The nature of the problem
All children in slavery are children who work, but not all children who work are slaves. Public opinion has a tendency to use the term "slavery" when speaking of particularly harsh and abhorrent work or working conditions of children. This dilutes the meaning of the word. In reality there exists a fundamental difference between labour and slavery: labour is an activity, slavery is a status. Labour is a visible activity, slavery is an invisible situation.
The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations considers this question of invisibility as "a key issue in dealing with the problem of bonded labour".1 There are two types of invisibility. One is related to the location where children are kept or where access to child slaves is difficult. They are usually hidden, locked away in small workshops, in remote quarries, on building sites and agricultural estates, in mobile enterprises, or in domestic work where entry is often prohibited because the workplace is private property. The other type concerns the status of the child workers in relation to their employers. Child slavery is built on violence. The children are the property of their employer and are subject to physical and psychological violence. Fearing repression, bonded child workers generally remain silent. Even in those cases where bonded children are freed, they are often unable to talk about their experiences for years and retain a deep distrust of adults in general.
1 ILO: Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Report III, Part 1A, Geneva, 1996, p. 91.
To keep bonded children in their service, the proprietors also need the silence of the public. They therefore usually see to it that all contact between the workers and possible investigators is limited. Such children may be given supplementary surveillance, which is at the same time part of the machinery of recruitment and control of the slaves, namely the intermediaries. There are three categories of intermediaries: the recruiters, the transporters and the surveyors.
Box 5.1. Sold in the Sudan
"My wife and four children were abducted during a raid in March 1994. Three of my children and my wife managed to escape, but my eight-year-old daughter remained behind. She is now kept in Maykata by a man who bought her from her captor. When I discovered where she was, I went north and tried to get her back by legal means. I opened a case against the man at the police station, and had to pay the police 20,000 Sudanese pounds (approximately US$250) to do this. A police officer... accompanied me to the home of the man. This man refused to give me my girl and demanded 50,000 Sudanese pounds for her release. The policeman said that as the man had bought the girl from her captor, she was his property and be could not insist on her release. I was forced to leave her there where she is badly mistreated by the man's wife.... I also lost the 20,000 pounds which the policeman refused to return to me. I had to return home empty handed".2
2 Testimony collected by Christian Solidarity International in May 1996 and presented by Anti-Slavery International to the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, 21st Session, Geneva, June 1996.
• The recruiters. They visit the most poverty-stricken villages or slums, especially in periods of financial difficulty. A loan may be proposed to the family by attracting them with the possibility of reimbursement through the labour of one of their children. The recruiters, acting, for example, on behalf of an enterprise active in mining or forest exploitation, may offer to pay the travel expenses to the place of work, to be reimbursed later. Sometimes the children are taken away without payment of any advance, merely with the promise of feeding them and letting them acquire some skills in a particular trade. In many cases, the recruiters do not operate clandestinely. They might even be well known to the families, sometimes to the extent that the parents consider them sympathetic and trustworthy.
Box 5.2. A bonded child worker in rural India
"I am 14 years old. I am a Kharia (tribe). ...I am an orphan. I have jive brothers and two sisters. I live in the house of my landlord, who owns 22 acres of land. I live in his house 24 hours a day. I work during the day in the fields. I scatter manure in the fields, fetch water from the well, graze cattle, give them fodder, bathe them in the pond, wash utensils, water the garden in the house of my landlord. I don't get paid any wage for this work. Only food. As food I get rice, dal and sometimes subzi (vegetables). Once a year, I get clothes on festivals. Two lungis (wrap-arounds), and sometimes old rejected clothes from the master's house. I have been working in this landlord's house for the past four years. My family has no land. My master doesn't allow me to leave, I tried last year, but he said no. My master doesn't beat me, but abuses me often. I would like to learn carpentry or tailoring or else I would like to do farming, if the government gave me land".3
3 Excerpt from Bonded Labour Liberation Front: Into that heaven of freedom? (New Delhi, July 1989), p. 39.
• The escorts. The greater the distance between the family and the place of work, the more the children will have difficulty in fleeing or being rescued by their family. Not all children in bondage are automatically taken hundreds of kilometres away from home. Many of them often live with their parents at the workplace. But, in many instances, bonded children live away from home. There are escorts who are charged with putting the children on a train or truck and ensuring that they arrive at the destination. In cases where inspections cannot be avoided, especially when national borders have to be crossed, escorts often pose as members of the family of the children in their charge.
• The surveyors. A child in bondage is an income asset and the proprietor usually requires the uninterrupted physical presence of the child at the workplace. The more child or adult workers there are in bondage on a site, the more the surveillance of the workers will be strict and organized. The surveyors' task is to prevent attempts to escape or communication with the outside world. In many cases, groups of private police, usually armed, watch over the workers.
Box 5.3. A restavek (domestic worker) in Haiti
Marie, who was about 7 years old, came from the countryside, although she did not know from where. She had no continuing contact with any of her original family. As a restavek, Marie rose at 5 a.m. Her first job was to fetch water from a nearby well. After returning to the house balancing the heavy jug on her head, she prepared breakfast and served it to the members of the household, including the boarders. She next walked the 5-year-old son of the employing family to school. While both of the employing family's children went to school, none of the restaveks did. Marie's next jobs were to buy food in the markets and run errands, such as collecting debts owed to her employer by various neighbours, who purchased from the employing family's store on credit. Marie was also responsible for starting and tending the charcoal fire behind the house, sweeping the yard, washing some of the clothes, washing dishes and cleaning the outside kitchen. At noon she would bring the boy home from school and help him change his clothes. She would then set the table, assist in preparing and serving lunch and accompany the boy back to school. She then returned to the house to be available for errands until it was time to prepare supper.
Marie was harshly treated by the employing family. The mother regularly beat her with a leather strap if she was thought slow to respond to a request or if she was considered disrespectful. While the mother occasionally hit her three children, the four restaveks were much more severely disciplined, and the discipline was designed to create and maintain a subservient attitude. For example, when one of the restavek girls ran away, she was pursued and found by the mother, and then severely beaten. It was the only time the child tried to run away. The restaveks performed all the physical labour in the household, at the direction of its various members, including the 5-year-old boy. The employing family seemed to view the restavek as a different species from themselves. Eventually the employing family moved to Montreal, Canada. The four restaveks, by then teenagers, were simply put out onto the street.4
4 Testimony in Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee: Restavek: Child domestic labor in Haiti (Minneapolis, August 1990), p. 10.