Modern slavery in the DRC

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Helpdesk Query:

What does the literature tell us about modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo (including, if available, information on the prevalence of modern slavery in the DRC, the most prevalent forms, the people most at risk and in what ways)?


‘Modern slavery’ encompasses a variety of situations in which one person is forcibly controlled by one or more others for the purpose of exploitation (Cockayne, 2015). ‘Forced or compulsory labour’ is defined by the ILO Forced Labour Convention as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’. The means of coercion by the exploiter can be overt and observable (e.g. armed guards who prevent workers from leaving) or subtle and not immediately observable (e.g. confiscation of identity papers) (ILO, 2012).

In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2016 reports that the estimated number of people living in modern slavery is 873,100 (rank 9 of 167 countries). This amounts to an estimated proportion in slavery of 1.130 percent (rank 6 of 167 countries). These estimates of prevalence are derived from a 2010 survey, published in JAMA, focused on sexual violence and other human rights violations in the conflict-affected North and South Kivu provinces and in Ituri. Drawing from this representative sample, ratios were adjusted to other parts of the country to reflect lower levels of conflict, in addition to any other necessary adjustments (K.B., expert comments).

There are various DRC studies that seek not to determine prevalence but to find the existence and indication of the scale of modern slavery.

  • The 2013 Free the Slaves study of South Kivu finds that 866 of the total sample of 931 persons interviewed across all three mining sites (93 percent) were enslaved in one of more types of slavery (Free the Slaves, 2013).
  • The 2011 Free the Slaves study of North Kivu finds that 40 percent of respondents interviewed in Bisie were found to be in confirmed situations of slavery (Free the Slaves, 2013).
  • The 2014 USAID study of South Kivu and North Katanga finds that 6.7 percent of survey respondents are or have been victims of trafficking (USAID, 2014).

Studies in the eastern DRC have identified six types of slavery: forced labour, debt bondage, peonage, sex slavery, forced marriage, and the enslavement of children (Bale, 2013; Free the Slaves, 2013; Free the Slaves, 2011). There can be overlap in the experiences of slavery. Women, for example, may be subject to sex slavery and debt bondage, concurrently.

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