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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO, 2000, 356 p.)
close this folder5. Strategies to address child slavery
close this folder5.1 THE PROBLEM OF CHILD SLAVERY
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe nature of the problem
View the documentThe extent of the problem

The extent of the problem

It is difficult to assess the extent of child bondage because employers hide the illegal employment of children by physical restraints on their movement and other means of coercion. There are also problems of defining what constitutes bondage. Studies conducted in some countries, however, indicate the magnitude of the problem.

In India, the Gandhi Peace Foundation, in collaboration with the National Labour Institute, conducted a study in 1981 covering the agricultural sector in 10 out of 21 states in the country and arrived at a figure of 2.6 million bonded labourers. In the States of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, one out of every five labourers was found to be bonded. The study concluded that bonded labourers constituted 8 per cent of labourers in India.

In Nepal, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Land Reforms and Management in February 1995 found that there were 15,152 Kamaiya5 families comprising 83,375 persons. More than half (54 per cent) of the families were landless; 46 per cent were homeless and lived in the master's premises and 56 per cent were indebted to their masters. Another survey by a human rights organization found that 3.3 per cent of Kamaiyas had been working in this way for four generations, 21.63 per cent for three generations and 28 per cent for two generations.

5 Kamaiya: a system of bonded agricultural labour in western Nepal.

Box 5.4. A carpet weaver in Pakistan

A carpet workshop in a village 24 miles from Lahore.... Of the 12 weavers, five were 11, two 14, and four were under 10 years old. The two youngest were brothers, aged 8 and 9. They had been bonded to the carpet master at the age of 5, and now worked six days a week at the shop. Their workday started at 6 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m., except, they said, when the master was behind on his quotas and forced them to work around the clock. They were small, thin, malnourished, their spines curved from lack of exercise and from squatting before the loom. Their hands were covered with calluses and scars, their fingers gnarled from repetitive work. Their breathing was laboured, suggestive of tuberculosis.

"The master screams at us all the time, and sometimes he beats us. He is less severe with the younger boys. We're slapped often. Once or twice be lashed us with a cane. I was beaten ten days ago, after I made many errors of colour in a carpet. He struck me with his fist quite bard on the face".

By way of corroborating this, the boy lifted a forelock, revealing a multicolour bruise on his right temple. Evidently the master did not consider the blow sufficient punishment:

"I was fined one thousand rupees and made to correct errors by working two days straight."

The fine was added to his debt, and would extend his "apprenticeship" by several months.6

6 Excerpt from Jonathan Silvers: "Child labour in Pakistan", in Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1996, p. 87.

Box 5.5. A sardine factory worker in the Philippines

Jacqueline started working as a domestic helper when she was 12 years old. She did all the household chores: scrubbing and sweeping the floor, washing clothes and dishes, running errands and countless other little tasks. When Jacqueline turned 14, she was promoted to work in a canning company, owned by her employer, which produces sardines. She worked for 12 hours a day starting at 3 a.m., during which time she filled as many as 3,000 small cans of sliced sardine. She frequently cut herself with the open cans and fish bones. Her hands and feet, constantly soaked in water laced with chemicals, are wrinkled and disfigured. For food, Jacqueline was served with noodles (the employer also owns a noodle factory) and leftovers from the employer's house. With six other child workers, she had to share a small bunkhouse which was locked to prevent them leaving. She was prohibited from talking with outsiders.

Jacqueline was recruited through an employment agency for which she was told she had incurred a debt of 16,000 pesos. The rule is that no one leaves the factory until the debt is paid. During her three years working there, Jacqueline received not one centavo of the 700 pesos a month she was promised. She could never pay off her debt as 25 pesos a day were deducted from her wages for food, 2 pesos more than she supposedly earned. Jacqueline thought of escaping, but she did not know where to go or how to find help and she was extremely afraid of the factory owners. She was finally released after a raid organized by the Kamalayan Development Foundation.7

7 Excerpt from Child Workers in Asia Bulletin (Bangkok), Vol. 11, No. 1, 1995, p. 18.

While trafficking in children within countries in South-East Asia has been a widespread phenomenon for some time, there is increasing evidence in recent years of children being trafficked across national borders because of the opening of frontiers and as a result of industrialization and globalization. Numerous previously remote areas are now exposed to rapid social changes. This has disrupted traditional ways of life, and made the population especially vulnerable to the problem of child trafficking. There exist a number of well-established trafficking routes in the Mekong sub-region. Thailand is the main receiving country where many victims are forced into prostitution and other exploitative forms of work. Most trafficking takes place over land, and there are well known gateways from each country. Cambodia and Yunnan province in China are, in addition to being sending countries, also on the receiving end. Vietnamese children are being trafficked to Cambodia for prostitution, and significant numbers of ethnic minorities from North Viet Nam and Myanmar are trafficked under the disguise of marriage to become domestic workers, often without pay.

In South Asia, the most commonly known and most alarming situation is the trafficking of girls from Nepal into India. It is estimated that 5,000-7,000 Nepalese girls are sold to Indian brothels every year.8 A considerable number of them had been either forcefully abducted or tricked into going to India and subsequently sold to brothels. In addition to the economic pressure, cultural practices among certain ethnic groups also contribute to the trafficking of girls in Nepal. In Bangladesh, the Government estimates that a few thousand women and children have been victims of trafficking for labour, including prostitution, and for other purposes in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Based on reports commissioned by IPEC, the problem also exists in other South Asian countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

8 Ministry of Women and Social Welfare (MOWSW), Nepal, and ILO-IPEC: National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Children and their Commercial Sexual Exploitation (Kathmandu, 1998).

Trading in children is a common practice in some African countries. There have been reports of boatloads of children being halted by authorities along coastlines on their way to Central Africa. Some of these children end up in households as unpaid child labour known as "house helps", while others end up in prostitution. Children also leave their homes and cross borders into other countries to work as domestic helpers and market traders.

Latin America is known for its large numbers of children working on the streets. There is a strong linkage between the street environment and commercial sexual exploitation. Children working on the streets become easy targets for the trafficking network which recruits them for prostitution. In Brazil, for example, young girls on the streets are lured by traffickers with the offer of better jobs in restaurants, but are forced to work in night clubs in faraway places in the Amazon, where they are kept captive like prisoners and moved from one region of the Amazon to another - from one mining community to the next.9

9 NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America): Report the Americas, Vol. XXVII, No. 6, May/June 1994.

Box 5.6. Nepalese children enslaved in prostitution in Bombay

The High Court of Judicature in Bombay directed the Government of Maharashtra, India, in 1996 to take immediate steps to combat the problem of child prostitution in the state. The police, under the instructions of the Government, raided the red light areas in Bombay on 5 February 1996 and rescued 484 girls. The girls were produced before the Juvenile Welfare Board which remanded them to different homes. Almost half of the rescued girls were from Nepal. Through the joint effort of seven Nepalese and Bombay NGOs, 128 girls were brought back to Nepal.

Box 5.7. The account of Bina (aged 17)10

10 U. Acharya: Trafficking in children and their exploitation in prostitution and other intolerable forms of child labour in Nepal, Country Report for ILO-IPEC (Nepal, 1998).

Bina is from Jhapa. Her father is a sharecropper. Her mother died long ago. She has an elder brother, two elder sisters (both married), a younger sister and a younger brother at school. Bina went to Kathmandu with her friends to work in a carpet factory. She stayed with a friend from Jhapa and worked in the factory for two years. The woman owner had promised her a wage of 300 rupees per month. She provided her with food and shelter and said that she would give her money when she went home. When Bina wanted to leave, she told her not to go and warned her about the danger of being trafficked to Bombay. Despite the warning, Bina and a friend ran away at night with two Nepalese men and a woman who had promised them a better job. The traffickers took them to an apartment and the next morning, they set out for India. Bina remembers passing through Gorakhpur where Bina and her friend were handed over to two Nepalese persons. When the original party disappeared, Bina asked about them but got no answer.

On arrival in Bombay, the traffickers put Bina and her friend on different buses. When Bina asked about her friend, she was told that she could meet her later. She was then taken to a brothel owner (a woman) in Bombay and was sold to her. She met 25 to 30 other women in the brothel, mostly Nepalese and some Indians and Bangladeshis, aged 20 to 25. There were five to six girls and women in a room divided by a curtain. Bina learned later that she had been sold for 50,000 Indian rupees.

After three days she was asked to serve an Indian client. When she tried to resist, she was beaten. Others told her that she would starve to death if she resisted. So she gave in. She served up to six or seven clients a day. She was told that she would receive money when she returned home, but she feared that day would never come.

After a year or so, the brothel was raided by the police, who took her and the other girls into custody. She was brought back to Nepal by the NGOs. She feels that she has been very lucky in having been able to return to Nepal. She is undergoing a six-month course in literacy and income-generating activities. She wants to find a job to support herself, and she wants to help other girls who are at risk. She said that she was not HIV positive.