“Slavery is illegal everywhere.” The truth of this statement has been taken for granted for decades. Yet new research reveals that almost half of all countries in the world have yet to actually make it a crime to enslave another human being. Legal ownership of people was indeed abolished in all countries over the course of the last two centuries. But in many countries it has not been criminalised. In almost half of the world’s countries, there is no criminal law penalising either slavery or the slave trade. In 94 countries, you cannot be prosecuted and punished in a criminal court for enslaving another human being. The findings displace one of the most basic assumptions made in the modern antislavery movement – that slavery is already illegal everywhere in the world. And they provide an opportunity to refocus global efforts to eradicate modern slavery by 2030, starting with the fundamentals: getting states to completely outlaw slavery and other exploitative practices.

The findings emerge from the development of an anti-slavery database mapping domestic legislation against international treaty obligations of all 193 United Nations member states (virtually all countries in the world). The database considers the domestic legislation of each country, as well as the binding commitments they have made through international agreements to prohibit forms of human exploitation that fall under the umbrella term “modern slavery”. This includes forced labour, human trafficking, institutions and practices similar to slavery, servitude, the slave trade, and slavery itself.

Although 96% of all these countries have some form of domestic anti-trafficking legislation in place, many of them appear to have failed to prohibit other types of human exploitation in their domestic law. Most notably, our research reveals that:

• 94 states (49%) appear not to have criminal legislation prohibiting slavery

• 112 states (58%) appear not to have put in place penal provisions punishing forced labour

• 180 states (93%) appear not to have enacted legislative provisions criminalising servitude

• 170 states (88%) appear to have failed to criminalise the four institutions and practices similar to slavery.

In all these countries, there is no criminal law in place to punish people for subjecting people to these extreme forms of human exploitation. Abuses in these cases can only be prosecuted indirectly through other offences – such as human trafficking – if they are prosecuted at all. In short, slavery is far from being illegal everywhere.

Source: The Conversation


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