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A UN report released Monday revealed that around 50 million people worldwide were living in “modern slavery” at the end of 2021, representing a major setback in progress.
The numbers were a 25% jump from the previous report in 2017 on people who were either forced labor or married.
“It is appalling that the situation of modern slavery has not improved,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement. “Nothing can justify the continuation of this fundamental violation of human rights.”
The ILO and its partners point to alarming trends such as “commercial sexual exploitation” affecting one in four people under forced labor – with the poor, women and children disproportionately at risk.
The International Labor Organization, along with the UN’s International Organization for Migration and the Walk Free Foundation – a rights group focused on modern slavery – reported that 28 million people were in forced labor and 22 in forced marriage at the end of 2021.
The report released on Monday said such figures represented an increase of 10 million people living under modern slavery since the last such report was published in 2017, based on figures a year ago. She added that two-thirds of the increase was related to forced marriage alone.
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Based on available data, the ILO and its partners have found increases in child and forced marriage in countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Congo, Egypt, India, Uganda and Yemen. But the report said wealthier countries are “not immune” to the problem, with nearly one in four forced marriages occurring in high- or upper-middle-income countries.
She added that crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and armed conflict, have fostered high rates of extreme poverty, unsafe migration and gender-based violence in recent years, increasing the risks of all modern forms of slavery.
Altogether, more than two-thirds of forced marriages were found in the Asia-Pacific region – the most populous region in the world – but the highest number per capita came in Arab countries where there were nearly 5 out of every 1,000 people in forced marriages.
Forced marriages are closely linked to “established patriarchal attitudes and practices” – while 85% of cases were driven by “family pressure,” the report said. Regarding forced labour, about one in eight of those affected were children and half were from commercial sexual exploitation.
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Guy Ryder, Director-General of the UN Labor Agency, which brings together workers, businesses and governments, called for a “collective action approach” and said: “Trade unions, employer groups, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.