Child Labor & Trafficking

“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you
spare yourself the sight.” –Albert Schweitzer

Child trafficking, indentured servitude, factory labor and the sex trade, comprise an “industry” that huge numbers of children fall victim to each year, disappearing into an underground world. The conditions these children are forced into essentially amount to nothing more than slavery, two hundred years after legislation was passed which made the practice illegal. And this is slavery at its ugliest, most evil core, slavery of the most vulnerable among us: children.

Photo courtesy of the United Nations

Child laborers and prostitutes exist in such large numbers for a very simple, yet horrific, reason: they are cheap commodities. They can be paid the least, exploited the most, and due to the largely invisible status of the most vulnerable children, have virtually no power against their oppressors. Children cost less than cattle; a cow or buffalo costs an average 20,000 rupees, but a child can be bought and traded like an animal for 500 to 2,000 rupees.

While factories in China and Central America that exploit children are often in the news, India is the largest example of a country plagued by this human rights abuse, with the highest number of child laborers in the world. Official estimates of these children vary greatly, often by definition of who such children are. The UNICEF website reports 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations, but this figure is according to the official 2001 Census; because more than half of all children born in India are never registered, it may safely be assumed that this number is extremely low. However, UNICEF’s 2006 State of the World’s Children briefing states that an estimated 171 million children, of which 73 million are under ten years old – are working in hazardous conditions, missing out on an education and facing serious risks of injury, illness and death.

Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch

The Global March Against Child Labor says as many as 100 million children are believed to be working, “many under conditions akin to slavery,” with an estimated fifteen million in bonded servitude. Bonded labor or servitude is defined as child labor in which children are indentured in order to pay off a debt. Few sources of credit or bank loans exist for those living in poverty qualify. The earnings of the bonded children are less than the interest on the loans, ensuring that they will typically never be able to pay off the debt. Thus, they become in effect a slave of the “employer.”

Often families themselves place children in such conditions when they feel they have no other choice. Many uneducated parents themselves fall prey to promises by recruiters that their children will do light work, go to school, be exposed to more opportunities in the city, and send money back home. They’re even told that the child will have better marriage possibilities. Living in poor rural villages without many prospects, these families believe the child will have a better future.

In Orissa, a young woman came to the Miracle Foundation home for children and unwed mothers run by Dr. Manjeet Pardesi. She was pregnant with her landlord’s baby, who had intimidated and coerced the girl into a physical relationship. “The physical intimacy was not done due to love but due to fear,” Manjeet wrote me in an email. “In other words, you can term this as rape.” However, once she had been taken into the home and provided care and medical attention, she related the full story. She had been caring for her young brother and sister in their remote village in Jharkhand state, who were still being “held captive” by the landlord and made to do a variety of work for him. Due to their financial circumstances the small family owed money to the landlord and the siblings left behind were working for this debt.

Miracle Foundation staff members Manish, Prabha and Susan – whom I met on my recent trip to India – began a period of constant communication with the landlord on behalf of the children. Manjeet told me that “initially he was reluctant to part with the children,” until he was told that the matter would be reported to the police. Finally, he agreed to return the children from their life of bondage in exchange for the amount of money owed him. Manjeet and the staff went to bring the four-year-old and eight-year-old back to the Miracle Foundation home to live with their elder sister, paying the price of the debt: $25 US dollars.


About Shelley Seale

Shelley is a wanderer and student of the world, yoga chick, voracious reader and dog lover. She pounds the keyboard as a freelance writer, author and publication designer, based in Austin, Texas when she isn't traipsing around the globe. Shelley has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week, Fodor's, The Telegraph and Texas Monthly, among others. Shelley has performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano, and was once robbed by a monkey in India. But she doesn’t know how to whistle.

Posted on May 24, 2007, in India, shelley seale and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. keep up your great work!

  2. As a follow-up to my research and writing on child labor in India, I would encourage anyone to take a look at Linda’s blog (above), at
    She features a resource called “The Better World Shopping Guide” which is an ethical consumer’s guide to avoiding buying products such as ones that are made in these types of factories and sweatshops that employ child labor. Just as a quick FAQ, here are the 10 BEST and WORST companies on the planet based on a comprehensive analysis of their overall records of social and environmental responsibility for the past 20 years:
    10 BEST
    10 WORST
    As Linda says, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Thanks for the great resource, Linda!

  3. Shirley Smith

    Dear Shelley, Thank you for this information. It is appalling and really hangs heavy
    on our hearts. It is unimaginable to us that such horrific treament be imposed on
    innocent children. It makes one want to lash out and say, “How dare, they!” But they
    do dare because they can. It is too bad that more of them (the ones who treat the
    children in this manner) are not exposed and more loving people like those of Dr.
    Mangeet, C.P. Kumar and all envolved with the Miracle Foundation open their hearts,
    their time, efforts and monies to bring more of those children out of bondage. Even
    we have been a long time in becoming aware of these situations. Thanks be to you
    and your envolvement and your desire to make the world more aware. Mimi

  4. I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by the horror of this. Honestly, I feel the same way. Yet, there are many things that the average American, halfway around the world, can do to help bring about change to this “industry.” The very first step is awareness, which people are actively taking when they choose to read articles like this and blogs like yours, instead of turning away. In the words of Albert Schweitzer: “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”

    For more proactive steps, there are simple things which can keep that conscious awareness at a level at which it can help these children:

    1. Be aware of where the goods you buy are coming from. Is it really worth getting something a
    few dollars cheaper if it is made by slave labor or children? Check out the resource above called “The Better World Shopping Guide” (

    2. You can take action by signing petitions and/or financially supporting organizations that are working worldwide to end child labor. Some of them are:

    3. You can support individuals and NGOs such as CCD which I visited and profiled for this story. These are the real grassroots people who are working in the trenches every day to uphold the rights of children to that most simple of things: a childhood.

    Centre for Communication and Development –

    4. Write to your senators and representatives and urge them to support United Nations’ and global efforts at ended child labor, trafficking and slavery. For a website to look up your representative and contact them online, go to

    Together, we CAN make this a world fit for children!


  5. I feel sad when i see a child working at the age when he/she should study and play& get warm love of their parents, i want to do something for those, i will be satisfied if i can change lifes of few such childrens

  6. • 12-year old Laxmi* was lured by her classmates to travel to Kolkata (capital of West Bengal, a state in India) for a picnic and later sold in the train.

    • 10-year old Sneha* accompanied her 16 year-old sister Surya* to the dream city Mumbai in search of a job. Surya works as a domestic help while Sneha is hired for zari / embroidery work.

    • Ramesh*, a 15-year old rag-picker is missing. His neighbours say they saw him being chatting with a drug-addict.
    * names changed to protect identity

    Young children go missing from the small towns and villages in India. Some run-away on being lured by the dreams of the big city, while others are carried away to be sold for meager gains…

    The birth of a child (read male) in India meant celebration. Sweets are distributed and the atmosphere is one of merriment.Neighbours and relatives greet the parents and the new born baby is showered with blessings and gifts. Children are considered as God’s gift to the family. While this is true and relevant in many parts of India and the world at large, a stark reality hits us when we read the newspapers and are informed about the alarming rate at which children go missing from their homes and the increasing number of child labourers found in every sector of employment.

    A child is one of the worst marginalized sections in the societal spectrum. Children are found in most realms of institutions, and more so in places they are not supposed to be. Child soldiers, child sex workers, child labourers, bonded labourers, child brides, rag pickers, beggars, manual scavengers, domestic workers, camel jockeys in dangerous races etc.

    The above is an extract from Aileen S. Marques essay “Innocence Interred!!!”. This essay was ranked among the top three essays in Human Rights Defence’s Essay competition 2008. If you would like to read more, visit:

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr Tomas Eric Nordlander

  7. THIS IS SO MEAN HOW COULD THEY DO THIS 2 LITTLE KIDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THIS TRAFFFICKING NEEDS 2 STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I think that alot of people are unaware of the problems that occur in other countries. Child labor is a very serious problem, and not enough people are taking the effort to stop the madness. These are children, they should be treated as children and not slaves. I am only a teen in college, but my first priority when college is over, is to find away to stop the injustice and help these children as much as I possibly can. I want to shed light on the situation by informing people of the dangers these children face and start an organization that would help these children.

  9. Now that I am Aware of this sittiuation it makes me want to do more for these children or at least try to be more educated about this or what seems to be a problem. The question asked here is this realy child labor or is it a country’s customs to have the children working? Is their right violated? I s Their moral violated? How do we set a standard in protecting these children without violating one’s customs? I know we can not control every child labor sitiuation but we can atleast keep our children safe and let the be children. does these parents considered the fact of having there children becoming a victim of such? Do they Have their children for this purpose?

  10. I REALLY HATE CHILD LABOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



  11. I work with children, and wish to learn more about child abuse

  12. Hello, I’m a year 10 student, ad I’m doing this subject for one of my class research. I do know a lot about this subject, but reading some more, makes me sick. How could people do this to kids!? it’s not right! Its wrong, and we need to stop this! Help us stop this once and for all! Please this needs to stop. thank you for giving up your time to read this, but it’s ture when need to stop this! Thank you.

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » India: Child Labour and Trafficking

  2. Pingback: be part of the solution « linda's yoga journey

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