When humanity evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer lifestyle by planting crops and building permanent dwellings, the concepts of wealth and power suddenly gained significance. With wealth came inequality. With power, servitude.
Ever since, those without wealth and power have had to struggle for justice against those who have it all. Our story as a species has been defined by the battle between the haves and the have-nots. And while the fight is far from over, a quick look back through the history books shows how far humanity has come from our darkest days.
The human rights statistics we’ve compiled in this article paint a fairly comprehensive picture of where we’re at on a societal level. Some might inspire you, others might distress you. Either way, we’re sure that after reading through this page, you’ll appreciate just how important human rights are, as well as understanding just how hard people have fought to get to this position.
If you live in a country where you have regular and easy access to the basics like food, water, and shelter, as well as the freedom to make your own choices and practice your own religion, then you should never take human rights for granted.
Human Rights Facts - Editor’s Choice
- More than one in four children in poor countries was involved in child labor in 2019.
- UNICEF reports that more than 650 million women today got married before they were 18.
- About 800 million children lived in fragile and conflict-affected zones worldwide in 2019.
- One-third of women and girls experienced some form of violence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
- Today, only 43 countries recognize homophobic crimes as a type of hate crime.
- There were 80 million displaced people around the globe in 2020.
- Only 37 women (6.6%) were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2020.
- Roughly 20% of the world’s population will live in a slum by 2030, global trends indicate.
Some Elemental Human Rights Statistics
1) Only four in 10 respondents to a 2019 Ipsos survey think that their country should always respect international laws on human rights.
It appears that only 38% of those surveyed consider human rights to be an essential guarantee of everyone’s dignity. Alternatively, 21% believe their country should break these laws only in case of extreme circumstances. Another 22% consider human rights to be just one of the factors that should be weighed up.
2) In 2019, the OHCHR reported that 35,997 victims of torture had received support and rehabilitation during that year.
Many countries and international organizations define freedom from torture as one essential type of human rights. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture was founded in 1981 with a directive to support torture victims and their families. Besides providing rehabilitation to the victims of torture across 77 countries, the organization offered assistance to 8,594 victims of modern-day slavery in more than 20 countries during 2019.
3) More than one in four children in poor countries was involved in child labor in 2019.
International organizations define child labor as any activity involving children too young to work, or children taking part in dangerous activities that can damage their mental and physical health.
Children’s human rights and labor abuse statistics are the worst in developing countries. The largest rate of child laborers was in sub-Saharan Africa, with around 29% of children affected. That falls to 5% in the Middle East and North Africa. According to UNICEF, girls and boys are equally likely to be exploited for labor.
4) The UN allocated $4,272,554 for projects aimed to protect human rights in 2019.
In 2019, the UN Human Rights Grants Committee bestowed 66 grants worth nearly $4.3 million in 28 countries. Most of the money went to funds and projects that aim to prevent contemporary slavery and torture while protecting indigenous populations, democracy, and community developments.
5) Armed conflict has caused the death of 2 million children in the past decade.
In addition to these grim human rights facts, UNICEF’s research has shown that 12 million children suffer from a disability because of war and conflict. Another 6 million are homeless, while more than a million became orphans in the same period.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, alongside many other organizations, actively work all around the globe to decrease these devastating statistics. They organize food and medicine packages, as well as long-term projects to secure children’s basic human rights.
6) UNICEF reports that more than 650 million women today got married before they were 18.
These human rights violations statistics are shocking; they show that approximately 21% of girls worldwide get married before their 18th birthday, totalling 12 million each year. The proportion of child marriages is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, around 37%. To illustrate it better, about 76% of girls under 18 get married in Niger, 68% in the Central African Republic, and 67% in Chad.
7) About 27 million people are living in slavery today, the most recent info suggests.
The UN Slavery Convention defines modern slavery as the status of a person over whom some or all powers of ownership are exercised. This isn’t just a problem in developing countries; data on human rights violations around the world from the Global Slavery Index states that around 136,000 lived in some form of modern-day slavery in the United Kingdom in 2018.
This number in the US was much higher, with approximately 403,000 people working under forced conditions. North Korea, however, holds the top place globally, with more than 2.6 million people being forced to work for the government.
8) There are more than 250,000 child soldiers globally, according to the latest statistics.
Children are often enlisted in armies or militias in conflict-stricken areas. Non-government forces commonly take these children from their families and use them either as actual soldiers or in other supporting roles. Often this includes sexual exploitation. Approximately 40% of these children with violated human rights are girls, and the abductors select them to be sex slaves.
9) Today, only 43 countries recognize homophobic crimes as a type of hate crime.
On top of this, just 27 of 195 countries worldwide have legalized same-sex marriage. This means that a sizable percentage of people in the world don’t have access to the basic human right of being with their partner of choice. With this in mind, it’s shocking but not surprising that the LGBT+ population has been victim to some of the worst human rights violations in history.
10) According to the latest info, 4.5% of the population in the US identifies as LGBT+.
Based on stats from the Williams Institute, of the roughly 11.3 million people who openly identify as LGBT+ in the US, around 25% have an annual income of less than $24K. The largest population of LGBT+ adults lives on the West Coast, although Washington D.C. has the highest percentage of LGBT+ people per capita (9.8%).
However, because of discrimination, many people still hide their sexuality, even in the US. In some anonymous polls, researchers have discovered that more than 10% of respondents express interest in the same sex.
11) Globally, fewer than 50% of working-age women were taking part in the labor market in 2019.
For comparison, around three in four men (74.7%) participated in the labor market during that same period, according to United Nations human rights statistics. This represents quite a large gap that even developed countries are still fighting to close. Per estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic will also negatively affect women’s employment status.
12) About 800 million children lived in fragile and conflict-affected zones worldwide in 2019.
Data shows that the poverty rate is 20% higher in places plagued by repeated violence. Despite global trends of decreasing poverty, countries hit by conflict are stagnating.
Death and violence aren’t the only source of children's suffering; limited access to basic needs like food and water is also a major problem. The average child under 15 living in a conflict zone is three times more likely to die from an illness that has to do with poor sanitation and unsafe water than from violence.
13) Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world - nearly four million people, based on the Universal Human Rights Index.
Most refugees in Turkey are Syrians who have fled the decade-long civil war. The vast majority (98%) are not living in camps and have poor access to basic needs. Turkish authorities are working on providing them with essential healthcare, education, and housing. Still, years of displacement have had a tremendous impact on many, leaving them with no income and often finding themselves begging for food and money.
14) More than 152 million children worldwide are taking part in child labor, according to the latest ILO report.
This means that around one in every 10 children globally has to endure some kind of unethical labor, as reported by the Cocoa Initiative. Shockingly, much of this labor is part of global supply chains for major companies.
Many of these children suffer from maltreatment, malnutrition, and a lack of healthcare, as well as being robbed of a normal childhood. Human rights violations statistics show that they often work long hours with little or no compensation.
15) In 2019, people in 64 countries experienced the degradation of their civil liberties and political rights.
Based on the most recent findings by Freedom House, worldwide freedom has been in decline for 14 consecutive years.
As opposed to those 64 whose freedom levels deteriorated in 2019, only 37 countries improved. Governments violated human rights not just in autocratic societies, but also in democracies. For example, China led the way with one of the most rigorous rights deprivation programs, both against minorities and the general population.
Worst Human Rights Violations Examples Worldwide
16) China has installed a surveillance system over its Muslim population of 13 million in Xinjiang province.
According to Human Rights Watch, Beijing has outdone most other countries in terms of human rights violations. With technological improvements, the Chinese government’s ability to control Muslim Uyghur and Kazakh populations has become truly frightening.
For instance, there are around a million government appointees whose job is to periodically visit and even stay at the homes Muslim people as “guests.” Their principal task is to monitor Muslims and their adherence to Communist Party directives and ideals.
17) According to the US Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 22,326 victims of human trafficking registered in the US in 2019.
Over the years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of people contacting the hotline, as well as in the number of identified cases of human trafficking. For reference, authorities classified about 11,500 human rights violations in 2019 as human trafficking and detained 4,384 traffickers. Of all victims, 14,597 were caught up in sex trafficking rings.
18) According to the most recent data, China has 1.7 million people registered in 680 prisons.
British supermarket chain Tesco revoked a contract with a Chinese supplier over a charity Christmas card in 2019. Why? Because a six-year-old child in the United Kingdom found a note in a Christmas card from a forced-labor prisoner in China. The provider of the cards - a printing factory in China - is fairly close to Qingpu prison, which the press immediately realized.
19) In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled €42,500 that Russia must pay to LGBT+ organizations for refusing their registration.
In 2019, three organizations filed a claim for human rights abuses against Russia in the ECHR after the government denied their registration, citing dubious reasons such as “destroying moral values.”
Russian laws ban “non-traditional propaganda” and aim to “protect” children from LGBT+ messaging. Critics say that with the adoption of a special law in 2013 allowing discrimination against LGBT+ people, Russia incited harassment and violence against sexual minorities.
20) In 2019, Cuban authorities held 109 political prisoners in government prisons.
While the official figure was 109 political prisoners, in Cuba, human rights statistics reported by the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation might be susceptible to manipulation. Since human rights organizations can’t enter prisons, it’s difficult to determine how many more people have been incarcerated because of their political views.
For example, in 2018, political activist Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for “pre-delinquent social dangerousness.”
21) Since the military offensive against the Muslim Rohingya by the army in Myanmar, around 855,000 refugees have escaped to Bangladesh.
Human rights statistics from 2018 show that while 14,500 Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh that year, nearly 850,000 did the same in 2017.
In Myanmar, around 130,000 Muslims - mostly Rohingya - have been sent to labor camps with terrible conditions, including a lack of food and healthcare. UN agencies and NGOs initiated a joint response plan in 2020 to try to tackle the crisis, looking to raise $877 million in support of the displaced communities.
COVID-19 & Human Rights Statistics 2020
22) In El Salvador, more than 4,000 people have been arrested and apprehended in containment centers forbreaking the COVID-19 curfew.
The measures taken by the government have provoked a backlash from the public, especially after confirmed cases of police brutality and violations of multiple rights against those who have been arrested.
Police have detained many people despite their permits to be out at a specific time or perform their essential jobs, according to Human Rights Watch statistics.
Even the Supreme Court ruled that the behavior of the police was unconstitutional and ordered the release of all detainees arrested under those circumstances.
23) COVID-19 will push more than 15.9 million people in Latin America & the Caribbean into extreme poverty, according to the newest estimates.
This suggests that the total number of poor people in the LAC region could reach 214 million, which is 34% of the area’s entire population. That’s a shocking human rights fact in a region that already faces among the highest levels of inequality and socioeconomic challenges in the world.
COVID-19 will have a particularly severe effect on marginalized groups, including LGBT+ people and women.
24) There were more than 80 million displaced people around the globe in 2020.
Of this number, more than half - 45.7 million people - were internally displaced within their own country. On top of that, 26.3 million were refugees and 4.2 million were asylum seekers.
Based on asylum-seeking statistics, the US alone received 63,278 requests for asylum in 2018.
25) In 2020, there were approximately 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced outside their home country, according to the most recent human rights violation statistics.
That’s out of a total of 4.5 million Venezuelans who had fled their country by mid-2020 Around 138,600 of those people were refugees, 808,200 were asylum seekers, while the other 3.6 million were displaced abroad.
Colombia is the main transit route or destination for most people escaping from the country’s cruel conditions and conflict. Indeed, the Venezuelan population in Colombia reached 1.82 million in 2020.
If you look at the UNHCR’s human rights violations by country ranking, Venezuela is among the worst in the world when it comes to atrocious infractions upon people’s rights.
26) Around 67% of all refugees originated from five countries alone in 2020.
This trend continued from 2019, when the same five countries were the source of a vast number of displaced people. These countries are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Venezuela, and Myanmar.
Alongside brutal dictatorships like North Korea and Turkmenistan, these five were arguably the worst human rights countries in 2020. Syria, for example, has seen more escapees than any other country since 2014. In 2019 and 2020, more than 126 countries hosted around 6.6 million Syrians.
Venezuela had 3.7 million people displaced outside the country, Afghanistan 2.7 million, South Sudan 2.3 million, and Myanmar more than a million.
27) Globally, an estimated 18% of women and girls experienced some form of violence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
A staggering number of women felt unsafe and isolated during the lockdowns enforced by governments to curb the pandemic. Many of them suffered human rights violations in 2020, often in the form of sexual or physical violence from their partner.
Sexual assault statistics from the US Department of Justice show that in 2020, around 1.9 million women experienced an assault, almost half a million more than in 2019. On average, there are 137 cases in which a partner or family member kills a woman every day.
Rights for Women, Workers, and LGBT+ People
28) Only 37 women (6.6%) were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2020.
The number of women in management positions globally is around 29%, fewer than a third of the total. On top of that, only 26% of board directors in the S&P 500 were women in 2019.
While we usually focus on statistics for human rights in conflict-ridden regions, it’s worth remembering that inequality is still a fundamental issue in wealthy countries, too.
Stats like this are even more worrying when we consider that women make up roughly half of the labor force and are more likely to have a college degree than men.
29) In 2021, women earn 81 cents for each dollar earned by men.
While it seems that the gap is narrowing, the average woman would have to work for roughly two months more than a man each year to earn the average US annual salary of $60,700. Among those with the exact same qualifications and job titles, the gap is much smaller according to Payscale: women earn 98% of what men earn in those circumstances.
Until the gap is completely closed on all fronts, nobody could reasonably argue that the issue has been solved.
30) In 2020, freedom of speech was restricted in some way by 56 countries, human rights data shows.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right defined by all international instruments and conventions.
The number of countries limiting this basic right increased from 54 in 2019 to 56 in 2020. Last year, we saw mass and severe violations of freedom of speech in Turkey and Hong Kong. Just one of many examples was the police storming Apple Daily, a news outlet in Hong Kong, having accused Apple Daily of “colluding with foreign powers.”
31) Approximately 85% of countries limited workers’ right to strike in 2020.
Several countries (Guinea, Senegal, Togo, and Belarus) banned demonstrations and gatherings of unsatisfied workers, while workers experienced police brutality in others (Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador).
According to the human rights index by country , the 10 worst countries for workers in 2020 were: Brazil, Colombia, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, India, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Honduras, and Turkey.
32) 16.7% of 7,103 single-bias incidents registered in 2020 by the FBI were based on the victim’s sexual orientation.
According to ILGA, an association that works to protect LGBT+ rights, these statistics don’t even come close to describing the actual situation, especially since they are based on voluntary data that law enforcement agencies deliver to the FBI.
Views on LGBT+ rights vary wildly around the world. While 94% of those surveyed in Sweden in 2019 said homosexuality is acceptable, only 7% of people in Nigeria agreed. From the 34 countries surveyed, the median of those who accept homosexuality was 52%.
Human Rights: Trends and Uncertainty
33) Nine in 10 Europeans believe human rights are crucial in a fair society, 2020 research suggests.
This, however, varies from country to country. At the lower end of the scale is Hungary, where facts about human rights attitudes show that only around 76% of citizens believe this (especially when it comes to LGBT+ rights). On the contrary, 96% of respondents in Malta acknowledged the importance of human rights.
34) Roughly 20% of the world’s population will live in slums by 2030, global trends show.
Not all people who live in slums are denied their basic rights, but in a general sense, many encounter distinct challenges that prevent them from exercising those rights.
In most of today’s slums around the globe, people have limited access to clean water and sanitation. Violence is also disturbingly common, both in the form of gang attacks and domestic abuse. All the above could lead to the violation of human rights, statistics show.
35) Between 40 million and 160 million women globally may need to change their career path or move into a more skilled job by 2030.
The rise of AI technology and automation is creating further challenges within the labor market. The most recent study from McKinsey suggests that the future will need tech-savvy, easily adaptable workers. It seems future employment trends and automation will equally affect both men and women.
From a sample of 10 countries, statistics showing the number of employees demonstrate that around 20% of women working today might lose their job. For men, the stats show 21% of them are in danger of being made redundant.
36) By 2030, around 46% of the world’s poor population will live in conflict-affected areas.
According to world human rights statistics from the EIB, more than half of the extreme poor globally lived in conflict-stricken areas in 2020 already, while around 80% will live in frail conditions by 2030.
Countries marked as fragile usually have unstable governance and weak political and economic systems, as well as security problems and a tendency toward violence and conflict. The EIB has identified 58 fragile states across the world.
37) Iceland has closed its gender gap by over 85%, the most recent information suggests.
In 2018, Iceland officially made it not just illegal, but a criminal offense for employers to pay women less than men. That’s just one reason why more than 80% of women take part in the country’s workforce.
Following Iceland, the closest to bridging the gender gap are other Nordic countries with the best human rights standing. For reference, Norway has closed 83.5% of its gender gap, with Sweden and Finland both at 82.2%.
38) Joint and individual efforts by governments, workers, and employers have helped 94 million children engaged in child labor since 2000.
Data from the US Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) indicates that US government initiatives have made the life of two million children and around 185,000 families better in the US. ILAb has done so through education, financial support, and by increasing capacities to combat child labor.
Sadly, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to trigger a rise in child labor all over the world and hamper international efforts.
39) There were 657 recorded death penalty executions in 2019, a decrease of 5% year on year, as statistics on universal human rights show.
The 657 executions took place in around 20 countries worldwide, representing the fewest registered executions in over 10 years.
The states that carried out the most executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq. Because of the lack of clear statistics, especially since China doesn’t provide this information, the actual number is probably much higher. Iran recorded at least 251 executions, of which at least four of those people killed were underage when they committed their crimes.
40) The share of children in the workforce in Brazil decreased between 1992 and 2008, from 6% to only 0.5%.
According to the latest findings from World Vision, more than 2 million children aged between five and 14 years are taking part in labor in Brazil.
However, trends are changing. Some statistics on human rights issues from a UCW study point out various factors that play a significant role in the decline of child labor across Brazil. For instance, special programs and more concentrated social protection policies have helped minimize poverty and income inequality.
Access to basic human needs - water, for example - was of key significance in rural parts.
The Future of Human Rights
So, what does the future have in store when it comes to human rights?
Well, global power is shifting, that’s for sure. Some established economies are falling, while other emerging ones are rising. COVID-19 in particular has shown us all that nobody is untouchable and that our global system is a fragile one.
Nobody can say for sure whether human rights violation facts will paint a better or worse picture 25 years from now, but we can be fairly confident that awareness of these issues has never been higher.
One of the major factors in the coming decades will be climate change. As global temperatures rise, food scarcity and water shortages will surely drive displacement and conflict, causing poverty levels to rise.
But all might not be that bleak, as many studies predict that urbanization and technological advancements could create a bigger and better-educated middle class. Those are exactly the people the world needs to challenge the status quo.