5 forms of modern slavery you should know about

Does one need to be chained to be a slave in 2019? No, because the concept of slavery has been redefined to take into account modern-day changes.

Picture: @UNmigration/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG – Do people need to be kept on a leash for a form of exploitation to be considered slavery? According to international organisations dealing with modern slavery, the answer is no.

A Cape Town man was arrested and fined this week for forcing three men from the Northern Cape into slavery. But questions were raised in our comments and on social media asking if it really was slavery.

According to the United Nations (UN), more than 40 million people globally are subjected to modern forms of slavery, with women and girls accounting for 71% of the victims. And according to the Global Slavery Index report released in 2016, there were an estimated 248,700 modern slaves in South Africa.

On Monday, the Hawks said Cosian Hendriks (74) was arrested in July last year along with a tavern owner in Athlone for recruiting the victims - aged between 21 to 22 - from Colesburg into forced labour.

The three young men were allegedly picked up by a taxi driver from their homes and taken to Cape Town after they were promised jobs in the Mother City. Upon arrival, they were left with Hendriks, who sold them off to a businessperson and tavern owner in Athlone.

Hawks spokesperson Philani Nkwalase said: “The three victims were forced into hard labour and stayed in crude and unhealthy accommodation. Their pleas to be returned home a day after their arrival were met with resistance as they were told to first pay back the costs incurred. The matter was reported to the Athlone police when the father of one of the victims heard about their plight.”

The Wynberg Regional Court fined Hendriks R10, 000 for contravention of the Employment Services Act 4 of 2014. If he doesn’t pay up, he could serve two years in prison after the sentence was suspended for five years. The tavern owner was released because the victims were saved before they could be exploited further.

The UN said contemporary forms of slavery were aggravated by gender inequality, poverty, cultural norms and discriminatory laws that needed to be changed.

The UN special rapporteur contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola, said gender inequalities and discrimination were the primary drivers of slavery for women and girls.

“Stereotypes on suitable forms of employment for women also perpetuate conditions leading to their exploitation. For example, women are overrepresented in the care economy, and in accommodation and food services, while men and boys working in construction, fishing and manufacturing are especially vulnerable,” Bhoola said.

These are the five examples of modern slavery:


The International Labour Organisation defined forced labour as follows: “forced or compulsory labour is all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”; as it was the case with the three young men from the Northern Cape.

The Anti-Slavery International (ASI) – a UK based charity and advocacy group against slavery – said forced labour was the most common element of modern slavery and the most extreme form of people exploitation. Forced labour was most often found in industries with a lot of workers and little regulation, such as domestic work, agriculture and fishing, and prostitution and sexual exploitation, among others.


Human trafficking involved the recruitment, harbouring or transporting of people into a situation of exploitation using violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will, the ASI said.

People can be trafficked for many different forms of exploitation and don’t have to necessarily be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. The diverse forms of exploitation included forced prostitution, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude, forced marriage, and forced organ removal.

ASI said: “People often confuse human trafficking and people smuggling. People smuggling is the illegal movement of people across international borders for a fee. On arrival, the smuggled person is free. Human trafficking is different. The trafficker is moving a person for exploitation. There is no need to cross an international border. Human trafficking occurs at a national level, or even within one community.”


ASI defined debt bondage as when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. They are tricked into working for little or no pay, with no control over their debt. This practice is said to be prevalent in South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan.

“Most or all of the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work invariably becomes greater than the original sum of money borrowed.”


ASI said child slavery was often confused with child labour, the former being much worse.

“Whilst child labour is harmful to children and hinders their education and development, child slavery occurs when a child’s labour is exploited for someone else’s gain.”

Examples of child slavery included children being used by others for profit, often through violence, abuse and threats, in prostitution or pornography, forced begging, petty crime and the drug trade. Other examples included, children forced to take part in armed conflicts and early marriage.


Forced child marriage involved children under 18-years-old being coerced into marriage. Although boys can be affected by the practice, it is mostly girls who suffer slavery because of child marriage.

According to ASI, child marriage can be referred to as slavery if one or more of the following elements are present:

• If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage.

• If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations.

• If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.