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LONDON: About 45.8 million people around the world are trapped in modern-day slavery, almost a third more than estimated two years ago, a charity said on Tuesday.

The Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index said that India had by far the largest number of modern slaves, 18.35m, followed by China with 3.39m and Pakistan with 2.13m.

North Korea was found to have the highest per capita rate of modern slavery, with 4.37 per cent of its population affected.

The report — launched at a London event hosted by actor Russell Crowe — ranked 167 countries by the number of people affected by practices including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

The total of 45.8m is 10m more than the group estimated in its last report in 2014.

Walk Free Foundation chairman Andrew Forrest said the level of slavery hadn’t necessarily increased, but more data was now available.

India has the largest number of modern slaves, followed by China and Pakistan

“My gut feeling is that it is actually increasing still and it will be a year or two before it turns around,” he said.

“But it is going to turn around, the way the world is waking up to it,” he said.

“We’re going to look back on 2016, 2015, and see that’s where it all started to change, that’s where India started to move aggressively against slavery,” he said.

Mr Forrest urged nations to follow the lead of Britain, which has passed a tough law against modern slavery, with penalties of up to life imprisonment for keeping people in servitude.

Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. People may be held in debt bondage on fishing boats, against their will as domestic servants or trapped in brothels.

Some 124 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol and 96 have developed national action plans to coordinate the government response. However, Mr Forrest said more robust measures were needed.

“We call on governments of the top 10 economies of the world to enact laws, at least as strong as the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, with a budget and capability to ensure organisations are held to account for modern slavery in their supply chains, and to empower independent oversight,” he said.

In terms of absolute numbers, Asian countries occupy the top five for people trapped in slavery. Behind India, China and Pakistan are Bangladesh (1.53m) and Uzbekistan (1.23m).

The report also tracked actions and responses to the problem, with governments at the forefront being the United States, Australia, and a host of European nations including Britain, Portugal and Norway.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2016