The famous adage of ‘knowledge is power’ is particularly relevant to the fight against modern slavery – and most crucially, to its effectiveness. Identifying the extent of modern slavery, the challenges in addressing it and its weaknesses is a yearly endeavor undertaken by consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft. Its recently published 2017 Modern Slavery Index has underlined two key issues: the positive correlation between migrant arrivals and higher modern slavery risks in Europe, and the persistent yet unaddressed consequences of unregulated outsourcing to the developing world.
With legislation criminalising modern slavery blossoming in the UK, France, and the Netherlands, Europe seemed poised to do well. But Europe fared worse than hoped, with nearly three quarters of EU countries witnessing a risk in modern slavery risks. Romania’s modern slavery situation is deemed as deteriorating more than in any country in the world, leading it to drop 56 places in the ranking to 66th highest risk. Italy was found to be the second worst-faring EU country, with modern slavery instances expected to rise in line with the steady drip of migrant sea arrivals. Turkey suffered the 2nd worst drop in the index owing to similar reasons, proving that modern slavery is not independent from contingent factors, and will not be solved unless the root causes are addressed.
The most disappointing results were those that were expected the least. Germany and the UK, countries often regarded as epitomising the rule of law, dropped from the ‘low risk’ to the ‘medium risk’ category, due to gaps in the former’s labour inspectorate, and increase of trafficking crimes in the latter’s territory. Such a negative development is particularly surprising in light of the UK’s recent Modern Slavery Act, which fuelled hopes for positive change.
But the report also revealed more of the same. It unsurprisingly confirmed fears that Asian manufacturing hubs, such as Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines remain in the ‘extreme’ or ‘high risk’ categories. India and Thailand, whose development and enforcement of anti-slavery and anti-trafficking laws has resulted in drastically improved rankings in the MSI, provide a glimmer of hope for the South East Asian region. However, this progress is unlikely to extend to the entirety of the region without international comprehensive legislation making modern slavery a crime both domestically and abroad.
A possible solution is for foreign jurisdictions to take the first steps in developing and honing modern slavery legislation. Effective cross border collaboration and intelligence sharing is also key to eradicating modern slavery worldwide.
Every 2 seconds, a girl is married against her will – and every year 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Child marriage not only signifies a forced and premature end to childhood, but permanently interrupts the young brides’ education and professional development. In keeping with the traditional gender roles underpinning child marriage, their role becomes confined to child-bearing and rearing, performing all household chores and working in unforgiving conditions to support the household income.
Child marriage is fundamentally fuelled by gender inequality, poverty, and cultural traditions. In many cultures, marrying a girl to an older man is not only accepted but celebrated, as it is understood that the child will be looked after and provided for during the years to come when her family can no longer do so. Thus, a child is very rarely married without her family’s consent, if not persistent encouragement. However, far from improving a girl’s future, child marriage traps its victims in a situation of dependence and abuse, perpetuating the circle of poverty and exclusion.
The numerous hardships faced by young brides often mask the complex family dynamics behind the scenes. In addition to the inherent violence attaching to sexual relations with underage non-consenting minors and the ensuing sexual abuse, child brides are often the object of frequent domestic violence. Several surveys have found that child brides are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual violence than their adult counterparts, and are more likely to find it acceptable in some circumstances. Having been entrusted to the abuser by their own family at a very young age, their agency and bargaining power is limited, resulting in them refraining from denouncing any instances of violence or abuse. This is compounded by the authorities’ tacit encouragement of violent behaviour against women under the guise of cultural acceptance, leaving victims entirely unprotected against their perpetrators. In turn, child victims of abuse live in fear of aggression and reprisals, developing mental health troubles early on in their marriages. It is for these reasons that child marriage is rightly considered a violation of human rights.
Despite public outcry and worldwide condemnation of the practice, future prospects are bleak. If the practice continues at the current rate, the number of child brides will grow to as many as 950 million by 2030. No significant strides towards ending the practice can be made without multi-sector initiatives at all levels of society. Because communities actively practising child marriage are often rural, disenfranchised and live in extreme poverty, economic empowerment is key to tackle directly the causes behind child marriage. Similarly, laws against child marriage must be reinforced, as they are of little effect if they are riddled with loopholes such as parental consent or exceptions on customary or religious grounds. Finally, public and third sector action must be focused on empowerment through education, not only of potential victims, but also of potential abusers and family members aiding the practice.