Survey results: Translating 'modern slavery' around the world -

1. Introduction

We recently asked the Freedom United community around the world to take part in our survey Translating ‘Modern Slavery’ to better understand  how terms such as “human trafficking,” “forced labor,” “modern slavery,” etc. are discussed, framed, or translated in languages besides English. Language is complex and we recognize how local cultural contexts and linguistic nuances shape local advocacy and public understanding.

Thank you to everyone who responded! Many of you speak the same languages, so for simplicity we present some of the most comprehensive and thoughtful input based on each language. Supporters are credited by name.

Have feedback, see an inaccuracy, or don’t see your language listed? Send us an email us at info[at]

We asked: How are English-language terms such as human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, debt bondage, and modern slavery discussed in your language(s)? To help you think about this: when these issues are discussed what comes to mind? Do they have the same meanings and implications in English as they do in another language? How does local history, culture, or law shape these meanings?

2. Bangla/Bengali

Farooque Chowdhury:
Human trafficking is maanab paachaar in Baanglaa, where maanab is human and paachaar is traficking. Forced Marriage is jorpoorbak beeye or jor kare beeye in Baangla where jor is forced and beeye is marriage, and poorbak here in this term connects the word jor, and kare does the same task like poorbak.

Amitadyuti Kumar:
Human Trafficking মানব পাচার
Child Trafficking শিশু পাচার
Women Trafficking নারী পাচার
Forced Labour  বাধ্যতামূলক শ্রম
Forced Marriage বলপূর্বক বিবাহ/ বিবাহে বাধ্য করা
Debt Bondage ঋণ বন্ধকী
Modern Slavery নয়া দাসত্ব/আধুনিক দাসপ্রথা

3. Chinese

The main difference in my opinion is that the word ‘trafficking’ does not have a direct translation in Chinese. Nowadays people normally use 人口販賣 which literally means selling (販賣) of people(人口). But the term ‘販賣’ is a neutral word as you can use it with normal legal things just like the word ‘selling’ whereas ‘trafficking’ is built on exploit and is illegal by default. There are also another way to say it which is ‘人口販運’. The term ‘販運’ literally translate to selling(販) and shipping(運). So I guess it is a bit more close to trafficking since there is shipping involved in the term. I’ve not seen it a lot though, probably is a newer term or it could be the term used in different Chinese speaking region. I’m from Taiwan and terms used in China or Hong Kong for the same things can vary quite a lot sometimes even though we all use ‘Chinese’.

Forced labor is just ‘強制勞動’ and is a direct translate of the English term where Forced= 強制 and Labor = 勞動. Forced marriage translates to 強制婚姻(婚姻= marriage), which is also a direct translation of the English term. I think it is a newer term created because of the English term. There is an older way of saying forced marriage in Chinese which is 逼婚. 逼 is also like forced but more similar to obliged or coerced. In a way I feel ‘強迫’ feels more physical and and ‘逼’ is often more emotional or psychological. Nowadays people sometimes use the term 逼婚 when the society deems you ‘too old to be single’ and your parents starts pressuring you to get married as well. There’s also a practice in some part of China that they do 搶婚, which translate to Robbery marriage(?). 搶 means to rob or to grab/snatch. What happens is one family would rob(kidnap) a bride away from her family to marry their son. However, I think now it is more of a custom where the bride and groom actually want to get married rather than kidnapping a stranger to get married(don’t really know for sure though). Another angle of this kidnap marriage in China comes from the one child policy. It resulted in a lot more male than female population so there is a lack of brides especially in the rural areas. This actually resulted in young women getting kidnapped from cities to be sold as brides to the countryside and it is a big problem. There’s even a movie about it called Blind Mountain (2007). I think nowadays these single man also tries to find brides from foreign countries.

In Taiwan, there is a group of people who gets referred to as 外籍新娘(translates to foreign brides). What happens commonly is when a guy can’t find suitable partner locally either because of their job or location or income, they will go search for a bride from a foreign country, where their average income is lower. In Taiwan, these brides generally comes from Vietnam or China and sometimes Indonesia or even Eastern Europe. It normally goes through an agency, where they will arrange the guy to the country of choice for a week or so. He will then meet a few ladies, and if it works then the ceremony will be arranged and I think some money paid to the family. Once married, they go back to Taiwan to live their lives. Essentially its buying a bride, and because the way it is arranged, some of the brides gets treated like servants because the husbands family ‘bought’ them, which is really horrible… It is somewhere between arranged marriage and forced marriage, depending on the case I guess.

4. Dutch

Bea Dorpema:
Mensenhandel (human trafficking), dwangarbeid (forced labor), gedwongen huwelijk (forced marriage), schuld slavernij (debt slavery literally), moderne slavernij (modern slavery).

5. French

Alain Fournier:
Trafic d’êtres humains, travail forcé, mariage forcé, lien de la dette, esclavage moderne. In french Canada, which was invaded by England in 1767, these terms are related to the work context with the English owners of the land or the factories or the lumber industry. There was indeed debt bondage. Forced labor relate to prisons. All these terms are related to clandestinity and may first appear as temporary solutions.

6. German

Ursula Hilton-Jones:
German as a first language is spoken in Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland  Human trafficking= Menschenhandel (trading with humans)  Forced labour= Zwangsarbeit (compulsive, or enforced work)  Forced marriage= Zwangsehe( enforced marriage)  Debt bondage= Schuldenkreislauf (debt circle)  Modern slavery=Moderne Sklaverei (modern slavery)

7. Icelandic

Una Jónsdóttir:
The Icelandic term for human trafficking is “mansal”. “Man” is an old word for a  slave and  “sal” means to buy or sell (related to the English word “sell”). Slavery was lawful in Iceland in the Middle Ages until the 13th century (or around that time), but not since then. The word “mansal”  is as old as that. When I think  of modern slavery I think of  someone  who is forced to work and doesn’t get any pay, is maybe held as a prisoner or intimidated by threats, and may even be subject to physical or sexual  abuse by the perpetrator.

8. Indonesian

Angelina S.:
Human trafficking mostly happens in Indonesia to people who wants to work as home assistant abroad. There is a lot of illegal/crime organization/group that took those people away from their home and send them as forced labor among others Southeast Asia countries and other parts of Asia. Those criminal give a promise of a decent-paid job abroad as a home assistant. Indonesia’s dividend have a major part comes from the people who lives abroad and send them back their salary to their family.

“Kawin paksa” or “nikah paksa” means forced marriage in Bahasa Indonesia. These words mostly happen in Indonesia to teenage girls as their parents forced them to marry one of their “good friends” or someone who they believe can give a good life and good financial for their daughter. The pandemic drives a lot of teenagers as their parents think they can have a better life after marriage. But marriages in pandemic era mostly happen between two teenagers. A lot of them don’t want to go to college and choose to work and/or marry.

“Utang” or “Hutang” means debt and “pelunasan utang/hutang” means debt repayment in Bahasa Indonesia. These terms have a strong connection with debt bondage here. Forced labor also comes in mind with these terms.

“Perbudakan” is slavery in Bahasa Indonesia. Modern slavery in Indonesia still happens in national companies. People forced to live in a public mess to work for the companies. The labors work in a long work shift with underpayment. Their workplace has a bad condition of safety and hygiene.

9. Italian

Marisa Verna:
Lavoro forzato (forced labor); matrimonio forzato (forced marriage); no specific term for debt bondage.

Bianca Maria Cerri:
Italian for Human trafficking is traffico di esseri umani.

10. Kinyarwanda

Faustin Uwintije:
Human trafficking: gutwarwa bunyago, kunyuruzwa.
Forced labor: imilimo y’ uburetwa
Debt bondage: gufatwa bugwate
Modern slavery: ubugaruzwamuheto, ubucakara bwa kino gihe

11. Pilipino

Azine Steenbergen:
Human trafficking – Pilipino – pagbenta ng tao. Forced labor – sapilitang trabaho. Forced marriage – sapilitang asawa. Slavery/ bondage – Alipin. It’s a common problem Among Filipinos seeking jobs overseas (OFW).

12. Portuguese

Denise Pellegrini:
Human Trafficking:  Tráfico de Pessoas,  Tráfico Humano
Forced Labour:  Trabalho forçado
Forced marriage:  Casamento forçado
Debt bondage:  Escravidão por dívida
Modern Slavery:   Escravidão moderna,  Neo-escravidão

13. Serbian

Maja Rajkov:
Serbian, spoken in Serbia, uses pretty much the same terms as English, of course, translated. So, we use “trgovina ljudima” meaning human trafficking, “prinudni rad” (=forced labor), “dužničko ropstvo” (=debt bondage), but it is a bit colloquial term, and we usually do not use any term for forced marriage because it is not a common practice in Serbia (though we have a custom inside our Romani community to marry young – as young as 12-13 years old).

14. Spanish

Lara Chiavarini:
One of the main problems I see and read when talking about human trafficking in my native language (Spanish) is the difference between “trata de personas” (human trafficking) and “tráfico de personas” (smuggling of migrants). I dare to say this has its origins in “bad” translations. Forced labour could be said “trabajo forzado” or “trabajo forzoso”, forced marriages can be said in both ways as well “matrimonios forzados/forzosos”. Debt bondages is generally found linked to modern slavery: “esclavitud por deudas” and finally modern slavery could be found as “esclavitud contemporánea” more than “moderna”.  When talking about “human trafficking” and “modern slavery”, depending on who is writing and who is their audience, people chose one word or the other. Modern slavery may be more shocking so it is generally found (at least in my country, Argentina) in newspapers and articles. Nevertheless it is also true that people usually say that they are slaves of their work, of the system, etc.

Michael Solah:
Esclavitud, tráfico de personas/humanos (Spanish – Ecuador). There are a lot of signs in travel places (airports/border crossings) with warnings about human trafficking, including penalties. Unfortunately child trafficking is a big issue and I feel it is not discussed enough, it disproportionately affects those in poverty in Ecuador. The implications are similar to English, though in Ecuador it is often assumed the people being trafficked are children.

Elsa Grimaldi:
In Argentina, where we speak Spanish, those terms are translated into: tráfico de personas, trabajos forzados, matrimonios forzados, dependencia de la deuda, esclavitud moderna. What comes to mind with these issues is the humiliating, pain-inflicting ways in which humans treat other human beings, usually based on religious or cultural motivations but many a time for economic motivations, e.g. to make profit out of selling or enslaving other people (women, children, men).

15. Russian

Aleks Yakubson:
I don’t think there’s whole lot of difference. sadly in many parts of former USSR practices such as forced or ‘arranged’ marriage and child exploitation are practiced. debt bondage perhaps comes in form of ‘stavit’ na schetchik’, ‘put on counter’, when one person, often of criminal inclinations, dupes another into some form of debt(gambling, etc), and then makes them do things for them. ‘torgovlya lyud’mi'(human or people trading) is perhaps closest to ‘human trafficking’ though probably not exactly same, as it describes not the act of illegally bringing people somewhere as much as what for. forced/arranged marriage is a very serious problem rooted in centuries of pseudo tradition lifestyle, in regions such as North Caucasus and Central Asia.

16. Welsh

David Evans:
caethwasiaeth = welsh for slavery
trafnidiaeth dynol = human trafficking
priodas orfodol = forced marriage
dyled = debt
caswasiaeth fodern = modern slavery

17. Yoruba

Adebowale Bello:
These words in my native language usually carry a sense of bond-servanthood. They imply forcefully making people act in ways that undermine their human dignity. For example, forced slavery – Ifipa munisin (Yoruba language).