Integrated action to address child slavery
Four examples are given below of effective action against child bondage and trafficking including rehabilitation and rescue centres, comprehensive services for parents and children in villages, and the organization of bonded labourers.
Box 5.12. Comprehensive rehabilitation of released bonded children in India
Amongst the existing release and rehabilitation programmes for children formerly in bondage, Mukti Ashram, linked to the South Asian Coalition against Child Servitude (SACCS), in a suburb of the Indian capital, New Delhi, merits particular attention. It was created in 1990 and has since rehabilitated close to 1,600 children. One of the successes of this approach is the increased number of children and youths who, after rehabilitation in their communities of origin, have become engaged in the fight against bondage.
Most of the children, between the ages of 6 or 7, were lured away or kidnapped from their native villages and taken to workplaces in industries, mines, construction sites and the agricultural sector, hundreds of miles away. The children, who often cannot understand or speak the local dialect, are confined to toil day in, day out, without any wages or cash remuneration. Fifteen to 18 hours of work without adequate or proper food, abuse, beatings, isolation, and humiliation are common. The children grow up and accept slavery as their destiny. They are not allowed to change the job or go back home to join their parents or relatives. Education, recreation, play, fun or even crying for their parents is beyond their imagination. The entire concept of Mukti Ashram has been designed to bring back their lost joy, hope and childhood.
When the children are freed they are traumatized, physically sick, and completely broken in heart and soul. They have no idea of good or bad education. It is very difficult to re-socialize them in families and villages. They are without any skill, initiative or enthusiasm. SACCS aims to ensure that these victims of slavery become their own liberators and leaders. This task is only possible by closely involving the children and adolescents in the programme.
The staff running the Ashram are freed bonded labourers and victims of exploitation, particularly those belonging to the lowest castes in India. They have been trained and educated to meet the requirements of the Ashram. Doctors, psychologists and extension workers are given special orientation to work with these children in a participatory manner. The management hierarchy is inverted to bring about a change in the enslaved attitude of the children. For example, the Chairperson and Director are required to clean the latrines, which is normally considered as the most degrading work and normally done by Untouchables. It gives a mental jolt to the children observing these unimaginable acts.
The Ashram reflects the environment of a village ambience. Learning, playing, physical exercises, cooking, eating, sleeping and all routine activities are done collectively. Special cultural events, religious and traditional festivals are celebrated in such a manner that they can learn the new interpretation of such events, the essence of norms and values and communal life. The need and advantage of democracy, the entitlement to vote and leadership aspects are taught through plays and songs. Folk culture and the use of local dialects are encouraged to give them a sense of belonging, and enable them to express themselves and gain self-confidence.
Basic literacy, social education and skills training are provided to the children for a period of three to six months. The children are stimulated to give feedback to the staff and others. Group training and its benefits, chanting slogans, argumentation and oratory skills, initiatives and risk-taking, wall-writing, poster making, effective communication, the handling of money and problem-solving skills are among the learning activities.
Box 5.13. Preventing and eliminating bonded child labour in the carpet belt of Uttar Pradesh, India
The Centre of Rural Education and Development Action (CREDA) has demonstrated positive results in what are now "child-labour-free" villages by implementing an integrated strategy of awareness-raising, community mobilization, and preventive and rehabilitation services for child victims and their families, primary education for children released from work and community services for the poor.13
13Administrative Staff College of India (Child Labour Action and Support Project), Eliminating child labour through community mobilisation: A study on an NGO's efforts to eliminate child labour in the carpet industry in Mirzapur India (New Delhi, ILO, 1996).
CREDA works among child labourers in the Mirzapur-Bhadohi carpet manufacturing belt of Uttar Pradesh, many of whom are bonded. This and the surrounding areas contribute 80 per cent of India's total carpet production, most of which is exported. The majority of the target families belong to scheduled castes and tribes who are particularly vulnerable, and children's workplaces are scattered in remote villages.
The relocation of the carpet looms in villages inaccessible by road and far away from the district and block headquarters is apparently due, at least in part, to the vigilance of the Labour Department, especially since 1986, the year of enactment of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. The newly found "havens" are villages which have a concentration of people from the socially weaker sections, such as the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward castes, who are also economically vulnerable.
In the recent past, the demand for carpet weavers has risen because of the spurt in the export of carpets. This in turn led to a demand for higher wages. To overcome this new situation, the loom owners in collaboration with the middlemen started making overtures to poor families in far-away villages with the offer of attractive sums as "advances" for "mortgaging" their children to loom-owners. The offers are usually irresistible for the poor families, and the parents easily fall into the trap of loom-owners and their associates. Thus, for more than a decade, the practice of child labour has become more and more entrenched in the area. As no other source of regular employment is available for people in the villages in this belt, many non-weaving sections have taken up carpet weaving as their principal vocation.
The child worker goes through several "training stages" over two to four years. The entry age is between 8 and 10 years. Before formal induction as a worker, the child attends to light jobs, and is then taught to make simple knots. This goes on for more than a year, during which the child is paid nothing. During the second year, the child worker begins weaving carpets with simple designs. Most loom owners do not pay wages in the normal sense to child workers. Forty per cent of the children work to pay off advance payments to their parents and interest. The other 60 per cent work as apprentices at a very low fee for two to three years before becoming fully-fledged carpet weavers at the age of 13 or 14 years.
Prior to CREDA's intervention, child workers in the villages worked on carpet looms from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a lunch interval of one hour and another hour for tea and rest. There was no sick leave, earned leave or even vacations during major festivals. A nine-hour workday, seven days a week, was the routine followed at the looms.
CREDA started by opening health centres offering free medical check-ups, arranging vocational training, and organizing self-help groups through savings and credit. These helped it gain a firm foothold in the villages to mount a campaign of social awareness against the practice of child labour. The awareness campaign targeted the political leadership of the village, opinion leaders, parents, loom owners, manufacturers, adult weavers and the children themselves. At the same time, CREDA set up schools for children withdrawn from the looms, thrift and credit societies, skills training centres for adults, and pre-school centres for young children. In the first phase of the project, ten non-formal education centres were set up, where children were provided with locally relevant vocational training and recreational activities, a meal a day, basic health care and a stipend to help overcome the loss of income. In the second phase, 10,000 young children, at risk of being sent to work, were enrolled in regular schools and 1,000 child workers joined non-formal education. CREDA received wide support from the community.
The Mirzapur district administration came to accept CREDA as a professional and competent agency committed to the elimination of child labour in the carpet industry, and as a partner supplementing the efforts of the Government.
The programme spread to nine blocks in three districts reaching around 200 villages. A dialogue with carpet loom holders prompted many of them to release child labourers. CREDA also mounted a campaign to generate awareness about the ethical, economic and legal implications of child labour. It formed 140 village-level committees and set up two reporting centres in Mirzapur and Sonebhadra districts where information would be collected about bonded child workers. CREDA assisted needy families who were eligible for government schemes to become beneficiaries.
The work of CREDA in Mirzapur district has contributed significantly to the decline in the number of child labourers in carpet looms. One assessment of the number is that it has fallen from 50,000 in 1992-93 to 10-15,000 in 1996-97. CREDA has also been able to declare a number of villages child labour free. In addition, more pernicious forms of child bonded labour, which existed in the villages prior to CREDA's activities, where middlemen brought in migrant children who lived and worked with the employer, disappeared completely as a result of CREDA's work. However, these children were shifted to other areas where the communities were not sensitized on child bonded labour. This shows once again that action against child labour cannot be confined to one area, but must be addressed in a comprehensive manner in all areas where the problem occurs.
Box 5.14. Action against bondage among the Kamaiyas of Nepal
The Kamaiya system of bonded labour is prevalent in five districts of western Nepal. Under this system, a Kamaiya agrees to work for a landlord on the basis of an oral contract for one year, for a wage which is generally paid in kind. While the system has many variants, typically, a Kamaiya would get eight quintals of rice and 25 per cent of the produce of land cultivated by him and his family. Since the land is mono-cropped, Kamaiyas barely eke out a living in a normal year. Should the crop fail, or should they have to meet social obligations or medical or other emergency expenses, they are forced to take a loan (sauki) from the landlord. The family must then work for the landlord till the loan is repaid. The children of the Kamaiyas who are above 5 years of age serve the landlord as cowherds and do various other jobs. The family works in exchange for food. Kamaiyas are thus forced to borrow more for buying other necessities and are unable to free themselves from the vicious grip of debt. Indebtedness and bondage are transferred from one generation to the other. Although Kamaiyas are free to change master at the end of a year, a Kamaiya who has taken a loan can do so only if the new master pays off the loan.
Most of the Kamaiyas belong to an indigenous people in the Terai region of Nepal, called the Tharu. They had lived in relative isolation as the area was affected by virulent malaria (to which they had developed natural immunity) and originally owned most of the land. After the eradication of malaria in the 1960s, people from the hills migrated to the area and were able to gain ownership of the land from the Tharus through usury and mortgage. Fifty per cent of the Tharus now serve as Kamaiyas or live in a Kamaiya household. More than half of the Kamaiyas are indebted to the landlords and work as bonded labourers.
IPEC has supported NGOs to implement action programmes in three districts in western Nepal to raise awareness among the Kamaiyas about their rights, improve their living conditions, and ensure that their children are freed from work and receive education. Community meetings and street plays have been organized to raise awareness. The NGOs have provided over 500 Kamaiya children with non-formal education and have enrolled most of them in government schools. Kamaiya Support Committees have been established at the district level through community meetings. The Kamaiyas recently held a conference and established "the Kamaiya Liberation Forum", which is affiliated to a national trade union organization.
As the movement gathers strength, the Kamaiyas are beginning to escape from a state of passive resignation to their fate. An in-depth analysis will be carried out to identify the socio-economic factors contributing to the prevalence of the Kamaiya system. The results of this study will aid in the design of a comprehensive package of services to address the root causes of this problem.
Box 5.15. Rescue and rehabilitation of child victims of trafficking in Nepal
Maity Nepal, an NGO, has formed surveillance groups in the districts seriously affected by child trafficking and is carrying out campaigns against it with the help of college students and some victims of trafficking. It has set up a prevention-cum-interception camp at an important transit point. The camp provides shelter, basic education and vocational training for girls who are at risk of being sold into prostitution, as well as for those who have been rescued from trafficking. At the end of their training, the girls are helped in finding employment or setting up a small business. Another transit home is being set up at Kakkarvita, near the Nepal-India border, to provide shelter to girls who have been rescued from brothels in India and repatriated to Nepal.
Maity Nepal coordinates its activities with NGOs in India for the rescue and repatriation of victims, some of whom have been living in government-run homes for long periods of time. On the Nepalese side, it works with the police and other authorities for the rehabilitation of child victims and for the prosecution of the offenders. The victims are often in a state of trauma and many suffer from serious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, thus needing immediate medical attention and psychological counselling. The NGO plans to provide a wide range of rehabilitation services to help children regain their self-esteem and become self-reliant.
The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
The Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery was established as a permanent monitoring system of the application of the united Nations Conventions on slavery. It meets annually in Geneva and examines all forms of slavery throughout the world. It submits recommendations, some of which reach the United Nations General Assembly, for discussion. The Working Group encourages the widest participation possible in its work, inviting all organizations, including NGOs, to present documents, evidence or recommendations. Governments are attentive to the information presented to the Working Group, whose principal strength lies in its ability to bring to the recognition of the international community situations of slavery or violations of human rights existing in a specific place, and exert pressure on those responsible.
Local NGOs and community groups (such as vigilance committees) are often the best placed to be acquainted with child bondage situations. They can participate more actively in the Working Group by sending written evidence14 directly or via the NGOs which usually participate in the work of the Group, or by going to Geneva to present the evidence themselves during the session of the Working Group.
14 In English, French or Spanish, and not exceeding three pages (A4 format) to: Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Human Rights Centre, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
This body was created in 1992 and facilitates the participation of NGOs in the sessions of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery by providing support (technical, humanitarian, legal or financial) to groups or persons victimized by slavery. For example, it supported the participation of a few local NGO representatives at the Working Group's session in June 1997.15
15 NGOs can solicit support by addressing requests to the: Voluntary Trust Fund Against Slavery, Human Rights Centre, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is an internationally elected body of independent experts established to examine the progress made by States Parties in meeting the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee examines country reports prepared by the States on the status of their children and the measures taken by them to implement the Convention.
The Committee accords particular importance to child labour. To improve its assessment of the reports supplied by the governments, the Committee invites NGOs to submit comments on the country reports. In certain countries, NGO coalitions provide the Committee with a counter-report on children's rights, if they consider that the government report does not actually reflect reality. In other countries, governments have invited civil society, notably through NGOs, to participate in the elaboration of the report.
The NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child
The NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child facilitates contact between the non-governmental community and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Defence for Children International serves as the Secretariat for the Group. The NGO meetings take place in Geneva, jointly with the Committee's sessions so as to take into account NGOs' views in analysing national reports. A subgroup has been established especially for child labour, for which coordination has been entrusted to Anti-Slavery International. All NGOs can send documentation directly to the United Nations Committee or through the NGO Group.