GENEVA: Fifty million people around the world are trapped in forced labour or forced marriage, the UN said Monday, warning that their ranks had swelled dramatically in recent years.
The United Nations had set a goal to eradicate all forms of modern slavery by 2030, but the number of people caught up in forced labour or forced marriage ballooned by 10 million between 2016 and 2021, according to a new report.
The study by the UN’s agencies for labour and migration along with the Walk Free Foundation found that at the end of last year, 28 million people were in forced labour and 22 million living in a marriage they had been forced into.
That means nearly one out of every 150 people in the world are caught up in modern forms of slavery, the report said.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which worsened conditions and swelled debt levels for many workers, has heightened the risk, the report found.
Coupled with the effects of climate change and armed conflicts, it has contributed to “unprecedented disruption to employment and education, increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migration”, compounding the threat, it said.
“It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving,” Guy Ryder, head of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said in a statement.
“Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights.”
It is a long-term problem, the report cautioned, with estimates indicating entrapment in forced labour can last years while forced marriage is often “a life sentence”.
Women and children are by far the most vulnerable.
Children account for one out of five people in forced labour, with more than half of them stuck in commercial sexual exploitation, the report said.
Migrant workers are more than three times likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers, it showed.
“This report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular,” Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said in the statement.