South Africa’s slavery shame: 250,000 people who are slaves in our society

The latest Global Slavery Index for 2016 shows that there are 250,000 people in South Africa who are living in conditions of modern slavery – the 27th highest rate in the world.

Different countries use different terminology to describe “modern slavery”, including the term slavery itself, but the term includes other concepts such as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, and the sale and exploitation of children.

It is estimated that there are 45.8 million people in the world who are living in conditions of slavery across the globe – almost 60% of which are in only 5 countries (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan).

“Measuring the number of people in modern slavery is a difficult undertaking due to the hidden nature of this crime and low levels of victim identification,” the Walk Free Foundation said.

To better gauge the prevalence of slavery in the world today, the index covers 24 variables which assess a population’s vulnerability to enslavement, and covers their political rights and safety; financial and health protections; protection for the most vulnerable; and levels of conflict.

Since 2014, the foundation included 25 surveys from Gallup Inc, interviewing more than 28,000 respondents in 52 languages. In 2016, state-level surveys were also included, which took the total figure up to 48,000 people surveyed.

The prevalence estimates in the Index are based on data from these surveys, the results of which have been extrapolated to countries with an equivalent risk profile.

The worst 10 countries for modern day slavery

# Country Est. no. of modern slaves % of population
1 North Korea 1 100 000 4.37%
2 Uzbekistan 1 236 600 3.97%
3 Cambodia 256 800 1.65%
4 India 18 354 700 1.40%
5 Qatar 30 300 1.36%
6 Pakistan 2 134 900 1.13%
6 DRC 873 100 1.13%
6 Sudan 454 700 1.13%
6 Iraq 403 800 1.13%
6 Afghanistan 367 600 1.13%
6 Yemen 303 200 1.13%
6 Syria 257 300 1.13%
6 South Sudan 139 400 1.13%
6 Somalia 121 900 1.13%
6 Libya 70 900 1.13%
6 Central African Republic 55 400 1.13%
7 Mauritania 43 000 1.06%
8 Haiti 106 600 1.00%
8 Dominican Republic 104 800 1.00%
9 Myanmar 515 100 0.96%
10 Bangladesh 1 531 300 0.95%
27 South Africa 248 700 0.45%

Slavery in South Africa

According to the report, New survey data from South Africa has confirmed the existence of forced labour in the commercial sex industry, construction, manufacturing and factory work, as well as in drug trafficking in the country.

Slavery in South Africa takes the form of forced marriage, the report said, with an estimated 10,600 girls and women being victims of the act.

While South Africa is ranked 27th overall, looking at the absolute numbers of modern slaves, the country ranks 28th.

According to Richard Ots, Chief of Mission for IOM South Africa, there is no sector or region in the country that is not affected by modern slavery.

“We have seen fishermen from the Far East arrive in Cape Town after years at sea without breaks or remuneration. We have seen girls come in to work as waitresses but end up in prostitution, and little boys as young as seven years being trafficked from West Africa to South Africa, having been told that they will become famous soccer players here,” he said.

The bulk of South Africa’s modern slaves are involved in sex work, which remains illegal in the country. Child labour puts more victims at risk for exploitation, while endemic sexual assault and rape increase the risk among the most vulnerable sectors of society, the report said.

These are the sectors where forced labour and slavery is most common in South Africa:

  • Sex work – 43%
  • Other sectors – 19%
  • Construction – 11%
  • Drug production – 8%
  • Other manufacturing – 6%
  • Farming – 5%
  • Retail – 4%
  • Domestic work – 4%

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South Africa’s slavery shame: 250,000 people who are slaves in our society