Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage


In 2021, close to 50 million people lived in conditions of modern slavery – 27.6 million in forced labour and 22 million in forced marriages. This report, published in September 2022, includes both labour and marriage within the ambit of modern slavery since both are “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, deception, abuse of power or other forms of coercion”.

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage has been published by International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free (a human rights group based out of Australia) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The report presents estimates for the year 2021. It states that the Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate change have all increased the vulnerability of the most marginalised sections of the society. This often results in forced labour or drives people into forced marriages.

The increase in the number of people living in conditions of forced labour was primarily due to its rise in private economy, the report adds.

This 144-page document has been divided into two parts, in addition to an introduction: Scale and manifestations of modern slavery (Part I); Ending modern slavery: the part of 2030 (Part II).


  1. The ILO defines forced labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. About 28 million people across the globe live in situations of forced labour, amounting to 3.5 in every 1,000 people.

  2. The report states that women and girls comprise 11.8 million of the total people in forced labour. About 3.4 million children live in conditions of forced labour where they work against their will. Children in forced labour are often made to engage in prostitution or trafficking of drugs, the report states.

  3. When compared to the estimates from the year 2016, the report reveals an increase of 2.7 million in instances of forced labour in 2021.

  4. The report states that the reduction in income caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic led to greater levels of indebtedness, giving rise to debt bondage among workers.

  5. The prevalence of forced labour among adult migrant workers is three times higher than the prevalence among adult non-migrant workers.

  6. As high as 86 per cent of all cases of forced labour occur in the private sector, primarily services (excluding domestic work), manufacturing, construction, agriculture (excluding fishing) and domestic work. The services sector (excluding domestic work) – engaging in trade, transport, hospitality – hosts the largest share of forced labourers.

  7. As of 2021, about 6.3 million people (girls or women, primarily) live in situations of forced commercial sexual exploitation.

  8. Non-payment of wages, dismissal from employment, physical abuse, threats of deportation and forced confinement are common forms of coercion faced by those working in conditions of forced labour. One-fifth of people in forced labour are in situations of debt bondage where they are made to work against their will to repay a debt. Often, the debt is manipulated to ensure that it is not settled to engender conditions of forced labour.

  9. The report states that forced marriages are a highly gendered practice – primarily affecting women and girls. About 22 million people in 2021 live in forced marriages. This number increased by 6.6 million since 2016. Out of these, 14.9 million are women or girls.

  10. Among those living in forced marriages, 73 per cent were forced to marry by their parents (73 per cent) or other relatives (16 per cent).

  11. The report offers recommendations to end forced labour, including promotion of fair and ethical recruitment practices, extending social protection to workers in the private sector, and greater enforcement of regulations which bring perpetrators to justice and dissuade future offenders.

  12. To end instances of forced marriages, the report recommends legislations which are gender-sensitive. In addition to these, there is a need to challenge and revise cultural norms which are patriarchal through community-level education, the report states.

    Focus and Factoids by Dipanjali Singh.

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM)


International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM)


12 Sep, 2022