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Small Change: Bonded Child Labor in India's Silk Industry

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2003
87 pages
This Human Rights Watch report focuses on bonded child labor in India’s silk industry.
In 1996, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting bonded child labor in seven Indian industries: beedi , silver, synthetic gemstones, silk, leather, agriculture, and handwoven wool carpets. This report updates what has happened since the 1996 report, with an emphasis on the silk industry. It is based on interviews with over 155 people and field investigations of bonded child labor in 3 Indian States. Approximately 350,000 children work as laborers in the factories that make silk thread, where they work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week under conditions of physical and verbal abuse. Seven sections comprise this report. The first section offers a summary of the problem and outlines the scope and methodology of the investigation. The second section presents recommendations toward the elimination of bonded child labor to the Government of India, to State governments, to the international community, and to retailers, suppliers, and Indian and international consumers. The third section offers background information to the problem of bonded child labor in India. A bonded child is defined as a child who must work in conditions of servitude to pay off a debt; thus reducing the child to a commodity of exchange between parents and employers. Information about the Indian silk industry and government support for it is presented. The fourth section discusses the specific problem of bonded child labor in the Indian silk industry, where children typically produce silk thread and weave saris. Children’s testimonials present tales of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by employers. The fifth section discusses the issue of caste-based discrimination and its effect on bonded labor. Most bonded laborers are low-caste, illiterate, and very poor. As such, traditional discrimination has kept the issue of bonded children behind closed doors. The sixth section analyzes the Indian Government’s role in the protection on bonded child laborers. Loopholes and other barriers to enforcing child labor laws are reviewed as the report charges that not enough has been done to help bonded child laborers. The seventh section analyzes the legal framework surrounding child labor, including international law, Indian law, and the legal right to an education.