Due to the hierarchical and inter-generational discrimination they have faced, communities discriminated on work and descent have been and continue to be subjected to forced labour, bonded labour and other contemporary forms of slavery.
By Paul Divakar Namala
One of the overriding threats facing women and children in the South Asian regions is the risk of being driven into forced labour and trafficking because of their identity as Dalits. The threats of these sorts are not new to the communities discriminated on work and decent, including Dalits. However, the scale and severity have reached new proportions.
Modern slavery occurs in a variety of situations in which victims are exploited for personal or commercial or sexual gain and warfare situations by the perpetrators. Among the forms of forced labour are bonded labour, debt bondage, forced child labour, sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, domestic servitude and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. According to the 2021 global estimates of modern slavery, 50 million people were living in modern slavery. Among them, 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage. The number of people in contemporary slavery has risen significantly in the past five years. 10 million more people were in modern slavery in 2021 compared to the 2016 global estimates.
The increasing number of victims of contemporary slavery suggest the need for effective implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 8.7 which is dedicated to eradicating forced labour, ending modern slavery and human trafficking and securing the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2025. Modern slavery poses a severe threat to the fundamental human rights of the affected people, particularly the CDWD. It pushes them into a vulnerable condition where they forced to compromise their rights to a dignified life.
Research studies conducted exclusively in Nepal, Bangladesh and India have for long examined the manifestations of contemporary forms of slavery in the varied forms prevalent among CDWD. The issues are different – forced labour and trafficking among Baadi, Haliya, Harwa and Charwa community chiefly observed in Nepal; in Bangladesh, mainly Dalit communities working in the plantation sector in Bangladesh; and, Dalit communities engaged in manual scavenging works besides other forced forms of work in India are few that can be named
Millions trapped in forced labour, trafficking
A discourse around modern forms of slavery is important. Due to the hierarchical and generational discrimination they have faced, communities discriminated on work and descent have been and continue to be subject to forced labour, bonded labour and other contemporary forms of slavery. There are many dimensions of modern slavery and discrimination based on work and descent and its varied forms in the South Asian context. However, the much explored nexus between these communities and contemporary or modern slavery has to be highlighted by civil society.
The relevance of such a discourse cannot be gainsaid. Today millions of children and adults are victims of modern slavery worldwide. Most of this exploitation is happening in the specific sections of work where millions of people are trapped in forced labour and trafficking. It is high time that the affected communities unite to fight against slavery and uphold their dignity. Civil society needs to engage in further research and advocacy to combat and eradicate forced labour and trafficking among communities discriminated on work and descent.
Paul Divakar Namala is the Convenor of the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent, across South Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.