery exists and the approximate number of slaves in each country:

1. Country ranking by prevalence of population in modern slavery

Mauritania, a West African nation with deeply entrenched hereditary slavery, is ranked number 1 in the Index. This reflects the high prevalence of slavery in Mauritania – it is estimated that there are between 140,000 – 160,000 people enslaved in Mauritania, a country with a population of just 3.8 million. This ranking also reflects high levels of child marriage, and to a lesser extent, human trafficking.

Haiti, a Caribbean nation plagued by conflict, natural disaster and with deeply entrenched practices of child slavery (the restavek system), is second on the Index. This reflects high prevalence of modern slavery – an estimated 200,000 – 220,000 people are in modern slavery in Haiti, a country with a population of just 10.2 million. This ranking also reflects high levels of child marriage, and human trafficking from Haiti itself.

Pakistan, with its porous borders to Afghanistan, large populations of displaced persons and weak rule of law, is third on the Index. It is estimated that there are between 2,000,000 – 2,200,000 people in various forms of modern slavery in Pakistan, a country with a population of over 179 million.

2. Estimated number of population in modern slavery

The Global Slavery Index also provides insight into the estimated absolute numbers of people in modern slavery, in 162 countries. When the estimated number of enslaved people is considered in absolute terms as a single factor, the country ranking shifts considerably.

The countries with the highest numbers of enslaved people are India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Taken together, these countries account for 76% of the total estimate of 29.8 million in modern slavery.

The country with the largest estimated number of people in modern slavery is India, which is estimated to have between 13,300,000 and 14,700,000 people enslaved. The India country study suggests that while this involves the exploitation of some foreign nationals, by far the largest proportion of this problem is the exploitation of Indians citizens within India itself, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labour.

The country with the second highest absolute numbers of enslaved is China, with an estimated 2,800,000 to 3,100,000 in modern slavery. The China country study suggests that this includes the forced labour of men, women and children in many parts of the economy, including domestic servitude and forced begging, the sexual exploitation of women and children, and forced marriage.

The country with the third highest absolute number in modern slavery is Pakistan, with an estimated 2,000,000 to 2,200,000 people in modern slavery.

What can I say about slavery? Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Slavery in the Old Testament:

Slavery is abhorrent because it violates the rights of men and women as individuals and because it denies them their freedom. The declaration that slavery is abhorrently wrong is based on two fundamental concepts. One, slavery is wrong because it deprives individuals of their dignity and their rights as human beings. Second, slavery degrades individuals by treating them as chattel, as property that can be bought and sold, as individuals that are considered to be less than humans. Slavery deprives men and women of their freedom since the majority of slaves remain bound to their masters for an indefinite period of time, with no possibility of redemption or liberty.

Slavery is forced servitude in which a person becomes the property of another person and works for the economic benefit of the master. Slavery is the exploitation of persons for the benefit of those who enslave them. Slavery is degrading because it treats human beings as property and not as individuals with worth and dignity. Slaves become objects that can be used and disposed of without regards for their feelings.

Freedom is a basic human right of every individual. Slavery is a denial that every human being has intrinsic values and has the right to liberty and freedom. Slavery demeans personhood by treating people like animals, by denying them some of the basic rights enjoyed by their owners. Slaves are not free to leave their situation of dependency because slavery is considered to be a form of forced imprisonment.

Christians everywhere must oppose and condemn all kinds of human trafficking and all kinds of involuntary servitude.

You can read The Global Slavery Index 2013 online (134 pages).

You can download an executive summary (6 pages) of the report here.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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3 Responses to Slavery in the Twenty-First Century

  1. Brian says:

    Your blog is still being hacked. Now it is showing Russian characters in Feedly.


    • Claude Mariottini says:


      I know that this is happening. The only solution is to stop blogging until I can fix this problem. I am working with WordPress and I hope to fix this by Monday.

      Thank you for your note.

      Claude Mariottini


  2. Pingback: [New post] Slavery in the Twenty-First Century | Truth2Freedom's Blog

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