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)
Address : https://www.iabolish.org/a-report-on-debt-bondage-carpet-making-and-child-slavery/
Date Visited: 9 February 2022

Learn more: Bondage | Bonded labour | Human trafficking | SlaveryZamindari >>
Human trafficking is a crime. To report in India, call Shakti Vahini
+91-11-42244224, +91-9582909025 or the national helpline Childline on 1098.

“The recent rape of an Adivasi woman in Bengaluru was one of many incidents of suffering that workers had endured over the decades. […] As per a study on human trafficking, the state of Jharkhand has emerged as India’s trafficking hub with thousands of tribal women and girls being trafficked out of the state each year to Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and beyond [while] human traffickers are also involved in many cases of missing children.” – Rights Groups Call for Probe Into Trafficking Networks After Rape of Adivasi Migrant Worker >>

  • 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) [WorldCat.org]
Address: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/145732893
Date Visited: 9 February 2022

The Little Hands of Labour Behind your Smartphone

A joint report by ILO [International Labour Organization] and UNICEF warns that child labour has risen to 160 million – a significant increase in two decades. Governments, corporates, and customers have a responsibility to not remain ignorant. […]

According to ILO, around one million children work in various mines throughout the world. UNICEF estimates that approximately 20% of mine workers are children. They undergo exploitation and are exposed to life-threatening chemicals and gases. Children in gold mines get exposed to mercury which is highly toxic. […]

Read the full report by ILO “a specialized agency of the United Nations” >>

Source: “The Little Hands of Labour Behind your Smartphone” by Feza Tabassum Azmi, The Wire, 16 June 2021
URL: https://thewire.in/rights/child-labour-unicef-mines-amnesty-international-ilo
Date Visited: 9 February 2022

It is hard to overstate the importance of ‘the job’ in our current political economy of growth. Elevated to the raison d’etre of most of our waking hours, not having one leads to great anxiety and the race to get one. Survival without a job seems simply impossible. In short, it often defines us and how others think about who we are: whether its ‘managing’ people’s money, harvesting crops or collecting the garbage. Those who hold power over us are often those who can hire or fire us, those who own or control the places where we work. […]

The late anthropologist David Graeber, in the preface to his seminal work Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, concluded that:
‘We have become a civilization based on work – not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself… half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or counter-productive activities – usually under orders of a person we dislike… [and] we rankle with resentment that there may be others out there that are not in the same trap.’

It is hard to fathom in our job-obsessed culture but many people, particularly in the Global South, do not have anything like regular employment, scratching together a living in what economists call the informal sector. […]

Not that there isn’t work to be done – lots of it. But we need to carefully evaluate the content of that work to make sure it sustains rather than obliterates life. Work should help build social justice and ecological viability. Work needs to be organized so that it can be fairly distributed and reduced to what is necessary for modest convivial survival rather than unequal lopsided growth. Like it or not, an increasing number of ecological economists – along with a lively degrowth movement – believe this is where our future rests.

Source: “Living well” by Richard Swift, New Internationalist #534, 8 December 2021
URL: https://newint.org/features/2021/10/07/living-well
Date Visited: 6 June 2022

All the nations which succeeded in achieving inclusive growth in the Global South had land reforms combined with human capital, invested in infrastructure by promoting capitalism from below and began industrialisation in the rural sector. Only India lost on all three counts.

Source: “The role of caste in economic transformation” by A. Kalai­yarasan (As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor at the Madras In­sti­tute of De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies and non-res­i­dent fel­low at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary South Asia, Brown Univer­sity), The Hindu, 23 June 2022
Date Visited: 24 June 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“Is it eccentric to live in beautiful scenery in the hills among some of the most charming people in the country, even though they may be ignorant and poor?” Verrier Elwin quoted by G.N. Devy (The Oxford India Elwin)

Find up-to-date information provided by, for and about Indian authors, researchers, officials, and educatorsMore search options >>
Search tips: in the search field seen here, type the name of any tribal (Adivasi) community, region, state or language; add keywords of special interest (childhood, language, sacred grove, tribal education, women); consider rights to which Scheduled Tribes are entitled (FRA Forest Rights Act, protection from illegal mining, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, right to education, Universal Declaration of Human Rights); specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, health, nutrition and malnutrition, rural poverty)

For a list of websites included in a single search, click here. To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find an Indian PhD thesis on a particular tribal community, region and related issues, click here >>

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“Tribal men and women mix freely, but with respect for each other [but] caste Hindu society in India is so convinced of its own superiority that it never stops to consider the nature of social organisation among tribal people. In fact it is one of the signs of the ‘educated’ barbarian of today that he cannot appreciate the qualities of people in any way different from himself – in looks or clothes, customs or rituals.” – Guest Column in India Today >>

“Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” | Learn more about India’s caste system and the effects of “casteism” on tribal communities >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu, 13 February 2021) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021) | Learn more >>

About website administrator

Secretary of the foundation
This entry was posted in Accountability, Adivasi / Adibasi, Adverse inclusion, Childhood, Customs, Democracy, Economy and development, Education and literacy, Figures, census and other statistics, Globalization, Government of India, Health and nutrition, Misconceptions, Modernity, Organizations, Quotes, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rural poverty. Bookmark the permalink.