Tuesday September 8, 2020

In South Asia – and many other impoverished parts of the world – slavery is sadly all too real, even in the 21st century.

Around 21 million people across the globe are trapped in forced labour – including debt bondage or debt slavery. Forced labour is now one of the most common forms of modern-day slavery.

People experiencing forced labour all too often become subject to debt bondage, where they are trapped in a cycle of labour. It usually begins when poor people have no choice but to take a loan or wage advance from their employer or member of the community to cover emergency or major expenditures, such as dowries.

They subsequently find it impossible to repay the loan for a combination of reasons, including high-interest rates and low pay. Often they are forced to work in harsh conditions.

Sadly children are also sometimes forced to work. Across the globe, child labour affects over 152 million children, including in Nepal.

Kiran’s story: Struggling against poverty

slavery
Kiran from Nepal.

On the border with India lies Rautahat district, one of Nepal’s child labour hotspots. High levels of poverty within the district are compounded by the effects of climate change.

Poor families in the region feel they have little choice but to send their children to work to help their families survive.

Kiran is unable to read and write as her parents could not afford to send her and all her siblings to school. They chose to educate her eldest brother only.

Kiran was later married at age 14. Her husband was 19 years old and life was hard financially:

My parents could not afford the dowry for an educated and economically stable man, so they arranged for me to marry my husband who is also illiterate and comes from a poor family.

We struggled a lot, particularly during and after my pregnancies.

There were times we did not have enough food and water. I became very sick and I could not produce enough milk, so we had to give the baby formula milk.

The children were very weak and sick because there was not enough food. I often went hungry so that I could feed my children.

The hospital was very far away and we could not afford to take them to hospital.

Things started to improve when Kiran’s husband began working at a brick factory and started to earn a bit of money. However, it still was not enough to cover everything the family needed, so Kiran’s two sons then began working at brick factories.

Child labour: Debt bondage and poverty

slavery
Kiran with her youngest son, Sang*, 14, who was working three jobs to help his family make ends meet.

Child labour steals childhoods. It forces children to grow up too fast and exposes them to abuse and exploitation.

Debt bondage is also sadly common among those subject to child labour. It traps children and their families in a cycle of labour, often working in harsh conditions and unable to pay back high-interest loans

Kiran’s son Manish* was a victim of debt bondage, which saw him overworked and starved whilst working at a brick factory in Kerala, India. Kiran says:

 He worked very long hours, often with little food and he didn’t always get enough money to send home.

He had a lot of debt to pay back so he worked a lot to try and pay it back but the interest rate was very high. He ran away from the factory and when he came back home he was very thin and weak.

He is still very sick and he can’t work anymore so he stays at home. As a mother, it makes me very sad. It is difficult for me to see him in this condition.

Kiran’s 14-year old son Sang* was also a brick factory worker in his local district.

An entrepreneurial boy, Sang was working three jobs to support his family, at the expense of his education. However, despite these great challenges, Kiran has since found a lifeline through our project with local partner the Rural Development Centre.

Protecting children from slavery: Islamic Relief in Nepal

slavery
Focus group discussion with members of Rautahat’s Child Protection Committee.

Rautahat district is a multi-ethnic multi-faith community. As a result, Islamic Relief has been working with a diverse range of faith leaders, organising interfaith focus group discussions on the role faith leaders can play in safeguarding children and addressing the issue of child labour.

We’ve been engaging and partnering with local actors such as our partner the Rural Development Centre, which has been heavily engaged in community development, gender and child protection projects.

Through the local partner, we’ve been implementing a project in Rautahat aiming to prevent and protect children from trafficking and child labour. By providing education for children and giving livelihood support to families of children at high risk, we’re safeguarding children from the risks of child labour and creating an environment where they can thrive.

As a result of the project, Kiran’s youngest son, Sang*, has stopped working in the brick factory and is now receiving skill-based training designed to help him build a future free from exploitation and poverty.

However, despite the incredible work of local experts, many are underfunded. Covid-19 has highlighted to us once more the value of local actors who are on the ground working directly with communities. Such work is vital.

Thank you for helping us to help people like Sang and Kiran, so desperately in need.

 

Islamic Relief is committed to working with local actors to reduce the risk of child labour in Rautahat. Learn more in our report, Hidden in plain sight: a study of child labour and human trafficking in Rautahat, Nepal and donate today to support our vital work.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities

© Copyrights 2020 Islamic Relief Worldwide, Inc. All rights reserved. Registered Charity No. 328158

Quick Donate