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International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2021


To “build back better” world must end slavery for all, including women and children ̶ UN experts

GENEVA (1 December 2021) – The effects of current global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, climate change and armed conflict are pushing an increased number of people into contemporary forms of slavery. The situation of women and children is of particular concern, UN human rights experts* say in this statement issued on the occasion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery:

“According to figures released by UNICEF and ILO in June, almost 80 million children aged 5 to 17 years are subjected to hazardous work which is a contemporary form of slavery. And as a result of the economic recession and school closures caused by COVID-19, children may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many others may have been forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among their families. Forced recruitment of children into armed and criminal groups continues both in emergency and non-emergency settings.

Women and children bear the brunt of crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and humanitarian emergencies. As a result, they face a particularly high risk of being pushed into slavery. As many become displaced or migrate in the fight for survival, the risk of becoming trapped into forced labour or sexual exploitation increases exponentially. They face retaliation in the form of brutal punishment and even death if they try to escape and/or denounce their situation.

According to unofficial estimates, one in every 130 women and girls is subjected to contemporary forms of slavery such as child and forced marriage, domestic servitude, forced labour and debt bondage which entail highly gendered experiences. High levels of exploitation also prevail in global supply chains which – based on existing business models - often rely on and reinforce labour exploitation and deepen gender inequality.

While gender inequalities lie at the heart of contemporary forms of slavery, these practices are also fuelled by intersecting forms of discrimination, oppression and inequalities based on race, ethnic origin, caste, social and economic status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and migration status. Indigenous peoples are disproportionally affected by forced and bonded labour.

To prevent exploitation which may amount to contemporary forms of slavery, we urge States to establish safe migration pathways, to facilitate access to decent work in cooperation with the business sector, civil society organisations as well as trade unions, to strengthen efforts to tackle inequality and discrimination on various grounds and to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable, including children. Additionally, human rights defenders and civil society organizations working to end contemporary forms of slavery should be able to carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment.  Also, accountability of perpetrators of contemporary forms of slavery must be strengthened as a matter of priority, as currently impunity prevails in far too many instances.

Tangible action in these areas should be part of building back better at the national and global level as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Slavery in all its forms needs to end for everyone, including women and children in contexts of armed conflict. Slavery is a disgrace to humanity which in the 21st century cannot be tolerated.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. This year alone, 18,000 victims received vital assistance from organizations financially supported by the Fund. On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, we appeal to all Member States to increase their contribution to the Fund, or to make one for the first time.”


The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949). Today, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery recalls the date of the adoption of this first Convention to fight human trafficking by the United Nations General Assembly.

*UN experts: Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences. The following mandate holders endorse the statement:

Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the  Sale of children; Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mr. Olivier De Schutter;
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali; Mr. Obiara Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. David Boyd, .Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Ms. Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on debt, other international financial obligations and human rights; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Mr. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; Mr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Ms. Reem AlsalemSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice Chairperson), Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym, Mr. Githu Muigai, Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises: Mr. Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth BroderickIvana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Mr. Nils Melzer,Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms.  Sorcha MacLeod (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Jelena Aparac, Mr. Ravindran Daniel, Mr. Chris Kwaja,  Working Group on the use of mercenaries; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; Ms. Koumba Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Mr. Pedro Arrojo Agudo,Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Ms. Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia; Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Ms. Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Ms. Irene Khan , Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr.Yao Agbetse,Independent Expert on the Human Rights situation in the Central African Republic;Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Ms. Mary Lawlor,Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity;
Mr. Danwood Chirwa, Ms. Hina Jilani, Mr. Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, Ms Ecaterina Schilling and Ms. Georgina Vaz Cabral, Board of Trustees, UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

The UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, establishment by the General Assembly in 1991 (resolution 46/122), is managed by the United Nations Secretary-General through the OHCHR, with the advice of a Board of Trustees composed of five independent experts. Board members are appointed by the Secretary-General from amongst experts with wide experience in the field of human rights, in particular contemporary forms of slavery. The Fund’s mandate is to support victims of contemporary forms of slavery. It does so by channelling voluntary contributions to civil society organizations providing legal, social, psychological and medical services, humanitarian assistance and vocational training.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
Ms Satya Jennings (+41 22 917 9772 / ohchr-srslavery@un.org)

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / jeremy.laurence@unr.org.)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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