How To End Modern Slavery

A new report from the Freedom Fund, on how to prevent modern slavery and win sustained, long-term liberation for formerly trafficked persons. The report studied on-the-ground conditions for people freed from slavery in India, to find out what helped keep people out of slavery once liberated. It found that freedom from debt bondage; teaching people about their labor rights; offering NGO support; improving worker protections; and providing essential services like healthcare, are all instrumental in ensuring people stay free after modern slavery.

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Debt Bondage

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Executive summary

Since 2014, the Freedom Fund has worked with partner non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in northern India to combat human trafficking from 700 villages across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.1 Human trafficking in these states takes the form of debt bondage and severe labour exploitation of both adults and children in the brick kiln, quarrying, and agricultural industries, with affected communities deriving mainly from traditionally marginalised castes and classes.

Many Indian adults and children are successfully supported out of conditions of human trafficking through a variety of services provided by NGOs throughout the country. Support services provided by NGOs can include enrolling child labourers in school; connecting adult survivors with decent work; building community independence and mobilisation; providing vocational and other training; and supporting survivors to access justice and compensation.

This study set out to assess the realities of liberation for survivors of human trafficking (in other words, those who have been exploited within the definition of human trafficking, but for whom some may still be experiencing exploitation), and whether liberation can be sustained. Individuals interviewed were victims of debt bondage, forced labour, and the worst forms of child labour. The study assessed the responses of survivors one to three years after they had received reintegration support provided by four NGOs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh: The National Institute for Rural Development, Education, Social Upliftment and Health (NIRDESH); Centre Direct; Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS); and Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan (PGS). Data was gathered by the Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices, India (Praxis). The support these NGOs provide to child labourers, and adult debt bondage and forced labour victims largely focuses on: reintegration of the child with their family; enrolling/re-enrolling the child in school; supporting children and adults to secure identification documents i.e. Aadhaar cards; support to open a bank account (to receive compensation); skills development (especially for children aged 14 – 17); employment and livelihood support; access to savings groups; access to support groups and encouragement of community activism; support to access justice, and compensation; and, for some, psycho-social counselling.

The study involved 88 semi-structured interviews with survivors of human trafficking in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to explore the reintegration activities provided to survivors by the four NGOs; survivors’ perceptions on the importance of the different support services provided, to identify the ongoing gaps and challenges for survivors in maintaining liberation, establish whether survivors’ perceptions of freedom are met in the longer-term, and provide recommendations for enabling sustained liberation. Most of the study participants reported histories of formal and informal employment in a range of industries, such as agriculture, construction, brick kilns, sweet shops, tea shops, local schools (e.g. cooks), hotels, carpentry, furniture making, repair work, mining, domestic work, jewellery making, sewing, and gardening. The majority of participants interviewed had formerly been exploited in brick kilns.

The number of hours worked in the kilns varied significantly, with some participants reporting eight hours of work a day, and others reporting an average of 16 hours per day. Some participants reported receiving payment for their labour in cash as well as in grains (wheat, rice, corn), whereas others were paid only in grain or not at all. Most of the adults interviewed for this study entered into situations of debt bondage after taking a loan from their employer; they had suffered long hours of work for little or no pay for years before they received assistance from an NGO and were able to escape debt bondage.

The children reported having worked extremely long hours, typically in factories, (up to 18 hours a day) for little to no pay. Many of the children were not allowed to leave the workplace, were monitored, banned from talking to each other, and threatened with physical violence if they did not produce the quantity of items (e.g. bangles) daily.

Debt Bondage

Main Findings

The study identified the following elements as core to conceptions of freedom: For adults, choice (primarily as regards to labour), decent income and freedom from debt, confidence and independence, and freedom of movement were key. For children (those under 18 years of age), conceptions of freedom were premised on the ability to undertake education, to play, to earn a decent income, and choice of labour. The NGOs’ education support activities, which included raising awareness of both children and their parents on the importance of education, re-enrolling the children in school, providing additional free schooling, and encouraging the children to plan for higher education and future employment, were crucial to children envisaging a life of liberation.

One of the most important elements of NGOs’ support to adult survivors is that of the NGOs’ assistance in securing decent employment with adequate wages. New work opportunities, with decent and regular pay mean that survivors are no longer stressed about financial issues, and feel free to choose their employer and their work hours. Freedom for adult survivors also means having enough money to pay for medication, children’s education, food, and other important items. Economic security, and the alleviation of debt burdens, mean that survivors are no longer stressed about how they will pay for regular expenses, as well as unforeseen costs, especially around medical treatment for family members.

The reliance on loans for basic survival, to build adequate housing, pay medical bills, support tertiary education, or to support self-employment was particularly problematic. While loans at favourable rates were invaluable to enabling survivors to address some of these issues and to clear or reduce historic (legitimate) high interest loans, many participants were living in a cycle of perpetual debt that made them vulnerable to further exploitation.

Sustained liberation one to three years post-rescue was a reality for most participants, but findings are that liberation remains precarious. Barriers to continued freedom and to survivors achieving the freedom criteria they identified are multiple. Primarily, these fell into the following categories: Ongoing financial difficulties; a lack of availability of alternative employment; barriers to accessing education, including access to free education of lower castes and the cost of tertiary education; the impact of poor living environments; health concerns and associated costs, despite the existence of the National Health Protection Scheme; and long wait times for access to justice.

The acquisition of knowledge regarding labour rights, especially rights regarding work hours, and pay, as well as knowledge regarding grievance mechanisms, were reportedly of immense benefit for the survivors’ sustained liberation. With the new knowledge regarding labour rights, they felt confident that they can avoid exploitative employment situations in the future: ‘It feels very good. For me freedom is the capacity to raise a voice freely to demand my rights.’ (Female, 40 years).

The findings of this report are that sustained liberation is a likely, but not certain, outcome following rescue and once a range of interventions and ongoing support are in place. Without the support provided by the NGOs and community groups, many survivors would have fallen back into exploitation. For adult survivors, sustained liberation requires longterm survivor support in a number of critical areas – employment and self-employment opportunities, skills training and development, access to savings groups and other support groups, debt alleviation, compensation, and knowledge of rights (labour rights, pay rights, rights to free education for children and free healthcare, rights to justice). For child survivors, critical reintegration support involves enrolment or re-enrolment of the child in school, financial support to the child and their family, debt alleviation, skills training and development (for adolescents), and knowledge of rights.

Economic pressures and ill health were by far the most common factors impacting survivors’ ability to maintain a life free of exploitation, with the vast majority of adult participants highlighting the importance of being able to access decent employment – in terms of pay and working conditions – as critical to sustaining freedom. The most frequently mentioned complaint among adult survivors was that they still lacked regular employment with decent pay. The need for decent work (and by correlation a decent living) was strongly reflected in survivors’ concepts of freedom and in their hopes for the future, and also reflected in some of the children’s responses to these questions.

The community led approach to ensuring independence and asserting labour rights is crucial to the success of current efforts to sustain freedom. Community groups provide a means of self-empowerment, providing financial assistance and representation, and enabling a cohesive community response to issues arising, while maintaining independence and selfgovernance that enables those in the community to direct their economic and social development without dependence on NGOs. NGOs, however, continue to play a vital role in providing more specialist knowledge, services, and community activism. Together, the NGOs and community groups provide a holistic package of support for communities and individuals that is fundamental to achieving sustained liberation.

However, intractable underlying vulnerabilities, such as caste discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to public healthcare, wider industry, and other essential services (energy supply; irrigation) continue to present challenges to survivors’ economic development, and by consequence, their ability to remain free of exploitation.

Main Recommendations

NGO Services

NGOs have a valuable role to play in driving change at a policy level, such as for minimum wages to be enforced and for minimum wage levels to continue to be revised, to demand improved public health services, alternative means of financial support (such as cash transfers), and faster processing of compensation and identity cards. While the funding provided at very low interest rates by self-help groups is helping survivors extract themselves from higher interest debts and to build better housing, through greater policy engagement, NGOs might demand the provision of unconditional cash transfers and/or conditional cash transfers predicated on children attending school to break cycles of debt. NGOs should also continue to work with communities to intensify mobilisation of the community in demanding road and housing repairs, and access to electricity.

While survivors did not mention access to psychosocial counselling, the provision of counselling services in the long term would prove beneficial to survivors’ wellbeing and reduce vulnerability to further exploitation. Some child survivors expressed difficulty reintegrating with families and communities. In limited circumstances, alternative care arrangements that are outside of the family and home community may benefit these individuals and minimise the risks of re-trafficking.

Policy Makers

The Government of India should continue to improve the protection for workers in affected industries. Relevant government agencies should ensure that all workers are paid regularly – at least monthly – and provided with contracts.

The government should also ensure that current labour inspection reforms are progressed, and inspections regularly conducted, to include informal workplaces as well as registered businesses, and employ stronger anti-corruption strategies.

Many survivors became indebted because of the need to pay medical bills. They were, and remain, unable to access free healthcare, resulting in additional post-rescue debt. The reach and availability of public healthcare could be improved toensure that survivors are not trapped in cycles of debt that exacerbates poverty and risks further exploitation.

The government should consider providing cash transfers, scholarships and education grants to children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and to trafficking survivors. Support for local village schools to absorb children living at brick kilns - or if needed, extend classrooms into the brick kilns would reduce child labour and improve individuals and communities’ economic development. Childcare should be established for pre-school children inside the brick kilns; and free transport to schools should be provided.

Background

Summary of project and aims

The development of the sustained liberation project was led by Dr Andrea Nicholson and Dr Deanna Davy of the Rights Lab, University of Nottingham. Data was gathered by Praxis2 through 88 semi-structured interviews with survivors of human trafficking in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Freedom Fund supports 12 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across northern India, which provide support to individuals and communities post exploitation. The central aim of the study was to explore whether survivors are achieving sustained liberation after approximately two years of NGO reintegration support.

The study set out to answer the following research questions:

  1. What does ‘sustained liberation’ mean for survivors of human trafficking? What are the different dimensions of freedom and what do they view as most important?
  2. What are the typical journeys for survivors following their liberation? To what extent do they achieve the desired forms of freedom and what are main challenges? What proportion of survivors have re-entered situations of exploitation?
  3. Which reintegration services seemed to have the greatest effect on achieving sustained liberation? Does this differ among sub-groups?
  4. Are there service gaps, with the benefit of hindsight, that should have been made available to survivors?
  5. What are the recommendations for service providers, policy makers and donors to improve the reintegration of survivors?

This project aims to contributes towards the nascent body of evidence on survivors’ outcomes following liberation and builds on other similar studies with survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal and Cambodia.3 This study will be followed by comparative research with the experiences of survivors in Ethiopia.

Context

A majority of India’s trafficking cases are internal, with traffickers targeting Indians from the lowest socio-economic groups, particularly from minority ethnic groups. Traffickers exploit Indian adults and children in forced agriculture; construction; domestic services; garment, steel, and textile industries; begging; carpet making; floriculture; and glass manufacturing, among other areas of exploitation.4 Most trafficking cases in India involve forced labour, with many victims in situations of debt bondage in India’s brick-kiln making sector.

Most participants for this study were exploited in India’s brick-kiln sector, with others exploited in the quarrying sector and factories. India’s brick-making industry is vast - it is estimated that there are at least 125,000 functioning brick kilns in India, employing an estimated 10 – 23 million workers.5 Assessment by Anti-Slavery International of 208 brick kilns and  339 kiln workers across Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh found that all those surveyed were from minority groups and from traditionally marginalised or excluded castes and classes.6

A significant number of Indian children were also working and living at the brick kilns. Of the children living in the kilns surveyed, 65 to 80 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 are working between seven and nine hours a day, out of school, and working and living in precarious conditions.7 The same study found that, for children in the 14 to 18 years age range, all were out of school and working in the kilns, on average 12 hours each day.8

Legal And Policy Framework In India

Penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment are prescribed under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 for persons convicted of bonded labour offences. Bonded labour in India is also specifically criminalised in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, which prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for convicted offenders. Various forms of forced labour are further criminalised under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, and sections 370 & 374 of the Indian Penal Code 1860.

As per the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, amended in 2016, a ‘child’ is defined under Indian law as any person aged 14 years and under. The Act prohibits employment of a child aged 14 years and under in any employment, including as a domestic help. Children aged 15 to 17 years old are defined as ‘adolescent’ in the Act. The law allows adolescents to be employed, except in the listed hazardous occupation and processes, which include mining, inflammable substance and explosives related work, and any other hazardous process as per the Factories Act 1948.9 Other laws prohibit adolescents from working in brick kilns (the Mines Act 1952), and regulate their working hours (the Factories Act). Indian law further prohibits bondage of children and withholding of wages of children under the age of 18 years.10

Education in India is primarily provided through government-funded public schools, which are controlled and funded at central, state and local level, and private schools. Under various articles of the Indian constitution, and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009,11 education is free, and compulsory, for children aged 6 to 14 years.12 ‘Free’ education under Indian law means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by their parents to a school that is not supported by the appropriate government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or expenses that may prevent the child from pursuing and completing elementary education.

The Indian Constitution makes the provision of health care in India the responsibility of the state governments, rather than the central federal government. The Constitution makes every state responsible for ‘raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.’13 In India, public hospitals provide healthcare free at the point of use for any Indian citizen. In many states, the hospital bill is entirely funded by the state government with the patient not having to pay anything for treatment; however, other hospitals will charge nominal amounts for admission to special rooms and for medical and surgical consumables. Since the launch in 2018 of the National Health Protection Scheme under Prime Minister Modi (otherwise known as ‘Modicare’), Indians living below the poverty line also have access to free private health insurance.14 However, the findings in this study were that many survivors had originally fallen into debt as a result of medical costs. No participants reported receiving free healthcare. Nine adult participants reported that they had been in protracted debt bondage due to loans taken to cover the costs of medical treatment either for themselves or for family members.

Civil Society Response

A number of NGOs in India are providing reintegration support to survivors of trafficking in persons. Through community outreach, NGOs identify survivors and those currently in situations of debt bondage and work to free them from exploitation. This includes supporting the creation of community vigilance committees (CVCs) to demand improved working conditions; supporting applications for loans to alleviate debt; access to savings groups, decent employment, and other livelihood opportunities; education support; and access to justice and compensation. While many victims of bonded labour have been liberated as a result of such NGO intervention, little is known about: the duration of reintegration support; what reintegration activities are most effective; what the gaps and challenges are for survivors in accessing support; and, most importantly, whether survivors have achieved sustained liberation.

This research therefore set out to address current gaps in knowledge and understanding through an exploration of whether survivors are achieving sustained liberation after approximately two years of NGO reintegration support. The study, through analysis of data collected through 88 semi-structured interviews with adult and child victims of bonded labour, explores the support provided by NGOs to the victims; the pathways to sustained liberation; survivors’ perceptions regarding the services that have most helped them; and ongoing gaps and challenges in receiving services and achieving sustained liberation. This report provides recommendations to NGOs working in the field of providing support to survivors of exploitation, as well as broader recommendations to policy makers and the Government of India.

See the full report here.