Category Archives: India

Interview With Shelley Seale

This morning I had the extreme pleasure of doing a live video interview with Shelley Seale, author of The Weight Of Silence: Invisible Children Of India. Unfortunately we ran into some audio issues and decided not to present her full screen during the session and this resulted in the recording from that conversation only capturing my side of the conversation. Trust me when I tell you that my side of the conversation was NOT the most interesting side!

While this is extremely unfortunate, I’m gives me a reason to schedule another time to do an interview with Shelley.  Next time we will do the video interview in the evening when more people can show up and listen live. In addition,  I’ll use my own recording tools to make sure we get it all.

Shelley, thank you so much for your time this morning and for the wonderful gift that The Weight of Silence is!

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The Day My God Died

One day you are a child.

The next day, you are a slave. Your childhood has ended.

These are people who have been taken from their homes against their will, transported to a new world in which they have no family, no friends, no one to help them. They do not even speak the language. They are at the mercy of their abductors, who frequently abuse them with severe beatings and withholding of food, to ensure their cooperation and break them. Eventually, they will all be broken.

There is a room, hidden and cramped and dirty. In this place the bidding and sale of humans is done. Those who desire slaves to live in human bondage and be forced to do their bidding, can make an offer.For an agreed amount of money, typically only a few hundred dollars, the buyer can leave with his new purchase: a human being. Too often a child.

What is this world, this place? Is it a history lesson that tells of 19th century enslavement of Africans in the New World known as the United States?

No. This is our world, today, the here and now. We live in a world where slavery is alive and well.Hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked and sold into slavery every day, all over the world – including the United States of America. Many of these are children, and most are sold into the sex trade.

This is the reality for far too many children and young adults in the world today. Human trafficking has surpassed drug trafficking to become the second biggest illegal trade in the world, only behind arms.

Last night I was invited to a screening of a documentary called “The Day My God Died.” This film, narrated by Tim Robbins, focuses on the real human suffering of a handful of young Nepalese girls who were trafficked over the border into India and sold into brothels. These girls were eventually rescued – after enduring years of a hell that included rape, beatings and being forced to have sex with up to 50 men each day, all for the profit of their captors.

As the documentary tells us, many of these survivors refer to the day they were trafficked into slavery as the day their god died. Many endure numerous abortions during their captivity, carry out pregnancies from their rapists, and contract HIV/AIDS. One teenager tells of her ordeal the first day she arrived at the brothel: being beaten when she refused to have sex, and eventually raped by numerous men until she stopped resisting. She was seven years old at the time.

Another young woman in the film, Jyoti, returns to the brothel where she was held after her rescue, in order to help find and rescue other girls. Jyoti shows the secret hiding rooms where the brothel owners keep the girls, and says, “Once the door closes behind you, no one ever knows you’re there.”

Don’t let the door close forever on these girls. Watch the documentary yourself.

For more information about the Nepalese organization that helps prevent trafficking, find these girls once they have been sold into the sex trade, and provides a home and rehabilitation after their rescue, visit:

Maiti Nepal – the organization in Nepal; or
Friends of Maiti Nepal – its supporters in the United States; or
Make a Donation Here

Thank you, and namaste.
Shelley

More information can be found in Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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India Turns A Blind Eye To Child Labor Violations (Blog Action Day)

The numbers reported in this article from ThaIndian.com are ludicrous. The headline from the story, “only 8,000 child labur violations” is sad. If you’ve read any of Shelley Seale’s posts here, you’ll quickly realize the problem has a much larger footprint than these reported numbers would have people believe. The quote below is disheartening.

At this rate, child labour will never be eliminated from our society. It is time we start treating it as a serious crime – Umesh Gupta, via In 19 months, only 8,000 child labour violations detected in India.

Today is Blog Action Day. If it’s not painfully evident from what has been written here at Stop Child Slavery before, I’ll state it explicitly: at the root of these offenses is extreme poverty and corporate willingness to exploit those in its grasp. It makes dealing with the horror of child slavery extremely difficult, but today it give us a focus for Blog Action Day.

Often I get emails asking this question, “What can I do to help?” Today, you can go visit the Blog Action Day website. Read. Learn. Donate.

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Child Slavery In The Soccer Ball Industry

The international Labor Rights forum is reporting evidence that indicates the use of child labor and debt bondage in the production of soccer balls in India.

“While the sporting goods industry made a commitment to stop child labor in their supply chains when the problem was first identified in Sialkot, Pakistan in 1997, this report shows that bonded child labor continues in the industry and has shifted to India,” said Trina Tocco, Campaigns Coordinator at the International Labor Rights Forum.

via Modern Day Slavery In Soccer Ball Production In india.

This practice was exposed in the 1990′s, but it appears that initiatives to combat these practices are not working. View a photo gallery showing child labor in soccer ball production. The photos appear to be from July, 2007.

View a detailed PDF report from the BBA in India.

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The Railway Children of India

In March 2007 I was in Mumbai, India – a city of great juxtapositions. Home to massive, sprawling slums in which a large portion of its citizens live, Mumbai is India’s tale of two cities. One is on the streets, right up front – the beggars, the pavement dwellers, the street children who pick through litter for anything they can sell. The other India is cocooned behind all this, tucked away from it. This India is one of quiet, air conditioning, service and amenities; middle and upper class people living their lives much as those with means live their lives anywhere. Mostly, these two Indias exist separately, as if each half is unaware of the other’s existence.

And in the middle of it all is an estimated 100,000 homeless children in Mumbai alone. With the second largest rail network in the world carrying eleven million passengers each day, India’s train stations play a major role in street children’s lives. Many of those who run away take a train, often without even knowing where it is headed, and usually remain in the stations where they arrive because of access to toilet facilities and the ability to scratch out a meager existence from industry that springs up around rail travel: as luggage porters, shoe shiners, food or tea servers, rag pickers or beggars.

A boy picks through trash on the tracks

Kids of all ages make their homes in these stations, often begging or picking through trash for a living. Waves of people step over and around them every day without ever really seeing them. As crowds of people disembark from the trains – commuters, businessmen, families, university students, mothers and babies, young trendy urbanites with their iPods – they leave the platforms and swarm to the exits. But some remain behind – the small and permanent residents, the ones for whom the railway station is their only home. Of all the vulnerable children they are the least hidden, in plain sight right on the platforms or outside on the pavement, yet they are perhaps the most invisible of all.

With no supervision of any kind and largely unprotected by adults they are extremely vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and violence – especially within the first days and weeks of leaving home. On average, a child arriving alone at a railway station will be approached by a predator, maybe a factory representative seeking cheap child labor or a brothel owner, within twenty minutes. Employers of kids who perform jobs such as rag and bottle collecting keep the children indebted to them. These victimizers know where to find children who won’t be missed.

Me & Gyan with the boys of Kurla Station.

I set off to spend the day with some of these kids one sunny morning. Gyan, a social worker with the NGO Oasis, met me at my hotel to escort me to their Ashadeep project for railway children. Ashadeep offers these children food and a bath, clothing, medical care, recreations such as games and movies, and learning. We took a train to the Kurla station, where the center is located. Exiting the platform, Gyan led the way through a maze I was sure I would never find my way back out of alone, and knocked at the door of a locked room. Another Ashadeep worker let us in. The tiny room was filled with nine boys, ranging in age from about 9 to 16, playing games on the floor with two other male workers. These boys all lived at the Kurla railway station by night, sleeping on the platforms, sometimes mere feet from where the trains race by, or on the footpaths or under bridges.

Drug use, particularly glue sniffing, is a problem for many of these boys without a childhood who often yearn for an escape from the brutality of their lives. I asked Gyan why it is only boys in the program. He said that the majority of railway kids are in fact boys, and this seems to be attributed to two reasons. One, boys are more likely than girls to actually run away from home and leave their villages. Second, when girls do arrive they are the first to disappear. The sex trade swallows up the girls immediately; every hour four new girls and women enter prostitution – three of them against their will. And once any child is plucked away from the station, they are almost always lost.

Half an hour into my visit the games were put away and a math lesson began. The boys grew serious as they carefully wrote out the numbers and did their sums. The interesting foreigner in their midst was quickly forgotten and they concentrated on their assignment, soaking up the learning like a sponge and eager to show off their skills. I watched these eight, ten, twelve year olds who should be in school every day and thought about children who take their education for granted. It was such a simple right that it should be taken for granted as a right for all children. This was the only schooling these boys had, and it made me very fearful for their futures.

Rashid struggles to write

I noticed one of the boys struggling to write his math problems. His arms were missing below the elbows and he leaned over his notebook on the floor, holding a pencil in his teeth and guiding it with the stub of his left arm. Threads hung from where the sleeves had been cut off the heavily stained shirt. His brown knees were scabby below his shorts; I could see only the top of his head, short black hairs bristling from his scalp, as he bent over his work laboriously. His name was Mohammed Rashid, and he was about twelve years old. He lived at the Kurla station with the other boys part of the time, and sometimes with his family. When he was four or five, Rashid suffered some sort of injury to both his hands – exactly what Gyan either didn’t know or wouldn’t tell me. Such vagueness seemed common for such children who often didn’t know their birthdays or exactly how old they were. An infection set into Rashid’s hands and spread. The desperately poor family lacked the money for a proper operation and medical treatment, so both of his arms were amputated at the elbows.

The caseworkers try to protect these boys as much as possible from the dangers of the station. “These boys lose their right to a childhood, education, and family,” Gyan said as we watched the boys play. “They even lose their humanity.”

Excerpted from Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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The Price of a Child

Dr. Manjeet Pardesi listened in horror as the young woman related her story. Neela had recently come to his home for children and pregnant women in Rourkela because she had heard it was a place where unwed mothers and their babies would be taken care of without abuse or judgment. The twenty-three year old was pregnant with her landlord’s baby and didn’t know what to do. There was no one to help her.

Neela had been caring for her eight year old brother and ten year old sister in their remote village in Jharkhand state, just north of Orissa, since their parents died several years earlier. Dire financial circumstances caused the small family to owe money to the landlord, who intimidated and coerced the girl into a physical relationship while the young siblings were sent into bonded labor in a rock quarry to pay off the debt. An outreach worker brought Neela to the home for delivery.

“The physical intimacy was not done due to love but due to fear,” Dr. Pardesi wrote me in an email. “In other words, you can term this as rape.”

While this seemed obvious, it was a brave and somewhat controversial statement for Dr. Pardesi to make. Such physical and sexual violence against Dalits, once considered the “untouchables,” is widespread and rarely considered abuse or even a crime at all. In an extensive investigation of caste-based discrimination conducted in 2006, Human Rights Watch found that rape of Dalit women by landlords like what Neela endured is all too common. Dalit victims of rape face significant obstacles when attempting to report the crime to police or to bring a case before the courts. Perpetrators are rarely charged or punished, and their victims are usually the ones ostracized from the community – so much so that rape survivors are often considered unmarriageable.

“Caste is very much the root of the problem,” said Dr. Pardesi. “The government gives them certain privileges, but due to acute poverty and caste dogma these things happen. The people who are Dalits are at the receiving end of exploitation.”

He began bombarding Neela’s landlord with constant communication on behalf of her brother and sister. “Initially he was reluctant to part with the children,” reported Dr. Pardesi, “until he was informed that the matter would be turned over to the police.”

At that point the landlord finally agreed to return the children from bonded servitude in exchange for the money owed him. Dr. Pardesi arranged to collect the children from Calcutta, where they had been put into labor, and bring them back to live at the home with their sister. He paid the price of their debt: Twenty-five U.S. dollars.

Neela’s young brother and sister were freed from their life of bondage, but for most such children freedom never comes.

One out of four children reported missing in India are never found. The strong link between missing persons and slavery indicates an immediate need to find and rescue children who have been reported missing. People trafficking is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world, second only to arms. With an estimated revenue of forty-two billion dollars it is so lucrative that many drug dealers are changing their cargo to human beings.

India represents forty percent of the world’s human trafficking. In 2007 the South Asia Centre for Missing and Exploited Persons was formed precisely for this reason. “Tracing missing children and women across South Asia before they are exploited is emerging as a key focus area in the efforts to prevent human slavery,” wrote Ashley Varghese, Legal Counsel for the organization, in a letter to me.

Pratham, a nonprofit organization that aims to give every child an education by taking schools into the slums and workplaces, has been at the forefront of the fight against child labor. In an interview with me, Farida Lambay of Pratham acknowledged that sometimes children have little choice but to work due to economic reasons; in those cases, when employment is stopped, then rehabilitation and a safety net must be provided to ensure that families and children have the ability to sustain themselves.

But she contended that the financial necessity of child labor as a whole is vastly overstated. “When these children work, the economic situation of most families does not improve at all. We must look at why children are really working.” She outlined the major factors Pratham identified as perpetuating child labor: Lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of role models and lack of family or other parental support.

“The unemployment in this country is high,” Ms. Lambay continued. “So why are we employing children? Why aren’t their parents in these jobs instead?” She paused, and then answered her own question. “Because the children, they can be hired and exploited much more cheaply. In India we must come to a place where child labor is not acceptable.”

The 2006 Human Rights Watch investigation in India concluded that caste-based discrimination is at the heart of bonded labor and is hugely intertwined with child exploitation. The caste system sustains the mechanisms by which bonded labor thrives, through the centuries-old expectations of free or vastly underpaid work, discrimination and violence against Dalits, and the extreme marginalization that prevents them from accessing resources available to other members of society.

The HRW report stated that these children were forced to dip their hands into boiling water to make the silk thread, handle dead silkworms and breathe fumes that made them ill, and worked in cramped, damp rooms. They did not attend school and were often beaten by their employers or burned with hot tongs if they fell asleep.

When I read this, I had to close the report and set it aside. I felt sick to my stomach. It seemed more than I could bear to think about; but at the same time, I couldn’t bear not to. My mind reeled at how people could do this to other people – especially defenseless children. The work of another journalist, Philip Gourevitch, popped into my mind. In his brilliant book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families about the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Gourevitch wrote of his fascination with the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real. The way that a thing, even as it was happening that very moment in the world around us, could be so horrific that we could still only imagine it, our minds refusing to accept it as reality.

I understood exactly what he meant. In a way, it was far easier to let the vastness of these atrocities slip past my mind that didn’t want to accept them as possible, that became too easily overwhelmed and despairing at the thoughts. But I knew that to do that would be, for me, an unforgivable act. I did know. Now I could only decide if I chose instead to look away. And if I did that, if everyone did that, who would be left stand up for these children?

Gourevitch similarly examined his own pain and difficulty at spending so much time steeped in the genocide. “The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda’s stories,” he concluded, “is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.”

Excerpted from Shelley Seale’s upcoming book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India.

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GAP Admits To Child Slavery In Indian Factory

GAP Admits To Child Slavery In Indian FactoryI know many Western readers will shy away from this report.

The Gap just scream “America.” To accept the truth of retailers like Gap’s support of global child slavery would require a change in behavior. And that makes us uncomfortable. We want to believe all is right in the world. All is not right in the world.

Even though the Gap was quick to issue a halt to production in the factory in question and call a meeting to reinforce their “no-tolerance” policy regarding child labor, the actions ring hollow to me. So does their assertion that they were unaware that the clothing was being subcontracted to sweatshops using child labor. “Everyone knows factories in Shahpur Jat use child labor – it’s an open secret,” say Puja Sahu, owner of a fashionable boutique in the are where the sweatshop was found. [Time.com]

The continued quest for cheap labor all but requires that America companies turn a blind eye toward human rights violations. It’s impossible for them NOT to understand what is going on in order to reap such low prices. It’s estimated that more than 2o percent of India’s economy is dependent on children. 20 percent!

So, turn away if it makes you feel better. But the truth is clear. American retailers are funding major child labor violations and enabling child slavery. And none of my words on this screen will make a bit of difference. Corporations only respond to damage to their wallets.

Here are links to others writing on this story.

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400,000 Children Working In Inidan Cotton Fields

When you read the Hindustan Times, the numbers aren’t easily discerned. Today, the headline reads, Four Lakh Children Slogging In Cotton Fields: Report. To a US reader, the word “lakh” may seem like the name of a province. But a lakh is not an area of India. A lakh is equal to 100,000. It’s a large number. Too large.

Based on the field research done by Glocal Research, the report said that out of the total number of children involved in child labour in the cotton industry, 2.25 lakh are below the age of 14.

The report also said that the children are made to work for 8 to 12 hours with a paltry earning of Rs 20 to 30 per day. “They are routinely exposed to poisonous pesticides and often trafficked as migrants from other districts and states,” the report said.

While in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat more than 80% of the children are trafficked, North Gujarat ‘receives’ tens of thousands of children from Rajasthan every year. The children often live in makeshift shelters and are vulnerable to mental, physical and sexual abuse, the report said.

Two large multinational companies were named in the report, Monsanto and Bayer.

Monsanto And Bayer Engage In Forced Child LaborA report like this calls into question Monsanto’s seemingly hollow pledge to “convert values to actions and results, and to make clear who we are and what we champion.” It’s hard to imagine that those at the very tops of the organization are not aware of these practices. So their actions make clear what they champion.

With Bayer, the irony is even more evident. Their slogan, Science For A Better Life, may sound nice, but not if that is not extended to a better life for these force child laborers. Not surprising however, given that “a will to succeed” and “a passion for our stakeholders” come ahead of other stated values, like “integrity openness and honesty” and “respect for people and nature.”

In my experience, big business clearly holds some values more valuable than others.

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There Are No Simple Solutions

Little Indian directed me to a few excellent sites that detail what India is doing on it’s own to combat child labor and child slavery issues. One of them, a report from the Indian Embassy, begins with this staggering fact:

There are more children under the age of fourteen in India than the entire population of the United States. The great challenge of India, as a developing country, is to provide nutrition, education and health care to these children.”

We here in the United States are unfamiliar with numbers that large. What the number indicates is that even if, as the report indicates, only 3.6% of the workforce is under 14, the resulting numbers will still be beyond our ability to comprehend.

The report intro continues with this statement:

While child labor is a complex problem that is basically rooted in poverty, there is unwavering commitment by the Government and the people of India to combat it. Success can be achieved only through social engineering on a major scale combined with national economic growth. International policies and actions, therefore, must support and not hamper India’s efforts to get rid of child labor.”

I would hope that the words on this blog and the resulting actions would support and not hamper India’s own efforts to combat child labor and child slavery.

The Words That Haunt Me

I’m so happy to have Shelley Seale contributing here.

Her last post, “Children as Chattel: Child Labor & Trafficking in India“, is worth a serious read and reflection. I commented on it, stating that one of the paragraphs haunted me. It was this paragraph:

“Child laborers and prostitutes exist in such large numbers for a very simple, yet horrific, reason: they are cheap commodities. 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. They can be paid the least, exploited the most, and due to their largely invisible status have virtually no power against their oppressors.”

It is horrific at a level I’m unable to get me mind around. Since Shelley is there, seeing it, feeling it, I asked her, “How does the average American begin to help? How can they effectively create change?”

She responded in an email to me. With her permission, I would like to share it with you here.

From Shelley:

I understand your concern and the feeling of being overwhelmed by the horror of it. 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? There is 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. You can go on their site and see the 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.

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: globalmarch.org | endchildlabor.org | earthaction.org

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 www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.

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

Shelley, thank you. I know everyone reading this will benefit from your insight.

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