Walk Free Global Slavery Index, Report Cover


Country NameRank
Côte d’Ivoire8
The Gambia9


The Global Slavery Index provides a ranking of 162 countries, reflecting a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. The measure is heavily weighted to reflect the first factor, prevalence. A number one ranking is the worst, 160 is the best.

India is ranked 4th


India’s challenges are immense. The world’s second most populous country with a population of over 1.2 billion people, India exhibits the full spectrum of different forms of modern slavery, from severe forms of inter-generational bonded labour across various industries to the worst forms of child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced and servile marriage. India’s own 2008 Integrated Plan of Action to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking describes the problem as follows: “India is a country of vast dimensions. The formidable challenge is the enormity of the problem, both in number of trafficked persons and increasing number of locations.”5 The 2013 US TIP Report cites figures of an estimated 20 to 65 million Indian citizens in forced labour within India as a result of debt bondage.6 While this estimate is much larger than the Walk Free estimate, both estimates underscore the enormity of the problem within India itself.


Reports consistently note that India’s most significant challenge is the high number of Indian citizens in various forms of modern slavery within India’s borders. For example, the 2013 US TIP Report that suggests ninety per cent of trafficking in India is internal.7 Some of this results from internal migration, as migrants can originate from poor rural communities, lured to relatively wealthier cities by brokers on the false pretence of employment. Internally trafficked men, women and children make up significant shares of the workforce in construction, textiles, brick making, mines, fish and prawn processing and hospitality.8 However it is important to note that many of India’s enslaved have not been moved from one place to another – they are enslaved in their own villages. Many are trapped in debt bondage to a local landowner or born into slavery because of caste, customary, social and hereditary obligations.

Forced labour has been identified in factory work, agriculture, brick making, mining and quarrying, the textiles and garments industries, domestic work, and forced begging. Bonded labour, whether through debt or other forms of ‘bondage’ of workers, is rife in stone quarries, brick kilns, construction and mining.9 The difficulty for internal migrant workers in accessing protections and government entitlements, such as the food rations card, which is based on a worker’s residence, is thought to increase vulnerability to exploitation.10 Likewise for those enslaved in their own area, corruption or non-performance of safety nets (such as the National Employment Guarantee, food rations, primary health care and pensions) and practices of land grabbing and asset domination by high caste groups (or for commercial development) leaves people without protections. Some of those affected by slavery in India do not officially exist – they have no birth registration or ID so it can be hard for them to access protective entitlements.

Cross-border migration affects India on a massive scale. Low skilled migrant workers – both internal and foreign (regular and irregular) – are at particular risk of exploitation. Vast numbers of Nepali and Bhutanese migrants, who are exempt from Indian migration visa regulations, fall victim to unscrupulous recruiters and exploiters who take advantage of their vulnerability as new arrivals. Among these vulnerable cross border migrants are droves of undocumented Bangladeshis who, as unskilled labourers, are not able to qualify for employment visas,11 and turn to illegal brokers to facilitate employment.


Sexual exploitation of Indian women, men, transgender people and children within India, is widespread.12 Commercial sexual exploitation takes place in specific established areas but is also now much more dispersed into rural areas, transport hubs, roadside restaurants and houses in suburban areas, extensively using cell phones, making it harder to locate and tackle. Foreign women, largely from Nepal and Bangladesh, have been identified in situations of commercial sexual exploitation.13

In 2011, the ILO Committee of Experts “noted the Government [of India’s] indication in its 2008 Report that since the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (BLSA), 287,555 bonded labourers had been identified, of whom 267,593 had been rehabilitated.”14 However, the ILO Committee of Experts also noted that “findings from research studies showed that bonded labour in agriculture and in industries like mining, brick kilns, silk and cotton production, and bidi making was likely to be affecting millions of workers across the country.”15 The ILO Committee of Experts has urged India to undertake national bonded labour surveys. Also, the identification and rehabilitation noted by the ILO Experts happened a long time ago, and in many Indian States local officials are not currently encouraged or supported to find bonded labourers.16

The 2012 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons noted a global dimension to trafficking flows originating in South Asia.17 Indian nationals who have migrated for work have found themselves in modern slavery – often involving recruitment intermediaries and debt bondage – around the world. They have been exploited in various industries including construction, mining, agriculture and hospitality, in manual labour and commercial sexual exploitation, as well as in private domestic work and as domestic staff at Indian diplomatic missions abroad.


The World Bank estimated in 2012 that 32.7% of Indians lived below the international poverty line of less than US$1.25/day (PPP). Poverty and India’s caste system are significant contributing factors to its modern slavery problem. Indians most vulnerable to modern slavery are those from the ‘lower’ castes (dalits), and the indigenous communities (adivasis), especially women and children. In surveys of violence and discrimination against women, India is consistently ranked poorly. The low status of women and severity and prevalence of domestic violence in society puts them at risk of modern slavery.18

‘Non-labour’ forms of modern slavery, including forced and servile marriage, fraudulent adoption and organ trafficking have been identified in India. Forced marriage is partly fuelled by sex-ratio disparity – those states with worst disparity import girls into servile marriages from poorer states.19 Commercial surrogacy is legal in India and is an area of concern because of the potential for exploitation to occur, however no cases that would constitute modern slavery have been publicly verified, and surrogacy laws are in the process of being tightened.20


The Government has taken some important steps to set up the infrastructure of a response to various forms of modern slavery. For example, if fully implemented, the social safety net provisions such as the Employment Guarantee could be a best practice to be followed by other countries. However, considering the power and resources of the Indian Government, the Government has not fulfilled its duty to protect its citizens. Until recently, the response to human trafficking focused almost exclusively on the sexual exploitation of women and children, and other forms of human trafficking including those affecting men were barely recognised. National leaders tend not to recognise the violent criminality of bonded labour and instead see it as a vestige of poverty.21

India has ratified a number of key Conventions relevant to modern slavery. However, India is one of the few remaining countries in the world not to have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. While not always slavery, these so called “worst forms” of child labour covered by this Convention occur on a significant scale in India and are deeply connected to the modern slavery issue. India’s Right to Education – whereby the authorities are required to ensure all children of school going age are in school – is important, as is the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, in making a difference in some areas. There have been efforts in many places to enforce child labour laws. India has not ratified the Domestic Work Convention.

Until recently, Indian legislation on modern slavery was complicated and confused. However, following amendments to the Penal Code in April 2013, all forms of human trafficking are now criminalised in accordance with the definition from the UN Trafficking Protocol. The definition used in the amended Penal Code appears broad enough, at least on paper, to include most if not all forms of forced labour, bonded labour and forced marriage (as bonded labour and forced marriage are covered within the meaning of the term ‘slavery like practice’). However, it remains to be seen if the Penal Code will be used in this way.

Bonded labour has been criminalised in India, under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 (BLSA)22 for close to three decades. However, enforcement has been sporadic and weak. The Act declares that bonded labour is abolished as of 25 October 1975, and that bonded labourers were relieved of their obligation to repay their bonded debt. However, in 2013, bonded labour continues to be prevalent and NGOs report having insufficient resources to empower communities to shed the burden of forced labour. Human rights defenders have also been targeted for anti-slavery work: one NGO reported an attack on their workers, as well as victims and officials while in process of assisting bonded labourers to leave the workplace where they had been held in slavery.23 Penalties under this law are low, set at a maximum of three years imprisonment, compared to ten years under the recent human trafficking amendments to the Penal Code.


NGOs have stated that enforcement of laws criminalising modern slavery is inconsistent, and the complicity or interference of government officials has been widely reported.24 As a result national and state level responses are not benefitting those in slavery as much as they should, due to complicity of local officials and their avoidance of conflict with locally powerful slaveholders and traffickers.


The justice system is very slow generally, so victims have little or no confidence in its capacity to deliver a result.25 NGOs have also reported a focus on the trafficking of women and children, particularly for sexual exploitation, and less willingness on the part of government and law enforcement to deal with the exploitation of adult males, or to address the far more locally prevalent forms of debt bondage or bonded labour.

Information is not available about the Indian Government’s total budget allocation to responding to modern slavery. It is known that the Indian Government has increased funding of anti-trafficking activities to state governments, however there is notable variation among states’ budgetary allocations and responses to the problem of modern slavery.26 For example, the May 2013 UNODC Country Assessment for India noted that in Uttar Pradesh in India’s north and bordering with Nepal, “the state has not taken any concrete steps to combat trafficking.”27 In the state of Odisha in India’s East, on the other hand, preventative steps have been taken and various initiatives are in place to identify vulnerable communities and provide services to victims.28


In 2005, the Ministry of Rural Development introduced the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing one hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members agree to do unskilled manual work.29 This scheme provides an alternative for those trapped in bonded labour and the national Government and NGOs are working hard to popularise this. In some states, the ability of NREGA to benefit those in need depends on NGO mobilisation of local populations to pressure local village leaders. More investment in NGO outreach and enforcement of NREGA is needed to ensure its proper implementation. If fully implemented, NREGA would be a programme of global significance in the fight against modern slavery.

The National Advisory Committee to Combat Trafficking focuses on the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation. Meetings of the Committee occurred in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Reports of the National Advisory Committee are not publicly available but the main issues discussed are shared through press notes as well as the advisories issued by the Central Government to the state governments to combat trafficking. For example, a 2012 Advisory on Human Trafficking as an Organised Crime, issued under the integrated Plan of Action, focuses on the requirements of an effective criminal justice response to human trafficking. This Advisory notes the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the national lead, and single point of liaison between the Ministry of External Affairs and State parties on conventions and protocols. The Advisory recommends several key action points; primarily the establishment and training of Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) at State level including the training of local police officers for law enforcement and local intelligence units. According to the Advisory, State police agencies may set up help lines and special desks in police stations and control rooms to address this issue on a real time basis. However, the number of AHTUs that have been established at the State level that meet this standard is unknown.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, along with UNODC, developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification of victims of trafficking, in 2009. State governments were advised to implement them, but as of March 2013 no evaluation of the implementation of the SOPs has been conducted. Many officials are unaware of relevant laws and procedures, however recent initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of modern slavery among police, such as a new academic course for police run by the Indira Gandhi National Open University,30 are encouraging.


Significant gaps remain in the support provided to victims of modern slavery in India. Gaps include a failure to provide Release Certificates for rescued bonded labourers, especially in States that do not acknowledge bonded labour.31 Even for those with Release Certificates there are serious delays in issuing payments of compensation.32 There is a critical need for clearer, faster and more victim-focused processes of repatriation and visa assistance for foreign victims, who can sometimes be stuck in shelters for years. Services to foreign migrant workers are ad hoc and are mainly delivered by NGOs and IOs. For example, Migrant Resource Centres exist in Kerala and Hyderabad and are run by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) in collaboration with local government and IOM. Limited support and services are available to Indian nationals exploited abroad, through embassies and labour attaches. MOIA has also set up Indian Community Welfare Fund to provide legal, medical and repatriation support to the stranded Indian workers abroad. The Ministry for Women and Child Development funds a number of services run by NGOs for women victims. It is not clear whether any surveys have been carried out regarding client-victim satisfaction with services provided. No services are offered under these programmes to adult male victims. The quality of government run shelter homes ranges from acceptable to very poor, with women in some states being left to languish in these homes, with poor nutrition and medical care, and few opportunities to improve their skills for the future. There is no effective inspection and regulation system in some states, with shelter homes (including those run by NGOs) operating as closed systems without any effective protections for the women. Adult women survivors are not necessarily free to leave.

Provisions within the Penal Code allow a victim of trafficking to seek compensation against a perpetrator. No information is available as to whether or not these have ever been successfully used. There is also a state fund for victims of bonded labour under the BLSA, through which victims of bonded labour are entitled to compensation of 20,000 rupees (approx. $450); however disbursement of funds has been uneven.33 Women and children in bonded labour in commercial sexual exploitation do not get access to this standard compensation because their cases are not prosecuted under the BLSA.34


In 2011, Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which is mandated by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of the BLSA, established a Core Group on Bonded Labour. The Core Group is chaired by NHRC and brings together government and non-government actors working to end bonded labour to review laws and policies, identify best practice, and coordinate the country’s response. It seems the core group has only met once.

On 15 October 2012, the Supreme Court issued a judgment, requiring all states to carry out surveys to identify and release those in bonded labour. It is understood that the State of Karnataka is leading in this regard, with a detailed Karnataka State Action Plan on Bonded Labour 2008, which provides detailed guidance for every responsible official, and specifies the exact support available to victims in the State.35 Other States are yet to follow this lead. Karnataka has recently trained officials across the whole state in how to carry out these surveys and register individuals found in bonded labour.36

Other important directions in the Supreme Court judgment include mandating the rural and urban local bodies to report cases of bonded labour to the District Magistrates who in addition to use of the BLSA, are able to properly and effectively implement the Minimum Wages Act, the Employees Compensation Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The enactment of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012 and the recent increase in activity of the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights are important measures that demonstrate the Government’s renewed commitment to fighting against the exploitation of children.

Sale of sexual services is prevalent but highly stigmatised, and, to the extent it is ‘organised,’ it is criminalised in India. A 2009 UNDP research paper estimated that there were over 3 million sex workers in India, a significant proportion of whom were “seasonal migrants and commuters.” Many of these people began this work as children. A focus on brothel raids and ‘rescue’ of victims is a prominent feature of India’s response. There have been several reported instances of women being detained against their will in ‘shelters’ and forced into social programmes.37  Since the case of Buddhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal38 in the Supreme Court, a committee has been established to “examine the issue of rehabilitation of sex workers and trafficked victims.”39 Any response should first and foremost respect the human rights of those affected, and ensure that they are not criminalised, detained or forced into ‘rehabilitation’ programmes. Responses to modern slavery should be careful to take into account that while victims of human trafficking need to be assisted to freedom, some adults work in the sex industry for survival.


India should:

  • Report annually on implementation and progress of efforts to combat all forms of modern slavery, including through provision of criminal justice statistics. This will require the establishment of protocols on the collection and compilation of data.
  • Undertake national prevalence estimates on modern slavery.
  • Ratify and implement the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and the Domestic Work Convention.
  • Require States to report on how they have followed up on the Supreme Court Judgement of October 15, 2012, which required all states to carry out surveys to identify and release those in bonded labour. The efforts currently being made in the State of Karnataka should be promoted and followed by other States.
  • Update rules for use in implementing the Bonded Labour Act.
  • Update the 2008 integrated Plan of Action to combat human trafficking so that it reflects current conditions, the new law and targets the full spectrum of modern slavery.
  • At the State level, develop and implement action plans on bonded labour in every state and union territory, following the example of the Karnataka State Action Plan on Bonded Labour 2008. Appoint a high level responsible officer at the State and District level, who focuses only on tasks related to bonded labour and other forms of modern slavery. Official District Bonded Labour Vigilance Committees should be made active, involving committed NGO representatives and slavery survivors.
  • Undertake an assessment to understand whether the AHTUs established are consistently applying relevant laws and guidance, and understand whether all forms of modern slavery are in fact being investigated and prosecuted.
  • Strengthen protections for victims of modern slavery and ensure that they are not criminalised. Victims must be protected (including protecting their identities) throughout the duration of their cases and methods of speeding up trials should be implemented. Ensure follow-up with reintegrated survivors.
  • Invest in well-supported outreach to typical sites of slave labour to raise awareness about rights.
  • Upgrade shelter homes and take steps to ensure that the human rights of shelter home residents are observed and penalties imposed on those who violate their rights. Sheltering of victims (by both NGOs and government) should not in reality be a system of false imprisonment and punishment. The qualification of leadership of these institutions, as well as the training and re-training of staff should be given close attention. A programme of investment in upgrading and of independent participation in unannounced inspections should be initiated.
  • Clarify legal, policy and law enforcement responses to commercial sexual exploitation, and respect the human rights of those affected by any response, including those who depend on working in the sex industry for survival, who are not in slavery.
  • Ensure ‘raids’ follow victim-centred procedures to ensure they help more than harm.
  • Strengthen efforts directed at stamping out corruption and complicity of government officials in modern slavery, including through encouraging innovative, no-cost mechanisms to report suspected official complicity.
  • Continue efforts directed at addressing the underlying causes of modern slavery – such as poverty, illiteracy, underemployment, violence against women, discrimination, lack of access to entitlements such as functioning schools and health services, and social exclusion.
  • Seek to address the “grass is greener over there” stories with information dissemination about the realities of migration, and mobility – and also build specific institutional capacity to inform people and communities about mobility.
  • Read more here — http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/country/india/?utm_source=outbrain&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=india&utm_campaign=globalslaveryindex


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