Slavery in Australia – a silent crime

A new report by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has revealed that migrant women in Australia are trapped in a life of silent slavery despite formal legal and institutional structures that exist to prevent such human rights violations.

Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, Julie McKay, says that the report, which has come out just four weeks before International Women’s Day on March 8, highlights the need for constant vigilance.

“It is shocking to think that women and girls are being forced to live lives of domestic and sexual slavery in Australia today. We should all be more aware of this phenomenon and play our part in alerting authorities to situations of abuse. We need to work together to create a culture of solidarity so that vulnerable women can feel safe in reaching out for help.”

The Global Slavery Index 2013 estimates that at least 3,000 people are living as slaves in Australia. Many of them are migrant women who have migrated to the country and have been trapped in situations of domestic and sexual servitude or doing forced labour. The AIC report has identified social isolation and a limited understanding of Australian culture and laws as a reason for the women remaining in slavery.

International Women’s Day this year promotes the economic empowerment of women and girls to end the cycle of poverty and violence that traps an estimated 29 million people worldwide in a life of slavery and abuse.

Ms McKay echoed the AIC in calling on national law enforcement and social service providers to increase their outreach to local communities and to employers’ associations to ensure compliance with trafficking and slavery legislation.

“Women and girls should be protected from abusive living and working conditions and those who abuse them should be held accountable for their crimes. UN Women is working with government and community partners to protect women from domestic servitude and violence across the world.”

Through its Fund for Gender Equality, UN Women is exploring innovative strategies to improve women’s economic and political status and to increase their access to services and justice. For example in India, where as many as 65 million people are estimated to be at risk from trafficking, UN Women has partnered with a local NGO in Rajasthan to promote literacy and non-formal education programmes to help women gain employment skills and work together to protect themselves and their children from domestic and wage slavery.