Education, development, and reform to counter debt bondage: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights revisited

A Report on Debt Bondage, Carpet-Making, and Child Slavery

In Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Dr. Kevin Bales estimates that there are at least 27 million slaves in the world today – more than at any other time in human history. Slavery is on the rise around the world for the simple reason that unpaid, forced labor constitutes an excellent (though brutal) means to economic profit. For callous businessmen, slaves are disposable people who toil to meet the global market’s demand for goods. The lower a good’s production costs, the more competitive it will be on the global market.

Ironically, India, the world’s largest democracy, is also home to more slaves than all the other countries of the world combined. With roughly one billion inhabitants, India supports over 15% of the world’s population. And with more than half of India’s population living below the income poverty line3, nearly 40% of the population cannot afford a sufficient diet. As inadequate government expenditure on education, health, and welfare increases the high vulnerability of much of India’s vast population, exploitation – even enslavement – are everyday realities for many Indians.

Due in part to tremendous pressure to participate in the global market, India’s industries readily make use of cheap, even forced, labor. Because a developing country like India lacks the resources to modernize yet enjoys a large potential workforce, slave labor often becomes the preferred method for keeping costs low and profits high. And though India has many employment codes – outlawing child labor, exploitation of children, and bonded labor (a form of involuntary servitude) – slavery, especially that of children, persists unabated. […]

The most prevalent form of modern day slavery, known as debt bondage or bonded labor, occurs when a person becomes a security against a debt or small loan. In India, these loans range from $14 to $214, and are usually incurred for basic necessities like food, emergency needs (e.g. medical treatment), marriage dowry (a long-standing tradition), or funeral expenses. With exorbitant interest rates of up to 60%, these loans are difficult, if not impossible, to repay. Individuals thus become trapped within a system of debt bondage that forces them to repay loans by working unconditionally for their entire lives – even passing on the same debt for generations. Human rights groups estimate that 15 to 20 million slaves are represented by bonded labor in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal alone.

Debt bondage and other types of slavery are prevalent in both export-oriented and domestic industries. Both adults and children are enslaved, though the frequency of child slavery is much higher, as children are easier to exploit.

Trapping Children

The extreme poverty of the harijans or untouchables (the lowest group in the traditional caste system) and the adivasis (the tribals or indigenous people) make them the most vulnerable groups for exploitation. 80% to 90% of all bonded laborers in India are harijans and adivasis. The absolute levels of poverty and the lack of social welfare, education, or alternatives make it very easy for the loom owners to exploit these groups. Within these groups, children are probably the most exploited. One justification for child labor in the carpet industry is the predominant “myth of nimble fingers, which claims that the small fingers of children are more productive than those of adults. (Nevertheless, the quality carpets that can be sold at the highest prices are often those made by adults.) […]

Some children become bonded laborers because they are given to the loom owners on the false promise of an education or good wages (to be sent back home to help the family). Others are simply sold to loom owners because their families cannot afford to feed them. Even more children are simply kidnapped and sold into slavery. […]

UNICEF also helps buy children out of bondage through its support of the Child Labour Abolition Support Scheme (CLASS). In 1996, UNICEF cited a program in which the district collector (administrative chief) in North Arcot bought children out of bondage with the help of CLASS. A UNICEF report states that: “The immediate objective of the project was to develop income-producing alternatives so that mothers could buy their children out of bondage and send them to school. Release fees were negotiated for working children, and their mothers joined self-help groups to raise money. The groups earned income by rearing dairy cows and selling their milk. Mothers qualified for a group buy-out loan and matching grant from the state of Tamil Nadu if they worked for the group and promised to keep their children in school once they were released.28 Buybacks programs, however, are not the solution to ending debt bondage. It would be impossible to pay off the debts of hundreds of thousands of child slaves. But these programs do bring hope to bonded individuals and their families while encouraging local communities to fight for a change in the existing system. Benefits of these programs include education, development, and reform. Nevertheless, the need for a larger solution remains.

Source: “A Report on Debt Bondage, Carpet-Making, and Child Slavery” by Swathi Mehta, Tufts University (American Anti-Slavery Group, 23 June 2010)
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  • The National Human Right Commission (NHRC) describes “crimes like rape, molestation, torture, fake encounter in police custody as manifestations of a systemic failure to protect human rights”;
  • It reports that “rights of the people were violated or negligence was shown by a public servant in the prevention of such violations”; NHRC concludes:
  • “Atrocities against vulnerable sections of society – women, children, disabled and the elderly – are often compounded when they belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”; and therefore demands:
  • India must ratify the International Convention against Torture.

Educating for human rights and global citizenship

“Nearly sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in spite of progress on some fronts, we are in many cases as far away as ever from achieving an inclusive citizenship and human rights for all. While human rights violations continue to affect millions across the world, there are also ongoing contestations regarding citizenship. In response to these and related issues, the contributors to this book critique both historical and current practices and suggest several pragmatic options, highlighting the role of education in attaining these noble yet unachieved objectives. This book represents a welcome addition to the human rights and global citizenship literature and provides ideas for new platforms that are human rights friendly and expansively attuned toward global citizenship.”–Jacket.

Author: Ali A Abdi; Lynette Shultz
Publisher: Albany : State University of New York Press, ©2008
ISBN: 9780791473733

Source: Educating for human rights and global citizenship (Book, 2008) []
Date Visited: Sat Sep 05 2015 11:16:38 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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