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Bonded labour and its fruits

New Delhi, Sat, 26 May 2007 Nadeem Bhat

May 26: The future of the country is melting in the heat and suffering for the debts which the country has never taken. India has the largest number of working children in the world today ranging up to 115 million. We see them picking rags in the streets or sweating in the stone quarries and some are hidden away as domestic servants. They are more abused than what they earn. Going to the school is just a dream which never comes true. Many of them have been working since the age of four or five, and by the time they reach adulthood they may be permanently sick or exhausted.

At least 15 million of these children are working under compulsions, whether for the poor economic condition of the family or for compensating their unpaid dues. These are bonded labors.

"Bonded child labor" refers to the phenomenon of children working in conditions of servitude in order to pay off a debt. The debt that binds them to their employer is incurred not by the children themselves, but by their relatives or guardians-usually by a parent.

The debt amount is neither in lacks nor in thousands but most of the times it is less than four figure mark. The research has revealed that extreme debt amount in such cases is 7500 in India. The creditors-cum-employers offer these "loans" to destitute parents in an effort to secure the labor of a child, which is always cheap, but even cheaper under a situation of bondage.

It is a give and take business between the parents and the employer or exploiter to be precise. The parents, offer their children, accept the loans. Bondage is a traditional worker-employer relationship in India, and the parents need the money to pay for the costs of an illness or to provide a dowry to a marrying child or perhaps-as is often the case-to help put food on the table.

The children work for years under their bond masters and still they often fail to pay off these debts. The wages paid to them are lowest it could get and in contrast the interest on debt amount has the highest rate. It is hard for them to be released by the employer. In many cases they are released but in favor of a newly-indebted and younger child. Many others will pass the debt on, intact or even higher, to a younger sibling, back to a parent, or on to their own children.

The past few years have seen increasing public awareness-in India itself, but particularly in the international arena-of the high incidence of child servitude in the carpet industry of South Asia. As a consequence, the international public has come to associate "child servitude" with the image of small children chained to carpet looms, slaving away over the thousands of tiny wool knots that will eventually become expensive carpets in the homes of the wealthy.

This attention and the outrage it has provoked are entirely warranted-the use of bonded child labor in the production of carpets for export is extensive, and conditions in that industry are horrendous. But it is vital that the public's concern for children in servitude not begin and end with carpets. More than 300,000 children are estimated to be working in the carpet industry, the majority of them in bondage. This is a large number, but it represents only about 2 percent of the bonded child laborers of India.

The great majority of the bonded labours are working in the agricultural sector, tending cattle and goats, picking tea leaves on vast plantations especially girl children, and in working fields of sugar cane and basic crops all across the country. Apart from agriculture, which accounts for 64 percent of all labor in India, bonded child laborers form a significant part of the work force in a multitude of domestic and export industries. These include, but are not limited to, the production of silk and silk saris, beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes), silver jewelry, synthetic gemstones, leather products (including footwear and sporting goods), hand-woven wool carpets, and precious gemstones and diamonds. Services where bonded child labor is prevalent include prostitution, small restaurants, truck stops and tea shop services, and domestic servitude.

A relatively recent law-the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986-designates a child as "a person who has not completed their fourteenth year of age. It attempts to regulate the hours and conditions of some child workers and to prohibit the use of child labor in certain enumerated hazardous industries. However there is no blanket prohibition on the use of child labor, nor any universal minimum age set for child workers.

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 holds the importance of all, especially for the children in servitude. It strictly outlaws all forms of debt bondage and forced labor. However, without the political will to implement them, these extensive legal safeguards mean little. In India, this will is very much lacking. Whether due to corruption, indifference or anything else, these laws are simply not enforced. Even in rare cases where offenders are prosecuted, the sentences are limited to negligible fines.

In reality, the Indian government has failed to protect its most vulnerable children. When others have stepped in to try to fill the vacuum and advocate on behalf of those children, India's leaders and much of its media have attributed nearly all "outside" attempts at action to a hidden commercial motive. The view holds, the developed world is not concerned with Indian children, but rather with maintaining a competitive lead in the global marketplace. Holding to this defensive stance, some officials have threatened to end all foreign funding of child labor-related projects.

Multilateral lending institutions have failed in their obligations as well. By neglecting to ensure that the projects they fund do not involve the use of bonded child labor, they have exacerbated the problem of bonded child labor. These institutions and their funders should take every measure to ensure that aid does not result in child slavery.

It is time for Indian government to accept responsibility for the slavery in its midst, to admit that it is not inevitable, and to end it. India is the world's largest democracy, a nuclear power, the world's second most populous country, and, although a poor nation, one of the six largest economies of the world. It is possible to end child servitude. The only thing lacking is will.


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fakhar imam

October 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

it is important to spend the 25% of the countrty budget on education and also also curicullam of the whole country in all level must be same.


 

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