children bonded labor india PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

Breaking India’s Cycle of Bonded Labor

The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor alone generates some $150 billion in illegal revenue every year. Much of that money is tied to India, where eight children go missing every hour, on average.

NEW DELHI – My childhood arrived late. Born to an impoverished family in a stone quarry in Rajasthan, I knew how to crack rocks before I could spell my name. My parents were bonded laborers, and as soon as I could hold a hammer, I was, too. We were paid little and could barely afford to eat. My earliest memories are of being someone’s slave: my breath was mine, but my body and spirit were not.

This was the tragedy that my family – and generations of our ancestors – were forced to endure. Miraculously, I eventually escaped. Across India, most bonded laborers never do.

Any type of slavery is debasing, but bonded child labor – forcing a young person to work to pay off a family debt – is among the cruelest forms of abuse. The cycle goes like this: desperate for the money needed to feed their hungry families, people take out loans with exorbitant interest rates. Then, when they become unable to repay, they are left with nothing to offer as collateral except their bodies – and the bodies of their family members.

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