Are there Japa maids in Haryana
The following article was made to the World Socialist Web Site by Dr. Dipak Basu, Professor of Economics at Nagasaki University in Japan. This is followed by a comment by Jerry White on behalf of the editorial team of the WSWS on the political conclusions that Dr. Basu draws at the end of his article.
The WSWS welcomes the submission of articles and essays from readers for publication on our site. We reserve the right to make our own statements.
At the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, the so-called developing countries prevented the inclusion of standards for working conditions in trade issues. This developing world victory is worthless as the problem of labor exploitation in general, child labor and even slavery in these countries grows.
According to recent surveys by the International Labor Organization (ILO), 25 percent of children work in certain areas in India, Ghana, Indonesia and Senegal. If the seasonal workers in Senegal are included, the percentage reaches 40. In Ghana, more than 75 percent of working children between the ages of 10 and 14 were female.
In 1995 around 73 million children aged 10 to 14 were working, that is 13.2 percent of 10 to 14 year olds worldwide. The number of child laborers between the ages of 5 and 14 is estimated at 250 million worldwide, not including those children who work with their families and mainly in their own household.
The largest number of child laborers live in Asia, 44.6 million; followed by Africa, 23.6 million; and Latin America, 5.1 million. Estimates for individual countries showed that even developed European countries are not exempt from this. Among the 10 to 14 year olds, the labor rate is 41.2 percent in Kenya, 31.4 percent in Senegal, 30.1 percent in Bangladesh, 25.8 percent in Nigeria, 24 percent in Turkey, 20.5 percent Ivory Coast, 17.7 percent in Pakistan, 16.1 percent in Brazil, 14.4 percent in India, 11.6 percent in China, 11.2 percent in Egypt, 6.7 percent in Mexico, 4.5 percent in Argentina, 1.8 percent in Portugal and 0.4 percent in Italy.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Reliable statistics on workers under the age of 10 are not available, although their numbers are considerable. In Central and Eastern Europe, the difficulties associated with the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy resulted in a significant increase in child labor. The same is true of the United States, where the growth of the service sector, the surge in the supply of part-time work and the search for a more flexible workforce have contributed to the expansion of the child labor market.
The largest group of working children are those who work unpaid for their families. A high proportion of children pass the wages on to their parents or other relatives with whom they live. Children in rural areas work more than children in cities, with agricultural work being the main form of work in the countryside and activities in the informal sector being the main occupation in cities. Child labor is seen as an essential contribution to maintaining the economic level of the household, be it in the form of wage labor or helping in the family business or taking on household chores so that adult household members can pursue other economic activities.
In India, as in many other countries, children work in the textile, clothing, carpet, shoe and glass industries, in fireworks production, cut diamonds and other precious stones, mine and work salt, limestone and mosaic stones in quarries. Many of these activities are dangerous for the children.
Many of these children do not have the opportunity to go to school. Many of their parents, who themselves suffer from illiteracy and ignorance, do not understand the importance of education. Furthermore, the high cost of education is an obstacle. Since the government is dropping education and replacing it with the private sector as part of the structural adjustment program initiated by the IMF and World Bank, many children have to work to pay for their schooling. But many of the schools for the poor are so utterly bad that the children drop out in frustration. Recently, a large number of urban schools in the poorer north of Calcutta were closed because of a lack of students.
The majority of working children work nine hours a day or more, and many work six or seven days a week, including holidays, especially in rural areas. In many cases, girls work more hours than boys.
Child laborers in hazardous and other industrial work lead lives of humiliation and misery, deprived of their rights as children. The majority are employed in agriculture and are regularly exposed to harsh climates, sharp tools, heavy loads, and increasingly toxic chemicals and motorized equipment. Due to their intellectual immaturity, they are less aware of the possible risks in their specific occupation and in their own workplace, and sometimes even not at all.
A very high proportion of children are physically injured or sick while at work. The injuries include stitches, cuts, fractures and the complete loss of limbs, burns and skin diseases, damage to the sensory organs, diseases of the respiratory organs and digestive tract, fever, headaches from the excessive heat in the fields and in the factories.
Agriculture employs more than two-thirds (70 percent) of all working children and therefore a high proportion (70 percent) of sick or injured children come from this sector. Children are employed in commercial farming around the world and as a result they are exposed to various risks. In tea plantations, the usual dangers for children are bruising after picking tea for a long time, frequent fevers from long hours of work in the moisture, snakebites, being subject to harsh climates and lack of protection for both boys and especially girls.
Similar dangers exist in coffee and tobacco plantations. In sisal plantations, the main crop in Africa, the dangers are snakebites, long working days, a dusty and unhealthy work environment, the lack of protective equipment, wounds from thorns when picking up the sisal. In sugar cane plantations the typical dangers are back pain from stooping for long periods of time, toxic insecticides and fertilizers, nauseating smell, slow death from starvation due to working conditions. Exploitation, torment and torture are everyday experiences of children in every area of agriculture.
Around 13 percent of sick or injured children work in wholesalers and retailers, in restaurants and hotels. Female children carry 25 percent of injuries from work in this sector. The occurrence of injuries is significantly more common in the mining and construction industries. An average of 35 percent of female children and 26 percent of male children are injured while working on construction sites. 19 percent of children suffer serious injuries from working in the transport sector.
Girls who work as housemaids outside of their families, which is particularly common in Middle Eastern countries, are often victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, which can have devastating consequences for their health. The ILO's December 1999 report on child labor details the conditions of "forced prostitution" to which female children are subjected. "The AIDS epidemic is contributing to this development as adults consider the exploitation of children for sexual purposes as the best means of preventing infection. The full extent of the problem is unknown, but in Thailand the number of underage children in the sex trade is increasing Estimated 250,000 to 800,000. The indifferent attitude of the authorities to the benefit of national and international tourism is partly responsible for the current situation. "
The social costs of child labor are enormous but cannot be quantified. An ILO study in Kenya found that 35 percent of working children would like to go to school but cannot.
Mining Industry in Niger
Niger, one of the poorest countries in Africa, is a prime example of child exploitation. Niger is famous for mining uranium, gold, phosphates, tin, coal, limestone, salt and gypsum. In Madaoua, one of the main gypsum deposits in Niger, 43 percent of the workers involved in gypsum mining are children. Of these, 6.5 percent are between the ages of 6 and 9 and 16 percent are between the ages of 10 and 13. These children are exposed to innumerable dangers. While mining, there is a risk of tool injury and exhaustion as they work a vast area in search of plaster of paris. Other hazards include snake and scorpion bites, and foot injuries from stones and splinters of wood because most of them are barefoot.
Liptako is a major gold mining area in Niger. Gold ore is extracted under difficult and dangerous conditions, as the working method is primitive, without the aid of any mechanical, electrical or other equipment. Children are employed in most areas of gold production without restrictions. 17 percent of the workers are children. They also work in related fields like transportation, drug sales and prostitution. During mining, children are used as carriers for ore and waste products to the surface.
The child laborers carry sacks that weigh between 5 and 10 kilos. In addition to the risk of falling rocks, the children can also fall down the mine shafts. They are exposed to hazards such as explosions, asphyxiation, dust, skin diseases, flooding and drowning in the mines. Furthermore, they have to endure very high or very low temperatures, they are exposed to harmful air and dangerous rooms and materials during extraction and processing and can be attacked by schistosomiasis from the contaminated water in which they wash the gold ore. The nearest medical supply station is 60 km away.
Children in Russia
Millions of Russian children, victims of the economic collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union, are in direct danger of falling out of the school system and facing impoverishment, child labor and criminal exploitation. One of the main reasons for this is the decline of the Russian education system. Up to 5 percent of children under the age of 15 work more than 20 hours a week; this number is sure to keep increasing in the near future.
More and more children are being used by criminal syndicates, particularly for selling and distributing illegal drugs. There is also growing evidence that children are victims of extortion gangs of only slightly older adolescents. A report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) speaks of "a new subculture of society", among them "children as young as five who live in the basements and on the streets of Moscow". Some of these children work in brothels, take drugs and suffer terrible psychological damage.
In rural areas, children work on farms for up to 14 hours a day and are paid in kind for this. (This is not uncommon in Russia, where up to 50 percent of workers are not paid regular wages.) Many of these children are infected with tuberculosis, while the number of hospital beds for children decreased by 20 percent between 1994 and 1996. The education system collapses due to the non-payment of wages to teachers and the unavailability of books and other materials. This is how children are forced into the labor market.
There are child slaves in South Asia as well as in countries in the Middle East, Latin America and in Africa south of the Sahara. In many cases, the child is sold into slavery as a result of an employment contract that his parents signed in exchange for a sum of money often referred to as an advance payment of wages. Child slaves can be found in agriculture, the sex industry, the carpet and textile industry, as domestic helpers, in quarries and in brickworks. Child slavery occurs mainly where there are social systems based on the exploitation of poverty, such as promissory notes. It is also simply a means of survival. The workers at a brick factory in Pakistan are a clear example of child slave labor.
Bricks are handcrafted and industrially manufactured in Pakistan. Brick mill owners get their labor needs from so-called zamadars, labor recruiters whose job is to make sure the workers don't run away.
The workers are tied to their owners through a system of advance payments (peshgis), the interest rates of which are so high that the workers can never repay them in full. This forces their wives and children to take responsibility for the debt. This creates a ring of obligated persons or child slaves who are chained to the owner of the brick factory for the rest of their lives and have no way of escaping their "obligations". Workers and their families are sold from one owner to another. Some workers are sold more than ten times. The wives of the workers are also committed workers; they are the most exploited, physically and sexually.
The children have no access to education or medical care. Escape is impossible due to the close links between the owners and the local police. About 60 percent of children start working before they are 13 years old. The mortality rate among the children is high and they often go blind from the high concentration of lead in the clay. 15 to 20 percent of older workers are blind. The owners insist that the children work unless they take care of younger siblings. The mental torture of these children is appalling. They live in fear and witness the physical violence perpetrated against their parents. Their reactions are different from those of normal children, according to Asma Jehangir, a human rights lawyer in Pakistan: "They don't surround a car or vehicle that drives into the distillery's property, they walk away in fear."
Although women are an integral part of the workforce, they do not receive an independent wage. The marriage of young girls is not supported. The labor recruiters operate prostitution businesses and provide the owners with women. Several incidents have been reported where widows and abandoned women were sold to meet the man's outstanding debts. The illiterate workers are unable to check their outstanding debts. As a result, they, along with their children, are slaves for the rest of their lives.
Child slave market in India
The newspaper Times of India reported on December 7, 1999 that a slave market was openly held in Bihar, one of the most backward parts of India. Child laborers are sold like animals at the Sonepur cattle market in Bihar State.
"A well-organized gang of around 15 people is reportedly involved in this business. The gang not only sends child laborers to various states such as Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, but 'brokers' them to several factories in some industrialized countries," said the Newspaper.
Following this report, a shopkeeper at the market admitted that he had bought two child laborers, including a 12-year-old girl. He had to pay 900 rupees to the agent and contractor who brokered the children. The slave market operated for over a decade, with the children being brought to Bihar by contractors from Raxaul, Sitamarhi, Jogbani, and other towns near the Nepalese border.
"In the beginning, some poverty stricken children were sent here by their parents to earn some money. Taking advantage of their helplessness, some contractors who 'broker' workers in factories took the opportunity to sell these child laborers," said the Times.
The whereabouts of these children sold is not known. Many UNICEF-funded, non-governmental organizations set up their stands in the marketplace but failed to prevent child abuse.
As surprising as it may be, in one part of India, in the state of Kerala, there is no child labor. There is no child labor in Cuba either. The reason for this is easy to see. Thanks to the continued efforts of the enlightened government of Kerala, illiteracy has almost disappeared, there is a comprehensive system of social benefits and a population fully aware of their rights.The government has carried out extensive land reforms (only one other state in India, West Bengal, has carried out land reforms) that benefited the landless farmers. New schools have opened everywhere, unions have been strengthened, and minimum wage laws have been passed. School attendance is free and free school meals encourage poor families to send their children to school. The minimum wage, which is higher than anywhere else in India, allows parents to survive without their children having to work. Anyone who does not enroll their children in school is under pressure from the other villagers. There are wide options for adult education. In this way, every Kerala resident gets used to reading the newspaper and develops an active interest in defending their rights. Similarly, the introduction of compulsory schooling for children in Sri Lanka has reduced the percentage of working children to 5 percent of the total workforce.
Developing countries' arguments that the inclusion of labor rights and environmental issues serve to prevent their exports to developed countries should not make too much of an impression. Developing countries suffer much more from free imports. The result is growing unemployment in developing countries, whose industries and agriculture are uncompetitive.
The acceptance of a new product-based patent system will also destroy many industries, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. This makes developing countries technologically dependent on the developed world. If a developing country accepts a loan from the World Bank for a project, it loses its right to obtain materials from its own resources or to select its own contractors. Price maintenance measures are used against developing countries in order to deprive them of their competitive advantage.
While most developing countries willingly accept the World Trade Organization's unequal treaties, they oppose the inclusion of labor rights and environmental issues that would benefit poor workers and children in developing countries. For example, all 4,000 victims of the disaster at the fertilizer factory in Bhopal, India were extremely impoverished slum dwellers. The legal basis is in place, but the laws are not being implemented. Under pressure from trade sanctions by the World Trade Organization, developing countries would be forced to enforce basic human rights for workers and children.
Progressive measures sometimes arise against a reactionary backdrop. The legislation passed after Lord Wilberforce's long campaign against the slave trade or Abraham Lincoln's fight against slavery in the southern United States are examples of this. The World Trade Organization is undoubtedly an oppressive and reactionary organization, but the inclusion of labor rights that can help eradicate child labor and slavery is indeed a progressive measure.
Reply from Jerry White, WSWS -Correspondent
Dear Doctor. Basu,
Thank you for your informative article on child labor and child slavery. It paints a terrifying picture of child exploitation which, as you can show, not only persists at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but is widespread around the world, especially in the poorest countries.
Towards the end of your article, under the headline "Silver Linings," you come across a number of political statements that we disagree with. In particular, you assume that child labor and child slavery could be abolished if the World Trade Organization adopted labor standards to ban these practices and punish countries that violate these regulations with trade sanctions.
The WSWS does not speak out against labor standards. Guidelines should be in place to guarantee workers in all parts of the world the right to safe work and adequate wages. Furthermore, child labor and child slavery should be seen as crimes and employers who exploit children should be punished. The question, however, is: should working people put their trust in the World Trade Organization - an institution controlled by the most powerful transnational corporations and the richest countries, and which you quite rightly branded as "oppressive and reactionary" - to abolish child labor and child slavery ?
Working people have long and bitter experience with capitalist institutions that claim to represent the interests of the masses. After World War II, the United Nations was created, ostensibly to secure world peace and promote democracy. Instead, they were primarily an instrument of the United States and other imperialist powers to justify military intervention after military intervention, from the Korean War to Vietnam and the literal destruction of Iraq.
An agreement to outlaw child labor and slavery by the World Trade Organization or similar institution would be an ineffective law. Child exploitation is not, as portrayed by capitalist trade ministers and most of the media, simply as a flaw in an otherwise healthy social order. It is a result of the profit system itself. The operation of the global capitalist market - with its transnational corporations and investors traveling around the globe to find the cheapest labor - has created an economic demand for the exploitation of the most vulnerable parts of society.
Those nations - such as India, Pakistan, the former Soviet Union and African countries - named in your article as the most blatant child exploiters are all subject to the "structural adjustment programs" of the IMF and World Bank. These US-backed measures, which serve to break up foreign markets for global corporations and investors, have led to massive cuts in social benefits, including education, the abolition of subsidies for agriculture, the privatization of state property, the closure of uncompetitive industries and the introduction of "flexible" labor laws. All of these measures, you point out, have encouraged the spread of child labor and child slavery.
In your article you say: "Developing countries' arguments that the inclusion of labor rights and environmental issues are to prevent their exports to developed countries should not make too much of an impression." But in fact Clinton advocated labor standards at the WTO meeting precisely because he wanted to obtain further concessions from these countries by threatening trade sanctions.
That does not mean, however, that we accept the arguments of the capitalist governments in India, Pakistan and other oppressed countries who defend the use of child labor in the name of protecting their "national sovereignty". The Indian bourgeoisie, for example, has often used ostensible anti-colonialism to justify its oppression of the working class. Indian officials have claimed that ending child labor will only further impoverish families who depend on their children's income. These arguments reflect the national bourgeoisie's fears that trade sanctions that curb child labor pose a threat to the main commodity that makes these countries attractive to global investors, namely cheap labor.
In your summary, you seem to support the idea that economic nationalism is an alternative to "liberalized" trade policy. But all forms of economic nationalism, from the policy of import restrictions to the national autarky of the Stalinist regime in the former Soviet Union, have failed in the face of the increasing integration of the world economy. The task is not to revive the outdated system of nation states, but to integrate the world economy in a rational, democratic and egalitarian way, that is, through the socialist transformation of society.
Every capitalist government in the world, including German, French and Italian led by Social Democrats or former Communist Party representatives, has carried out a systematic attack on the living standards of the working class. The aforementioned did not even have to fear immediate reactions from the global markets. Ultimately, all governments that defend the capitalist market and nation-state system are forced to accept the demands of the most powerful transnational corporations and banks. If the above governments abolish social benefits in Europe, there is no reason to assume that the same will not happen in India or any of the other less developed countries.
This leads me to the question of your characterization of the regime of the Left Front under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxists) in Kerala as an "enlightened government" that has protected the interests of the masses. While conditions in Kerala may indeed be relatively favorable compared to other Indian states, the CPI (M) nonetheless leads a bourgeois government that defends the interests of Indian capital and is therefore unable to meet the most basic needs of the masses. The workers and peasants in Kerala face increasing social inequality and capitalist exploitation, which is linked to the oppression of the caste system.
Furthermore, the Left Front government in Kerala, as well as its counterparts in West Bengal and Tripura, has welcomed the "new economic policies" of the Indian capitalists and competes with other states to attract foreign capital by making concessions on taxes and promising the curbing of labor unrest become.
The Left Front was a pillar of the United Front Coalition, which ruled India from 1996 to March 1998, promoting the privatization of public sector industries, cuts in government spending on welfare programs and the reduction of price subsidies on basic necessities. This policy has encouraged the spread of child labor.
The same can be said of Sri Lanka and Cuba. The more these respective governments open their countries to the exploitation of transnational corporations and global investors and the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, the more conditions there are for the sharp increase in child labor and even worse forms of exploitation. In Sri Lanka, for example, there is a growth in sex trafficking, particularly in connection with the tourism industry, which also affects children.
In your last section, on the World Trade Organization's ability to combat child labor and slavery, you said, "Progressive policies are sometimes reactionary," citing Abraham Lincoln's fight against slavery in the United States as an example. It is a historical fact that Lincoln, who was far from a reactionary figure, played a leading role at a time when the emerging industrial bourgeoisie still had a progressive role to play in the United States. Lincoln led what turned into a revolutionary struggle - the American Civil War - which destroyed slave-holding society in the southern states and abolished slavery.
Their example actually speaks against any illusions that current capitalist institutions can put an end to such appalling forms of oppression as child labor. Instead, it points to the need for a revolutionary movement against capitalism and its institutions, just as 140 years ago a mass movement of people was necessary to forcibly put an end to the scourge of serf slavery. Of course, capitalism and wage slavery are obstacles to human progress today, and the leading social force for revolutionary change is the working class.
I hope that these comments will be taken up in a spirit of constructive dialogue on the political problems facing the working class and the oppressed masses. We welcome you and other readers of the WSWS continue to send letters, articles, and essays to our web site.
A bleak assessment of the children's situation - UNICEF presents studies
(December 30, 1999)
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