India has the distinction of having the highest number of slaves, 18.35 million, as per a recent global slavery index. Activists said the situation could have improved if India had implemented legal reforms and raided factories, which employ illegal workers.
In the index released on 31 May, 40 percent of a total of 45.8 million victims of slavery in the world were counted in India. According to the report, children and adults are forced into labour, often unpaid or to pay off a debt and child brides.
The survey indicates some 1.4 percent of the Indian population are living under modern slavery conditions. Experts said while the problem had prevailed over the years, there are signs of a paradigm shift now. “We get 20 complaints per day about labor abuse. This shows that awareness is growing,” said Ramesh Sanger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
The carpet industry, which employed three lakh children a decade ago, now has 5,000 to 10,000 kids. While this was so, children forced to make plastic bangles in UP are negligible; thousands worked in this industry a decade ago.
India’s garment industry no longer employs children, said Sanger, “This is the result of regular police-backed raids. We rescued 400 children in one area between 2012-2014,” he said.
The Walk Free Foundation in a survey report stated North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar rank high in terms of slavery. However, apart from India, there are 3.39 million slaves in China, 2.13 million in Pakistan, 1.53 million in Bangladesh and 1.23 million slaves in Uzbekistan.
Despite India’s economic growth, many children end up doing toxic jobs such as rolling cigarettes, mining, in tanneries. Laws to keep kids in school are flouted with impunity.
The laws are there, but political will to implement them is absent, said activist Swami Agnivesh. Rural rich and urban rich exploit the situation as they are hardly annoyed by the central government, he added.