26/10/2013 17:07 BST | Updated 25/12/2013 05:12 GMT

The Scourge of Slavery Lives On

This month, the Walk Free Foundation published the first comprehensive report on modern slavery, the Global Slavery Index. The study, the first of its kind, gives an encyclopedic analysis of 162 countries, highlighting a depressing reality that 29.8 million people are enslaved around the world today. Many people falsely assume that slavery had been eradicated long ago, indeed, the very word harks back to a past era of servitude and bondage. Slavery does exist and must be addressed.

The study found that India has approximately half the world's slave population with over 14 million slaves. Or to put another way, over one and a half times the size of the population of New York City. India has a long list of modern forms of slavery, including: forced marriage, debt bondage, forced prostitution, dubious "house workers," and child trafficking. India has an entrenched problem with slavery, with much of it caused by social, ethnic, and hereditary factors. India's caste system is a primary source for the continuance of slavery in modern times. The lower castes of society, primarily the Dalit community, are most at risk from slavery. Also known as "the untouchables," many of the Dalits are born into bonded servitude, the majority are women and children.

India's government theoretically outlawed modern forms of slave labor in 1976 with the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, but since then has done little to stem the rise of modern slavery. Only since April 2013 has the criminal code even made all forms of human trafficking in India a punishable offense. It is unclear whether anything will come of this amendment to the law though. Much of the problem has to do with the poor implementation of government policy and the slow and haphazard administration of justice with a terribly inefficient and, at times, corrupt legal system.

India is still one of only eight countries out of 182 nations not to have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which is specifically designed for countries to commit to ensuring that all forms of child labor from debt bondage to children used in armed conflicts, never occurs. Ratifying this convention would be a first step which the Indian government should take at eradicating the scourge of slavery.

For many years, the Western media has shied away from highlighting that slavery still exists in the world, preferring less resonating terms such as "forced labor" and "human trafficking." Modes of expression which desensitize us to the enslavement which still endures. It is a crime which remains underreported and even more rarely stopped. Nations which purport to have democratic ideals must stamp out slavery if they are to be viewed as actual democracies. Many of those at the top of the list for modern slavery are developing nations that the West is seeking to forge deep political and economic partnerships with, including India and China. The UN and the West must wake up to the harsh reality of modern slavery and put pressure on nations who still allow this practice to go unabated.