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Debt Slavery and Children in India, A Case Study
Kenneth T. Saroka, East Brunswick (NJ) High School

OVERVIEW: Throughout the world, 250 million children are working to earn money for their families, 125 million work full time. The conditions under which they labor are often brutal and often the result of economic conditions that their parents get into--debt. In order to satisfy their creditors, parents place their child up as collateral, a form of debt slavery. The conditions under which these children work are brutal and they have no way out, unless they risk death. It was the death of one such child, bound to slavery, that prompted a Canadian teenager to form Save the Children. This is a case study, provided by Human Rights Watch.

CORE QUESTION: What economic conditions forced parents into debt? Why do they put their children up for collateral and not themselves? To the "loan sharks", why are children attractive collateral?  Are there ways out of it? Are there ways to stop it?

TIME REQUIRED: One 40-minute period-- with homework that could extend the discussion into part of day 2.

SUGGESTED GRADE LEVELS: This lesson is useful for high school students in a World History or Global Issues classroom setting but can be used in lower grades if the teacher and the curriculum would allow for discussion of a sensitive and disturbing issue.

INTERDISCIPLINARY CONNECTIONS: Visual arts when used in conjunction with either or both of the photo essay lessons on this site.

NEW JERSEY CORE CONTENT STANDARDS: 6.1: 10-13; 6.2: 9-11; 6.3: 9,12,14; 6.4: 9-13; 6.5 13-5; 6.6 13-15; 6.7: 11-12; 6.8: 12-17.

OBJECTIVES: Students will be able to describe the extent of the problem as the international community sees it; evaluate the analysis of HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH; determine whether national sovereignty ("it's my country--you stay out of our affairs") is a valid answer to not allowing international agencies to monitor or remedy the problems. Students will be able to synthesize responses to the critical needs of developing countries that are troubled by child labor problems.

STRATEGIES: The entire India Bonded Child labor Report is available at the following web site or by clicking the link: With the kind permission of HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, this long document has been excerpted to two different Microsoft Word documents, if you click the link, it will activate MICROSOFT WORD and come up.

India's Child Labor Laws (1933, 1976 and 1986) (8 pages)

The Indian Bonded Labor Industry (8 pages)

You can print 4 two-sided pages for each of the above documents, take to your photocopy room and have a class set made, and distribute to the class. Read the primary and secondary source silently or aloud discuss, beginning with the problem report and then on to India's laws. Discuss the cases mentioned in the production of beedi cigarettes. Any common circumstances? Ask the students for recommendations that they would make, being an outside international agency. Who would they get cooperation from? What was be the Indian government's response to such shocking stories? Have the students make specific recommendations as to how India's law enforcement could be made stronger. You can view the whole document and make notes about the recommendations that Human Rights Watch made (it is in the early part of the whole report). An extension activity could be added if another case of child labor violations (kids sewing soccer balls was a recent example) comes to light in the press.

As a preliminary exercise (if you have a computer lab at your disposal or a computer with a projector that can show the computer screen on a movie screen) visit the International Labour Organization's IPEC site (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor). On the right side you will see a link to a slide show program that is broken down into several areas that make a good introduction. This slide show is a Macromedia Flash presentation. There have been problems reported by those who tried accessing it with Netscape 6 browser, but older Netscape versions and Internet Explorer browsers have the correct plug-in and it does work. Please try it out prior to displaying it.

Next, use a map to show where India is. Describe the basics economic problems of this country (per capita income, poverty).

REFERENCES: Human Rights Watch--whose kind permission to excerpt their reports for classroom educational use is gratefully acknowledged. Click on the links to the reports. See our RESOURCES page for additional web sites for more international agencies that are children's rights advocates.

ASSESSMENT: A homework assignment based on the suggested questions above or additional questions that you add--can be in the form of an interpretive essay or a DBQ (Document-Based Question format for those familiar with the AP Exams). Since students are being asked to interpret, allow them the flexibility of coming up with ingenious solutions to the enforcement problems.

A quiz on the whole issue of children's rights (if you have used more than just this lesson) could be constructed.

A further enrichment exercise could be constructed to allow students to research other
labor-related abuses in different countries around the world through a coordinated effort to use the resources of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Save the Children and other organizations. Classroom presentations could follow.

To learn more about the influence of Children's Rights on our global society, click on the links below:
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