Region Analysis


  • 30,435,300 Estimate Number Enslaved
  • 66.4% Regional Proportion of Global Number
  • 40.2/100 Average Vulnerability Score
  • 34.8/100 Average Government Response Rating


How many people are in modern slavery in Asia Pacific?

The Asia-Pacific is the most populous region of the world. It spans Afghanistan in the west, to New Zealand in the south-east, to Mongolia in the north. Two thirds of the estimated 45.8 million people in modern slavery were identified in the Asia-Pacific. All forms of modern slavery were identified including forced labour in brick kilns, agriculture and the garment sector,[1] child soldiers in Afghanistan,[2] India[3] and Thailand,[4] forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women experienced forced labour in manufacturing, agriculture, food production and construction. Women were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation, forced marriage and domestic servitude.

Regional Findings of Prevalence


Estimate number enslaved

Regional Proportion of Global Number


Large numbers of women and girls continued to migrate internally and internationally for jobs as domestic workers. While this offers an important economic opportunity, reports of abuse, exploitation and servitude persist, particularly in wealthy countries within the region where there was high demand for live-in help—Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. Inhumane treatment of domestic workers including starvation[5] and sexual abuse[6] was reported in 2015, as well as indicators of forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, confinement to the place of employment, excessive unpaid overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents.[7] In 2016, cases of domestic worker exploitation were also noted in countries with low levels of prevalence, such as Australia.[8]

The high prevalence of modern slavery in the region reflects the reality that many countries in Asia provide low-skilled labour for the production stage of global supply chains for various industries including food production, garments and technology.

Within low-skilled and loosely-regulated industries, there is a risk of modern slavery, such as human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage. In 2015-2016, there were cases of forced labour within the Malaysian electronics industry,[9] exploitation on Malaysian palm oil plantations,[10] and debt bondage in the apparel industries of Bangladesh[11] and Vietnam.[12] The reputational risk of slavery in supply chains compelled action from global brands, including companies renowned for social responsibility. In 2015, whilst undertaking worker assessments, Patagonia identified workers in their Taiwanese supplier factories would take up to two years of a three-year employment contract to pay off recruitment-related debt.[13] Patagonia have taken strong steps to combat the issue by prohibiting suppliers and their brokers to charge or collect any recruitment related-fees or expenses, and if the workers have paid fees, suppliers must reimburse them.[14]

The abuse of workers on Thai fishing vessels operating in South East Asian waters has become increasingly well documented.[15] Researchers and investigative journalists have documented the abuse of migrant workers on fishing vessels, often young men and boys, who have endured brutal treatment including physical abuse, excessive and inhumane working hours, sleep and food deprivation, and forced use of methamphetamines.[16] Some longhaul trawlers and their fishermen remained at sea for years at a time. Between April and September 2015, more than 2,000 men were rescued from Thai fishing vessels, many of which were operating in Indonesian waters.[17] Ongoing reports of worker exploitation in seafood pre-processing facilities were also evident, with workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos working excessive hours in oppressive and abusive conditions.[18] Much of the seafood processed was distributed to the global market.

Forced and child marriage persists in countries throughout the region, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Indonesia.[19] The UN estimates more than 130 million girls in South Asia will be married between 2010 and 2030.[20] In China, the legacy of the former one-child policy has led to a shortage of women of marriageable age.[21] To meet this demand, some Cambodian,[22] Vietnamese[23] and North Korean[24] women and girls are trafficked to China to be sold as brides. A similar sex imbalance, resulting in an absence of available brides in India, has fuelled the trafficking of women for forced marriage. The sex imbalance is exacerbated in rural communities in India where many girls of marriageable age have migrated to cities for employment. In some instances, girls are forced into marriage and then used as unpaid labourers—local day labourers cost US$140 for a season but a bride can cost only US$100 as a once-off payment.[25]

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.[26] The phenomenon of adults paying for direct live-streaming video footage of children performing sexual acts in front of a webcam was evident in the Philippines.[27]

In North Korea the issue is not private exploitation but rather exploitation by the government.

North Korea is among the most repressive in the world, with the UN Human Rights Council documenting "widespread and gross human rights violations".[28] Economic and social rights in North Korea are frequently violated by the government who criminalise market activities, limiting already meagre opportunities by which North Koreans can obtain income.[29] An estimated 50,000 North Korean citizens have been sent abroad to work in mining, logging, and the textile and construction industries.[30] Though many North Koreans were employed in neighbouring China and Russia, there was also evidence of workers in Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Qatar.[31] While reports suggest that this workforce generates roughly US$2.3 billion per year for the North Korean Government,[32] civil society groups say workers earn only US$120-$150 per month, and may be forced to work up to 20 hours per day with limited rest days.[33]

Indonesian Government acts against forced labour in fishing

In 2015, Indonesian authorities, with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), rescued over 2,000 trafficked foreign fisherman from isolated areas of the country.[34] Rescue efforts began when the Associated Press revealed the inhumane conditions facing fisheries workers in Benjina, a remote outpost in Maluku province.

Following an initial government inspection, the site was raided and over 370 fishermen were transported to safety in Tual,[35] where the IOM conducted victim identifications and provided essential services including food, shelter, medical and psycho-social assistance.[36] This number grew to over 656 fishermen,[37] including children and the elderly. Further raids resulted in the rescue of 472 new victims[38] from the port of Ambon, from 77 of the estimated 230 vessels in the Ambon harbour.[39]

The aftermath of these events had highly positive impacts. All victims were either successfully repatriated or were in the process of being repatriated with the assistance of the IOM, their embassies and/or fishing companies.[40] IOM also identified and assisted foreign victims of trafficking detained in immigration detention centres and other locations around the country. Investigations resulted in the revocation of licenses for four business groups, 18 companies and 388 vessels by the Indonesian Government.[41] The company which operated the facilities on Benjina collapsed following these events,[42] and eight people, five foreign nationals and three Indonesians were jailed for terms of up to three years.[43]

RankCountryEstimated percent of population in modern slaveryEstimated number in modern slaveryPopulation
1North Korea4.3731,100,00025,155,000
10Papua New Guinea0.62047,2007,619,000
12South Korea0.404204,90050,672,000
12Hong Kong, SAR China0.40429,5007,287,000
18Sri Lanka0.22145,90020,781,000
21New Zealand0.0188004,552,000
RankCountryEstimated percent of population in modern slaveryEstimated number in modern slaveryPopulation

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International


What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in Asia Pacific?

All countries within the Asia-Pacific exhibit some pre-conditions to modern slavery. Some countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan have high levels of conflict, terrorism and displacement. In other countries, such as Thailand and Myanmar, there is significant discrimination against minorities. Some countries in the region continue to exhibit weak rule of law, corruption and poverty, all of which increase individuals risk to modern slavery. Though countries like Australia and New Zealand exhibit high levels of development, stability and strong policies, some minority groups, including regular and irregular migrants, remain at risk of exploitation.

Average Vulnerability Score


As a result of economic growth, poverty rates across the region have fallen, notably in India and China.[44]

Nonetheless, extreme poverty and unequal income distribution within countries, particularly between the rural and urban populations, persist as serious social and economic challenges.[45]

Unemployment and underemployment are chronic problems in the region which push men, women and children into risky migration practices and debt bondage. In 2015, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan soared to 40 percent.[46] Myanmar also experienced a high youth unemployment rate of 9.5 percent,[47] which assisted the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) to recruit and use underage children in conflict. According to Child Soldiers International, unaccompanied children searching for work were recruited at railway stations, bus terminals, markets and outside temples, and deceptively offered roles as drivers.[48]

High levels of labour migration, some of which is regular but can involve payment of illegal fees or other irregular aspects, are reflected in patterns of exploitation. The Philippines has one of the largest migratory populations with their national economy largely depending on Overseas Filipino Worker's (OFW) remittances.[49] The OFWs have been deemed the 'new heroes' of the Philippines' economy.[50] However, some OFWs are subjected to exploitation throughout the Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and the Middle East.[51] In November 2015, ten Filipina trafficking victims in Iraqi Kurdistan were rescued and repatriated by the Philippine Embassy after being subjected to debt bondage.[52]

Natural disasters and the effects of climate change have increased vulnerability to modern slavery. Human traffickers preyed upon post-disaster populations[53] who are vulnerable to accepting promises of jobs and security.

This was evidenced following Typhoon Haiyan where human traffickers were intercepted trafficking young women on false job offers,[54] and seen again in 2015, after earthquakes in Nepal displaced more than two million people.[55] Since then, Indian officials uncovered trafficking networks with an estimated 12,000 Nepalese children trafficked to India.[56] Evolving climatic conditions also exacerbate vulnerability,[57] increasing the potential for internal displacement, migration and willingness to search for improved livelihood opportunities through informal channels.[58] Throughout 2015-16, cyclones in Myanmar,[59] flooding in India, and drought in Vietnam[60] have increased insecurity for thousands of people.

Systematic discrimination against some ethnic minorities and stateless populations across the region has resulted in patterns of high-risk migration. The Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group living in Myanmar, continue to face systemic persecution and denial of rights. In April 2015, the Myanmar Government stripped Rohingya of their voting rights by rescinding their temporary ID cards, the last official identification available to them.[61] Many lost their homes, farms, and the ability to work, creating a dire choice between residing in shanty towns on the outskirts of Rakhine or paying smugglers to transport them abroad. In 2015, thousands were left stranded at sea.[62]

CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean
Hong Kong, SAR China42.2817.5521.4435.6529.23
New Zealand13.3122.2416.0921.5118.29
North Korea71.2048.2762.881.0045.84
Papua New Guinea50.1262.8599.9923.1059.02
South Korea38.2034.6428.9817.3229.78
Sri Lanka47.0135.1231.8231.0836.26
CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How are governments in Asia Pacific tackling modern slavery?

In 2015, of the 25 countries within the Asia-Pacific, 24 have laws that criminalise some forms of modern slavery. North Korea remains the only nation in Asia—and the world—that has not explicitly criminalised any form of modern slavery. Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines have the strongest responses to modern slavery. These countries have reasonably strong victim support services, specialised law enforcement units, effective and measurable NAPs, and laws, policies and programmes that address cycles of vulnerability.

Average Government Response Rating


Victim-centred assistance programmes which empower victims are essential to break the cycle of modern slavery. In the Philippines, the government has supported NGO victim recovery and reintegration programmes providing victims with shelter, psychological, medical, legal and vocational support.[63] Innovative programmes, such as DataMotivate, allows survivors to develop vocational skills in research and data cleaning. In Australia, the Salvation Army offers unique support services for victims, including a survivor advocates programme for rehabilitated people to engage government, media and the general public on modern slavery.[64] However, the lack of victim identification and victim support continues to hinder regional progress. For example, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the government has made no effort to identify, report or provide victim support services to human trafficking victims.[65]

In March 2016, there was regional acknowledgement of the need to engage constructively with the private sector to combat exploitative labour practices.[66]

Australia and Indonesia co-chaired the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process resulting in a Ministerial Declaration pledging a comprehensive regional approach to managing mixed migration flows and ensuring humane labour practices within global supply chains.[67]

In March 2016, members of parliament from 13 Asia-Pacific nations, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, endorsed the Kathmandu Declaration[68] to end child marriage in South Asia.[69] While an important statement of intention, significant policy and legislative steps remain to be taken by countries with high prevalence of forced and child marriage. India is yet to finalise the National Strategy on Prevention of Child Marriage, [70] Bangladesh is currently developing the National Plan to End Child Marriage, [71] Nepal is awaiting full government endorsement for the establishment of the National Strategy to End Child Marriage, [72] and Pakistan has yet to raise the minimum age of marriage at the provincial level.[73] In 2015, the Bangladeshi Government considered reducing the minimum age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16 years old[74] but refrained from doing so after strong opposition from civil society and international groups.[75]

As in all regions of the world, corruption and official complicity continue to undermine responses in parts of Asia.[76] For example, in India, there are allegations that some corrupt law enforcement officials have connections to human trafficking rings, receiving bribes to ensure the protection of traffickers.[77]

Official complicity and widespread corruption have also enabled forced labour and debt bondage to occur within the PNG commercial mining and logging industry.[78] In Cambodia, corrupt officials have stalled progress in case investigations where the perpetrators are believed to have political, criminal or economic ties to government officials.[79] In May 2015, the discovery of abandoned people smuggling camps on the Thai/Malaysia border presented concerning evidence of official complicity in the trade and exploitation of Rohingya people. One of the mass grave sites was located in an open field behind the police station in Padang Besar, some 500 metres from the official border crossing manned by officials from Thailand and Malaysia. Several arrests of allegedly complicit officials have been made, including the arrest of army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpan together with 52 local politicians, community leaders, businessmen, and gangsters for smuggling and trafficking.[80]

In response to mounting international condemnation of domestic worker exploitation, some governments in the Asia region have sought to improve protections for this vulnerable cohort. The Philippines Government was the first in the region to sign the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers and remains the only country in the region to have done so. With rising evidence of widespread exploitation of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, it is significant that the government of Hong Kong has made some effort to increase the frequency of employment agency inspections from 1,300 to 1,800 per year.[81] Some efforts have also been made by Hong Kong and Singapore to prosecute agencies and employers—in January 2016, two employment agencies in Hong Kong were convicted for collecting excessive placement fees from foreign domestic workers.[82] In March 2016, a Singaporean couple was convicted for starving their Filipina maid for more than 15 months.[83] The following month a Singaporean couple went on trial for abusing their Indonesian domestic helper, after subjecting her to physical, mental and verbal abuse.[84] Other governments have taken steps to address the exploitation of their nationals in the Middle East. Following the execution of two Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia, in April 2015, Indonesia announced a domestic workers ban applying to several countries within the Middle East and Gulf.[85] While travel bans are intended to be a protective measure, there is a risk this will increase the potential for exploitation as Indonesians seek unregistered work and travel through informal channels.[86] For example, in March 2016, Indonesian National Police investigators uncovered a human trafficking syndicate that allegedly sent up to 600 Indonesian domestic workers abroad illegally flying them to several of the banned Middle East and Gulf states.[87]

Australia had the leading government response to modern slavery in the Asia Pacific in 2016. This past year saw the inclusion of survivors of trafficking and slavery included in the meetings of the government's National Roundtable on People Trafficking and Slavery. Throughout the year, strategic outreach and awareness-raising about the issue of forced marriage resulted in significant numbers of referrals to law enforcement and NGOs of young people at-risk and people wanting to avoid or leave forced marriages. However, even its response has limitations. In 2015, critical gaps were identified in Australia's labour laws regarding domestic workers in private homes.[88]

Credit RatingCountrySurvivors SupportedCriminal JusticeCoordination & AccountabilityAddressing RiskGovernment & BusinessTotal Score
BBNew Zealand53.7047.9643.7588.100.0055.81
BSri Lanka25.9338.5237.5083.330.0041.78
CCSouth Korea35.9331.8512.5033.330.0028.49
CPapua New Guinea6.4823.7025.0014.290.0013.31
CHong Kong, SAR China5.935.190.0030.950.0010.75
DNorth Korea0.00-13.890.00-7.140.00-5.76
NO DATAAfghanistan
Credit RatingCountrySurvivors SupportedCriminal JusticeCoordination & AccountabilityAddressing RiskGovernment & BusinessTotal Score

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR


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