liverpool, international, slavery, museum, history, slave, trade, slavery today, contemporary slavery, modern slavery, teachers' resource, slavery teachers, citizenship curriculum, slavery citizenshipCase study 9 - Shanti (India, 2001)

Children work at a brick-breaking yard

Children working at a brickbreaking yard outside Chittagong in Bangladesh. Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

Bonded labour

In situations of bonded labour a family member's debt can be passed on to others, and the only way of paying it off is by working for the person it is owed to. But usually it is impossible to pay off the debt because it keeps increasing as employers charge for living expenses, equipment or fines for faulty work. Some workers do not know how the debt is calculated or how much it is.

Although this system is illegal, it is common in some countries, where children aged 4-14 have to work along with their parents for up to 14 hours a day.

Shanti (India 2001)

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Shanti is a widow who works in a quarry, carrying and breaking stones. It is backbreaking and very dangerous work, but she has inherited a debt from her husband and now she and her children are trapped, trying to pay off the money.

Shanti's story

My name is Shanti. I do not know my age. I have five children. My husband died in September or October this year, and the contractor gave me no money for his burial. The head contractor came the day before yesterday and said that he would force my 9-year-old daughter to work to repay my loans. He says I owe 8000 rupees (around £115). My husband took the loan, and now that he has died, the contractor is forcing me and my daughter to pay it back.

I have tried my best to find work somewhere else but if he does not let me go, what am I to do? He forces me to work for him. I break stones. The problem is that those big stones need to be brought out of the mountains. Some stronger person needs to do that job; my husband was doing it but now there is no one to bring those stones. So I break whatever small pieces are lying there. I break enough to earn 400 rupees (under £6) and it takes me 10 or 12 days to achieve that.

Questions and discussion points

  • What is the worst aspect of Shanti's situation?
  • What would you do if you were Shanti's daughter?
  • What would you like to say to Shanti?

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