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Nearly 30 million people are living in slavery around the globe, many of them trafficked by gangs for sex work and unskilled labour, according to a global slavery survey released on Thursday.
The survey by anti-slavery charity Walk Free Foundation ranked 162 countries on the number of people living in slavery, the risk of enslavement, and the strength of government responses to combating the illegal activity.
It found that 10 countries accounted for 76 percent of the 29.8 million people living in slavery across the world –India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma and Bangladesh.
Modern slavery was defined as human trafficking, forced labour, and practices such as debt bondage, forced marriage, and the sale or exploitation of children.
Australian mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest helped fund the study.
“The idea of a slavery index is to now properly measure it, top down, academically, government by government, around the world. It’s long overdue. We have to do it so we can fight it,” he said.
“Within a year or so we’re going to have a very good read on this industry, probably for the first time in human history.”
The report found Mauritania in West Africa had the highest number of slaves proportionately, with up to 160,000 enslaved in a population of 3.8 million, due to culturally-sanctioned forms of chattel slavery and high levels of child marriage.
The highest absolute numbers were almost 14 million in slavery in India and 3 million in China.
Forrest said the number of people being exploited is at its highest today.
“The exploitation of the very weakest – the darkest side of the human mind that is willing to totally abuse for exploitation of greed, profit, sex, whatever it is, another human being. And in our population as we sit in the modern-day world there has never been the number of slaves probably even collectively as there are in the world today,” he said.
Coming last in the index were Iceland, Ireland and Britain although these countries were not slavery-free.
Up to 4,400 people are estimated to be enslaved in Britain, the victims mainly from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. They are forced into sex work, domestic servitude, or low-paid jobs in agriculture, construction, restaurants and nail salons.
The Walk Free Foundation said they hope the findings influence governments worldwide.