The cru­ellest of debts

Friday - - News - Karen Pasquali Jones Ed­i­tor kpasqual­i­

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.

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