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Countries yet to make slavery illegal are tracked

14 February 2020

Database suggests half have not yet criminalised practice

ALTHOUGH legal ownership of people has been abolished in every country in the world during the past 200 years, almost half have yet to make it a crime to enslave another human being, a new database suggests.

The Antislavery in Domestic Legislation Database was launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. It has been compiled over five years by the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham with the Castan Centre for Human Rights at Monash University in Australia.

In 94 countries (49 per cent of all countries), a person cannot be prosecuted and punished in a criminal court for enslaving another person. The countries are not listed, although a map indicates where slavery is not yet illegal.

The associate director of the Rights Lab, Dr Katarina Schwarz, who created the database, explained: “The database does not focus on naming and shaming particular countries, but on highlighting how widespread the gaps are globally in states’ domestic legislation prohibiting human exploitation. We have shown that national engagement with current international law on human exploitation has been erratic, irregular, and incomplete.”

Professor Jean Allain, from the Castan Centre, said: “We have found that countries with criminal provisions, and those without, come from every region in the world and there is no single region performing substantially better than others across the board. However, there is variation between regions in the implementation of domestic legislation relating to each form of exploitation, and in the approaches taken to prohibition.”

Almost two-thirds of all countries (112; 58 per cent) do not appear to have penal provisions against forced labour in place; almost all (179; 93 per cent) do not appear to have enacted legislative provisions criminalising servitude; and 124 states (64 per cent) appear to have failed to criminalise any one of the four institutions and practices similar to slavery outside of the context of human trafficking.

Legislation was the gateway to ensuring that government officials, police officers, and labour inspectors in every country in the world cracked down on modern slavery, Dr Schwarz said.

“It will surprise many people to learn that in all of these countries there are no criminal laws in place to prosecute, convict, and punish people for subjecting people to the most extreme forms of exploitation,” she said. “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 and we hope our research will move the conversation beyond this popular myth.

“Without effective laws in place, avenues for redress and recovery for victims and survivors are shut off, and responses may be partial or ineffective at addressing the full range of exploitation offences.”

Professor Allain said: “Many commentators suggest that implementing legislation to address trafficking in persons sufficiently meets the need to criminalise the other forms of human exploitation considered in the database. However, the specific definition of trafficking as enshrined in both international law and domestic legislation runs contrary to its use as a ‘catch-all’ offence for various exploitative practices.”

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