India: An Indictment



  • Soon to send men into space.
  • One of the top growing world economies.
  • A possible future world leader.

 But the facade hides a history of unbelievable brutality.

A bonded child worker

Is this life?

One of the most depressing stories I have come across which brings doubt to my vision for the future of humanity. The story is one of bonded labour in South Asia. It would be easy to mistake it for a Clive Barker horror story or a sci-fi novel of some alien culture by Asimov, but it is neither. In fact, it is a humbling tale of human fortitude. Sometimes stark reality holds more disbelief than any horror story. So it is with child bonded labour.

India does not stand alone, most of south Asia stands accused, Pakistan and Nepal are also culprits in this crime against humanity. Nobody is quite sure the number of children forced to work under the umbrella of bonded labour. It could be six (6) million or it could be 15m; both figures have been used. (UNICEF) (UN)Map of south Asia

Bonded labour normally stems from a debt that must be repaid. A family might offer one of their children to work off the debt, but low wages or no wages and a high interest rate make it almost impossible to get out. Whole families can be bonded and what’s worse is that the debt can be handed down generation to generation. The ‘bond’ becomes a chain, the chain a tie to slavery. Slavery an act of brutality!

Many children are forced to work up to 18 hours a day. They are under constant fear of physical and sexual abuse. Some are trafficked to brothels. Sex, the needs of man kills the flower in the child.

Where’s the law? Don’t bother asking; the law is forever disregarded.

1956 United Nations outlawed ‘bonded’ labour.

1989. The Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But, but, but, I’ve saved the best till last – 1986 Child Labour Act. Guess! Yes, India! That’s twenty five years ago, a quarter of a century no less.  There’s more, in 2006 other laws were passed that banned children under 14 years old from working as domestic servants, in hotels, restaurants and teashops. However, local critics say that the laws will be unenforceable and they cite the fact that the laws against kids working on hazardous jobs have been ignored. (

“Laws that are meant to protect children from hazardous labour are ineffective and not implemented correctly.” ( Laws exist in India and Pakistan but are not enforced. (

One story that illuminates the problem comes from, when they highlight the case of a 13 year old girl bonded by her parents for a $6 debt. This story has a happy outcome; after 3years working in a room with 20 other girls, a local activist group secured her release. Of the other girls, we don’t know.

A more revealing tale is that of two young boys who were found working in a cafe, (check  the 2006 law). The case was reported to the police who removed the boys but handed them back a little later. The local trade union took on the fight for the boys. The police again removed the lads but handed them back for a second time claiming that the cafe owner was the boys’ uncle.  The union stepped into the breach again and it was then proven that the boys were not related to the cafe owner. Finally, the boys were removed to a child centre and the cafe owner is to face the law. Moreover, even if he had been related he should not have been employing kids!

It’s a small illustration of two boys amid millions of others who suffer. However, it is indicative of the problem that ties these children to servitude; the culture of Indian society and the meaningless and ineffectiveness of Indian law. Did they merely pass the laws to ameliorate the world community, whilst winking at the employers? It is obvious that the Indian authorities didn’t care. They couldn’t give a hoot about the kids or the law. The authorities had to be forced into taking action by thoughtful caring Indian folk that did give a hoot!

“Bonded labour system is a modern form of slavery, which combines feudal values, traditions and practices with contemporary exploitative labour relations.” (

Someone else gives a hoot!

Join the gang. Send this page to any Indian Embassy or other institution in your area, or do your own and send it.


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