Bonded labour, also known as debt bondage or debt slavery, is the most common form of modern slavery. Debt bondage occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt, often taken to pay for health emergencies because of lack of universal health coverage. People are forced to work for little or no pay, with no control over their debt. The money they earn goes to pay off their loan and the value of their work invariably becomes greater than the original sum borrowed. Bonded labour is most widespread in South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. Often entire families have to work to pay off the debt taken by one of its members. Sometimes, the debt can be passed down the generations and children can be held in debt bondage because of a loan their parents had taken decades ago. In South Asia it still flourishes in agriculture, brick kilns, mills, mines and factories. Salmoni was forced to leave school and work on a brickyard after her father became ill and could no longer afford to pay rent. She worked long hours and was underpaid. When she and her parents agreed that she should no longer work and go back to school, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Salmoni’s father borrowed the money for her surgery from the brickyard owner and the family became trapped in bonded labour.
The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on any given day in 2016, an estimated 3.6 million men, women and chidlren were living in modern slavery in Europe and Central Asia (GSI 2018). People are subjected to exploitation in forced labour, debt bondage and forced sexual exploitation. Government response in Europe is particularly strong with a number of regional bodies holding them account and monitoring responses, and while countries in Central Asia have taken steps to tack modern slavery, more needs to be done. First trafficked at the age of five with her parents out of Vietnam into China, she and her family were promised a better life. At the age of 15, Thanh had to sleep with so many men it left her with permanent damage to her spine. She was trafficked to Russia to pick fruit, across a continent to France for sex work in a forest encampment: separated from her 11-year-old son and thrown into a refrigerated lorry to be smuggled to England. In London, she was taken to a basement for sex work and labour packing vegetables. One day she seized an opportunity to flee barefoot. Undocumented, Thanh was afraid to go to the police and only received help after a lump in her breast made her go to a doctor. Eventually she was recognised as a victim of modern slavery and with the help of the British Red Cross was reunited with her son.
The Philippines has one of the largest migratory populations with their national economy largely depending on Overseas Filipino Worker's (OFW) remittances. The OFWs have been deemed the 'new heroes' of the Philippines' economy. However, some OFWs are subjected to exploitation throughout the Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and the Middle East. Sar was lured abroad with promises of well-paid work, which she wanted to help pay for her grandmother’s hospitalisation. Instead, she had her passport and cell phone confiscated and was pressured to engage in sex work. Her account describes potential corruption of the immigration office, and problems with trying to reintegrate into her former community.
Criminal justice and victim support statistics, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) statistics noted below, confirm that forced prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls continues to be a reality in the Asian region. 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. Natalie was born in South East Asia, where she was sexually exploited in an illegal brothel. She moved to Australia to work in a legal brothel, but found herself with a large debt for her recruitment, and was being charged for her expenses and as punishment. An NGO named Project Respect helped her to leave the sex industry by helping her to find alternative work.