We know now that slavery isn’t only about the past, and that the institution still thrives. An estimated 35.8 million people around the world were slaves in 2014, according to the Global Slavery Index.
By definition, modern slavery includes forced labor, sexual exploitation, child labor and inter-generational bonded servitude. Every country on Earth is affected, Africa, disproportionately so. The following African coutries have the highest prevalence of slavery today according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index.
Percentages below reflect the proportion of the population estimated to be enslaved, according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index. Also check out this ranking of the 15 countries with the most slavery in the world.
Sources: GlobalSlaveryIndex.org, GVNet.com/HumanTraffic, US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report
One of Africa’s most densely populated countries with a population of more than 16 million, land-locked Malawi has an estimated 122,000 people living in slavery. Forced labor on tobacco plantations is commonplace, as is trafficking for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. The Malawi government has done little to curb its human trafficking problem, with little to no anti-trafficking legislation, a woefully inadequate shelter system, and a lack of child protection officers to keep vulnerable children from being forced into slavery.
More than 90 percent of Burkina Faso’s population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, which is often detrimentally impacted by periodic drought, leaving many vulnerable to slavery. An estimated 126,300 people are thought to be caught up in modern slavery in the country, many of whom are children, who are forced into sexual slavery and labor in gold mines and stone quarries, as well as in agriculture. Many are also trafficked across the border into Côte d’Ivoire and other West African countries for work on cocoa farms.
The caste-based slavery practices in Niger date back for centuries, and remain entrenched in modern culture. Nearly 133,000 people are estimated to be enslaved in Niger, and a poor economy, perpetual drought cycles, and an exploding population made the problem difficult to control. It was only in 2003 that the Niger government passed a law that banned slavery outright, but little has been done to enforce it.
An estimated 192,600 people are enslaved in Mozambique, many of whom are victims of the country’s 15-year-long civil war that left the majority of citizens in poverty. Many Mozambican slaves are trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation, often with the complicity of family members. They’re moved from rural areas to urban ones, or to places in South Africa for forced farm or mining work. It was also found that slaves are sought for the practice of forcible body-part removal by for supposed medical treatments.
Ghana’s population of nearly 26 million people has an estimated 193,100 living in slavery, with higher incidences of domestic trafficking than international. Women and girls are primarily forced into sexual exploitation, while men and boys are often forced into agriculture and fishing labor. Children are often forced to work begging on the street. An estimated 30,000 children in Accra are thought to be enslaved in this type of servitude.
The 18,300 enslaved people in Botswana have not seen the benefits of the country’s economic gains in recent years. Unemployment rates and HIV/AIDS rates are still high. Botswana nationals are often trafficked internally for domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and forced labor on cattle farms. The country is often used as a staging area to smuggle citizens of other countries (primarily Namibia and Zimbabwe) into South Africa.
Despite the relative wealth of Namibia in comparison to many other sub-Saharan African countries, there is heavy economic dependence on mineral exports. An estimated 20,900 people are enslaved amidst massive income inequality. Trafficking of people into mining work is extremely common, as well as for prostitution, cattle herding, vending, and forced agricultural labor. Many Namibians’ depend on subsistence farming, leaving them susceptible to droughts and food shortages, and more vulnerable to modern slavery practices.
The Republic of Congo is estimated to have 49,200 people trapped in modern slavery, many of whom are children exploited for sexual servitude, forced market vending, and forced labor in the fishing industry. The Pygmy people, a community that lives in the Republic of Congo’s rainforests, are also known to suffer disproportionate atrocities. They are often forced into debt slavery and refused basic civil rights and access to health or education systems.
Ongoing violence in the Central African Republic has contributed to more than 52,200 people being forced into modern slavery. Massive populations of internally displaced persons, as well as refugees have been caught in webs of sexual slavery, child marriage, child soldier recruitment, and forced labor in gold and diamond reserves. In 2014, the CAR government estimated that more than 44 percent of the population had experienced sexual violence in some way, and more than 6,000 children were being used in armed conflict.
An estimated 429,000 people are enslaved in Sudan, a country with a long history of involvement in slavery. Today, most modern slaves are caught in commercial sexual exploitation, child marriages, and trafficking related to seeking asylum and refugee status. The ongoing violence from civil war between the north and south created a vast population of refugees. Those who seek work opportunities abroad are often trapped in forced labor agreements set up between traffickers and “employers.”
With a population of more than 67 million, approximately 762,000 are enslaved in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most prevalent forms of slavery in the DRC is forced labor, often through a practice of debt bondage, in which workers must borrow from employers to begin work and are forced to stay indefinitely to pay off their debts. Other forms of slavery include commercial sexual exploitation and child solider recruitment. Political instability and ongoing violence from armed rebel groups – especially surrounding the region’s mineral wealth – have created an enormous population of internally displaced persons who are more vulnerable to slavery. Weak infrastructure and rampant poverty have made the issue even more difficult to tackle.
Mauritania has an estimated 155,600 people in modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index, representing 4 percent of its nearly 3.9-million population. The institution of slavery is deeply entrenched in Mauritanian society and tradition — slave status is inherited through generations. Black Moors represent the highest enslaved populations, as they were traditionally raided and enslaved by the Berber Arabs, or white Moors, years ago. While many have left slavery, others remained enslaved by their traditional masters and are unable to own land, inherit property or other possessions, or maintain any personal freedoms. Though the Mauritian government established a plan of action to combat slavery in 2013, its special tribunal has yet to prosecute any cases of crimes of slavery, and there is little evidence to suggest it has followed through on any of the responsibilities it was entrusted with.
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