Annual index claims 2.5m people are in slavery in Southeast Asia, with Cambodia and Myanmar ranking among the worst in the world
Cambodia and Myanmar are among the ten countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery, according to a new report. This puts the former – at number three – just below North Korea and Uzbekistan in the Global Slavery Index, while the latter – at number nine – falls just behind Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Compiled by campaign organisation the Walk Free Foundation, the Global Slavery Index 2016 defines modern slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal”.
The Walk Free Foundation found that more 256,000 and 515,000 people from Cambodia and Myanmar respectively were enslaved. Within the Asia-Pacific region, these numbers were eclipsed by India, where 18.3m people are in slavery, and China, with an estimate of 3.3m.
Just under 2.5m people are in slavery across Southeast Asia, more than 0.5% of the region’s population. Brunei, Thailand and Malaysia followed Cambodia and Myanmar in the rankings, while Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia have the lowest rates in the region.
The report listed forced labour in the agriculture and garment sectors as being common in the region as well as in the manufacturing, food production and construction industries. Women were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation, forced marriage and domestic servitude. In addition, large numbers of women and girls continued to migrate internally and internationally for jobs as domestic workers, leaving the vulnerable to abuse.
Even in relatively developed Malaysia, forced labour was recorded in electronics factories and oil-palm plantations. And the abuse of workers on Thai fishing vessels operating in Southeast Asian waters has become increasingly well documented. The foundation also noted ongoing reports of worker exploitation in Southeast Asia’s seafood pre-processing facilities, with workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos working excessive hours in oppressive and abusive conditions.
The forced marriage of women and girls remains prevalent in Indonesia and the trafficking of women from Cambodia and Vietnam to be sold as brides in China persists. Meanwhile, “forced prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls continues to be a reality in the Asian region.” Added to this, rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones, and poverty in many parts of Asia has facilitated online forms of child sexual abuse for profit.
“Unlike major world epidemics such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, slavery is a human condition of our own making,” said Andrew Forrest, Walk Free Foundation’s co-founder in the report.
“People freed from bondage become the world’s most incentivised work force; they never want to return to their previous existence,” Forrest added. “The freeing of communities from slavery not only brings in the rule of law, it emphasises property rights, common decency and strength of family for each former individual in slavery.”