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New report shows that North Korea has more modern-day slaves than any other nation

In this handout from the United Nations, co-operative farm workers prepare fields for rice transplanting near Sariwon city, on 20 April 2005 North Hwanghae province, North Korea. A new report said that North Korea currently has the highest level of slavery in the world. This slavery involves forced agricultural labor. (Gerald Bourke/WFP via Getty Images)

A newly released report concluded that North Korea has the largest number of people suffering in modern slavery in the world.

What did the report say?

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index 40.3 million people of all ages are currently enslaved around the world. 2.6 million of these slaves are in North Korea — more than 10 percent of its total estimated population of 25,248,140.

24.9 million of those enslaved did forced labor, while 15.4 were in forced marriages. The index included human trafficking, forced marriage, and the exploitation of children, along with slavery, in its definition of modern slavery. The report also found that slavery disproportionately targets women. Of the 40.3 million slaves, 71 percent were female.

The report said that all estimates were conservative. The index was made using existing data, but this data isn't always comprehensive. Certain forms of slavery “such as recruitment of children by armed groups and organ trafficking” were also not counted because of a lack of reliable data.

Most countries were found to have at least some slavery. Mauritania, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Eritrea, and Afghanistan had levels that neared that of North Korea.

How bad is it in North Korea?

The Walk Free Foundation interviewed 50 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. All but one of these interviewees "described situations they had been subjected to while living in North Korea that met the international legal definition of 'forced labour.'"

Young children are forced to work without pay. If they refuse, they can be punished or expelled from their schools.

“I constantly did farm work until the sixth year in elementary school. We did everything by hand, or with hand hoes and buckets,” one of the defectors said during his interview.

One panellist for the Global Slavery Index, Dr Jang Jin-sung, used to be a member of the North Korean elite class, but that did not exempt him from forced labor. Dr. Jang said that many North Koreans don't even realize that they were being enslaved.

“I didn’t know it when I was in the country, but looking back it was,” Jang told The Telegraph. “As a child I had to do farm work in the summer. I didn’t think of it as forced labour but as a righteous duty to the state.”

Who released this report?

The Walk Free Foundation is an initiative of the Australian-based Minderoo Foundation, with a mission focused on ending modern slavery. The report was based on 71,000 individual interviews with people from 48 countries. It also uses data from the Gallup World Poll.

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