New Delhi – MENA Herald: Ten Indian faith and spiritual leaders signed a joint declaration to end modern slavery within a generation at the Global Freedom Network gathering in Delhi today. This landmark declaration was signed by faith and spiritual leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian and Jewish faiths; who together represent 95% of the Indian population of 1.2 billion people.

The Declaration against Modern Slavery was signed in Delhi by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, His Holiness Morari Bapu, Dr Mufti Mukarram Ahmed (Shahi Imam, Fatehpuri Masjid), Swami Ramdeo, Dr Kalbe Sadiq Moulana (Founder, Tauheedul Muslimeen Trust), His Holiness Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Jathedar Avtar Singh (President, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, SGPC), Rabbi Ezekiel Issaic Malekar (Jewish Faith), Dr Homi Dhalla (Zorostrian Faith, President – World Zarathusti Cultural Foundation), Alwan Masih (General Secretary of the Church of North India) and Mr. Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Global Freedom Network.

Today’s event marks a major milestone in the rollout of the Global Freedom Network internationally. It comes one year after the signing of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery on 02 December 2014 by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish leaders in the spirit of peace, love and respect for each other’s religion, and a day after a similar inter-faith commitment was made in Canberra by Australian faith leaders, on the occasion of the UN’s 2015 International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

“When I heard the news of the agreement signed last year on the 2nd December, 2014,” said His Holiness Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, “I was so touched and glad to see the leaders of all faiths coming together, beyond borders of religion, race, country, culture and creed, all in agreement about the importance to end slavery.

“Today here in India, it is so beautiful to have all our faith leaders together, joining hands and hearts in the great mission to end this atrocity, to end this crime against humanity. Freedom is not a religious tenet. It is an inviolable, inalienable human right. We are here today not only to pray for an end to slavery but to pledge to WORK for an end to slavery.”

Commenting on the signing of the joint declaration against slavery in India, Mr. Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Global Freedom Network (GFN), philanthropist and founder of the Walk Free Foundation that was a founding partner of GFN said:

“Last year’s Declaration created the first public agreement between the leaders of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, including both Sunni and Shia traditions. It was also the first meeting in history between a Grand Ayatolloh and a Pope. However I suppose what struck me most was the public agreements from the very top, the global leaders of religions. It was even the first public agreement between the Anglican and Catholic churches led by the holy Father the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, since prior to Reformation. They all came together in peace, love and respect.

“Yesterday in Australia Australian faith leaders came together, with the full endorsement of the Australian government, to make the same declaration as that made last year in the Vatican on the UN International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Today with even more fervor and commitment, we strongly and resolutely declare our commitment in India to now bring slavery to an end as well. Our challenge is now much greater here, but so is the commitment and dedication of our people and leadership.”

“The Modi Government has demonstrated that it is actively tackling the issue of human trafficking by creating the national anti-trafficking body under the Home Ministry, and recognizes the problems with rescue and rehabilitation of victims. The issue of human trafficking and modern slavery is a severe one in India and it requires the joint efforts of the Indian government, civil society, faith and spiritual leaders, the business community and the people of India. I applaud the commitment today of India’s faith and spiritual leaders to embed action against modern slavery in the very fabric of their advocacy.”

The declaration against slavery assumes significance as India tops the 2014 Global Slavery Index with as many as 14.7m people estimated to be trapped in bondage, the highest number of modern slavery in absolute terms. In terms of prevalence (the percentage of the population in modern slavery) India is ranked fourth globally of 162 countries, after Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan.

The Global Slavery Index 2014 released by the Walk Free Foundation last year estimated that throughout the world, almost 36 million people are estimated to be living as modern slaves – trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude. Modern slavery is defined as: child labour; forced labour; forced marriage; forced prostitution; child prostitution; children in armed conflict; human trafficking; debt bondage, and being born into servitude.