CNN’s coverage of anti-slavery efforts in Uttar Pradesh, India continued yesterday, with Indian Labor Secretary Prabhat C. Chaturvedi (shown in the video below) responding over use of the “S” word in the news reports.
Secretary Chaturvedi disagrees with the use of the word “slavery” to define the problem of bonded labor, which often binds entire families and communities for generations.
Chaturvedi told CNN’s Sara Sidner, “We are aware of the problem of bonded labor, and also [the] problem of child labor in this country.” But, he said, “I would certainly not like to bracket this as slavery.” It is a problem of poverty, he insists.
Earlier this week, CNN aired two news reports on debt bondage in India. One piece showed an entire family, including small children, laboring in a brick kiln to pay off a debt of the equivalent of $22. Another showed a raid and rescue of bonded child laborers at a carpet loom.
These pieces show that there are communities in India where bonded labor thrives, where entire communities are under the yoke of slaveholders for generations.
Debt bondage is not a problem unique to India. Cases of bonded labor have been found around the world—including in the United States. Chaturvedi is correct that poverty is often one of the root causes of this practice.
But bonded labor is slavery. The United Nations recognizes it as such. Just last December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that modern-day slavery persists in the forms of “serfdom, debt bondage and forced and bonded labor,” and debt bondage is listed as a form of slavery in the 1956 Supplementary Convention on Slavery.
Chaturvedi says, “Law and its enforcement is not going to solve this issue because the real cause of bonded labor or child labor for that matter, is poverty.”
There are no simple solutions, and laws on their own, are not enough. The Bonded Labour Act of 1976 outlawed the practice in India. And yet, it persists. It thrives in a context of poverty and a lack of determined enforcement of anti-slavery laws.
But there are solutions. The Free a Village, Build a Movement initiative that Free the Slaves’ Indian partners implement, is a holistic, comprehensive program that empowers people in bonded labor with knowledge of their rights. It helps them demand payment for their work and an end to the violence and threats. Transitional schools help children become educated for the future, and successfully enter village schools. Villagers learn to organize and demand justice, dismantling the systems that allow slavery to exist. The program helps the Indian legal system work more effectively in these remote locations. (Find out more about our Free a Village Build a Movement campaign here).
Real and lasting change can happen when, in combination with programs like this, officials carry out their legal obligations to actively seek out cases of bonded labor, release and assist victims, and prosecute slaveholders.