LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi said on Wednesday the failure to end slavery was one of world's biggest sins as he called for urgent action to tackle a rise in the numbers of slaves globally to an all-time high.
Satyarthi, who was the surprise co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work fighting child slavery in India, said it was unacceptable that almost 36 million people including about 5.5 million children are living in slavery today.
He called for collective action by governments, businesses and campaigners and a strengthening of laws to crackdown on human trafficking and free the world of slavery. "We have ... to build a civil rights movement against slavery," Satyarthi told the Trust Women conference in London organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation where he will launch an End Child Slavery Week campaign later on Wednesday.
"Denial of childhood and denial of freedom are the biggest sins which humankind has been committing and perpetuating for ages."
The second annual global slavery index by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based human rights group, released this week, estimated 35.8 million people are living in slavery with India home to the highest number, with 14.3 million slaves.
Some of these people are born into servitude, some trafficked for sex work, while others are trapped in debt bondage or exploited in forced labour.
Satyarthi, 60, whose non-government organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has been credited with freeing over 80,000 child labourers in India over 30 years, said it was unbelievable that slavery was still so prevalent.
He said slavery was continuing despite enormous advancements in terms of technology, economics, business, governance, politics and religious and culture developments.
Satyarthi called on the global community to build a sense of urgency to tackle the slavery business which is estimated to be worth US$150 billion (S$187.55 billion) a year.
"In this stage of history we have the largest number of slaves in the world ... we have the biggest amount of illicit earnings from human trade," he said. "It is unacceptable ... Why don't we act now? .. If (your) own child is missing, for a day, trafficked, you would be restless and do everything possible."
Satyarthi was little known when he was awarded this year's Nobel prize along with Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai who has become a global icon for girls' education after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban.
But he hopes winning the high profile award will put a spotlight on slavery and trigger action. He said the Nobel was the biggest recognition for all the chidren who had remained "voiceless and faceless" for centuries.
Satyarthi founded BBA in 1980 after quitting his job as an electrical engineer and set up the Global March against Child Labour in 1998.
The End Child Slavery Week campaign is an initiative involving various groups including the Global March against Child Labour, Anti-Slavery International, International Trade Union Confederation, the Kids Rights Foundation, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.