"Only the bricks count": children toil to help families in Indian kilns

by Anuradha Nagaraj | @anuranagaraj | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 23:01 GMT

"If you don't put children to work then you can't complete the kind of production required to earn the minimum wages."

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, Sept 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Families are forced to make their young children toil at brick kilns in north India to make enough bricks required to earn them their minimum wages, a report found on Wednesday.

Up to 80 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 who live in the kilns work seven to nine hours a day, helping their parents mould 1,000 bricks, a joint report by rights groups Anti-Slavery International and Volunteers for Social Justice found.

"In this system, only the bricks count, human beings don't," said Ganga Sekhar of Volunteers for Social Justice.

"If you don't put children to work then you can't complete the kind of production required to earn the minimum wages.... Child labour is incentivised."

There are at least 100,000 working brick kilns in India employing about 23 million workers, the report said, adding that one third of those living at the kilns are children.

Yashoda, 9, likes reading and would like to spend her day in school.

Instead, she wakes up at midnight and goes to work with her father, she told researchers in the documentary "Invisible Chains", that was released with the report.

"Children have to work at any cost," Kusuma, a mother of three sons aged 14, 9 and 7, said in the documentary. "What would they eat if they don't work?"

Every year, large number of labourers are trafficked into unregulated brick kilns to service the country's booming construction industry, activists say.

The recruitment and payment systems in these kilns trap seasonal migrant workers in a cycle of bonded labour - the most prevalent form of slavery in India, the report states.

Focusing on workers in northern state of Punjab, the report found 96 percent of them had taken loans and all of them had wages withheld for an entire season of eight to ten months, while working an average of 14 hours a day through the summer.

Workers take an advance at the beginning of the season and are then provided a small allowance every week or fortnight to buy food and supplies throughout the season.

Wages are paid at the end of the season according to the number of bricks made, the advance taken and sustenance allowance given. They are paid for every 1000 bricks made as a "working unit", which is usually a family.

More than 80 percent said they had been paid lower wages than that agreed upon at the beginning of the season, said the report.

"They (the workers) have not earned proper wages in the season before, so they may easily find themselves having to take out a loan again," Sarah Mount of Anti-Slavery International said in a statement, adding that their children were forced to work to help make ends meet.

The report calls for the government to ensure workers are paid minimum wages regularly and at the end of every month, as mandated by the law. (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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