The cruellest of debts
They’re as young as four, but instead of dressing in their school uniform and heading off to lessons, they have been ‘loaned’ out to pay off a family’s debt. They’re forced to work for 14 hours a day and are not allowed to laugh or talk. If they cry out for their parents, they are beaten. They are kept half-starved so they’re alert while working with glass and hot metal, or so their malnourished fingers can tie small knots as carpet weavers. For all this they are paid less than a dirham a day, or nothing at all – they are modern-day slaves working off their parents’ or grandparents’ loans.
Even though bonded labour has been illegal in India since 1986, charities estimate there are anywhere between 12 and 50 million children trapped in these contracts and doomed to work forever or pass on the ‘debt’ – incurred because of ridiculously high interest rates on small cash loans – to younger siblings.
Now, thanks to one man, Kailash Satyarthi, these children have hope. Ever since he asked a six-year-old why he wasn’t at school and was told “we are born to work” he wanted to do something to help. He has rescued 81,000 bonded children so far.