7 Shocking Truths about Slavery in 2015 – Part 3

In the third installment of this seven-part series on slavery, you will learn about the deviousness of bonded labor, or debt bondage and some measures to prevent it.


Bonded Labor: When “Slaving for a Paycheck” is a Reality

Many of us complain, usually jokingly, about “being chained to” our jobs. Yet most of us are still fortunate enough to have a choice in our course of employment, and the freedom to pursue educational opportunities that will help us advance in our field. But what about those who truly are slaves to their work?

It’s a difficult figure to comprehend in an age of such great advancement, but there are at least 21 million slaves in the world today. The most common form of this ancient and insidious institution is debt bondage, or bonded labor—when the security against a debt or small loan is a human being.

Around the world, adults and children alike are subjected to forced labor in industries such as construction, factories, mining, domestic work and adult entertainment, though child enslavement is more common because the young are easier to exploit. In extreme cases, such workers are also subjected to physical abuse. But how did the problem become so widespread?

As with so many of the world’s ills, poverty plays a major role: poverty and lack of employment options, particularly in rural areas, that cause many to move to more urban regions or to accept distant job offers.

Inadequate government health and welfare services are another factor. The poorly educated and illiterate are easy targets for unscrupulous recruiters with offers that may sound—and prove—too good to be true, as they discover when they are lured into situations (including labor camps) where they are stripped of identification and cut off from the outside world. From then on their debt will always exceed their wages (if they are in fact paid at all), and threats of abuse or even threats against family members back home help ensure compliance.

Children may be sold to settle a debt, even one incurred years before their birth, and girls are especially vulnerable because they are seen as financial burdens who will one day marry into and serve another family…with, of course, said marriage requiring a dowry.

Slavery may have been abolished a century ago in Nepal, but scarcely a decade has passed since the nation also revoked debt bondage…and history makes clear that revocation of human rights abuses doesn’t necessarily erase them, especially if the underlying causes haven’t been erased as well.

Pratiraksha, a GHNI slavery prevention worker in Nepal, is making a dent in the problem by teaching classes on labor trafficking, including instruction on devious loan methods:

“I taught them how the broker encourages farmers or poor people to take a loan and after that how they charge them. Most of the poor people are uneducated so they did not record how many times they had taken the loan or how much they had taken, and then they can’t calculate the interest rate. Uneducated people can’t read the loan agreement where they had attached their finger prints [as their signature].  

“Sometimes the broker increases the rate [without their knowing] by adding the digit zero (0) after the number. If uneducated people request the broker to read the agreement to them before they put their finger prints on the paper, the broker speaks or reads them correct how much loan they had taken even though the broker had increase the zero digits after the number afterwards. When the broker gets the finger prints, after maybe one year, the broker told them they had taken a huge amount from them. So to pay the loan they become forced and bonded into slavery. Most of women involved are also enslaved as house maids or for sexual purposes.”

Another preventive measure she pointed out can be found in something as simple as crop seed: Planted in time to ensure a good harvest, she says, villagers can “earn enough money to live.”

The issue of slavery certainly seems overwhelming, but your gift in any amount is a valuable part of the solution. Thank you!

Connect with the whole 7 Shocking Truths of Slavery in 2015 series.