Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Kailash Satyarthi: The Indian Emancipator

I seldom watch television, but last night I saw a fascinating documentary on PBS about a remarkable Indian man, Kailash Satyarthi, who risks his own life to save children and adults who are kept as virtual slaves by criminal gangs.

Kailash Satyarthi is India’s lodestar for the abolition of child labor. Over the last decade he has emancipated over 40,000 people, including 28,000 children from bonded labor, a form of slavery where a desperate family typically borrows needed funds from a lender (sums as little as $35) and is forced to hand over a child as surety until the funds can be repaid. But often the money can never be repaid—and the child is sold and resold to different masters. Bonded laborers work in the diamond, stonecutting, manufacturing, and other industries. They are especially prevalent in the carpet export business, where they hand-knot rugs for the U.S. and other markets.

Read more about Kailash Satyarthi.

The problem that Kailash faces once he has saved these children is he doesn’t really know what to do with them. Without parents to care for the children, (the parents are either dead or so in debt that they have sold these children into slavery), these children have no way of avoiding a hard fate. He tries to educate these children in a 6-month crash course, but that is clearly inadequate. He needs more resources to care for these children.

Caring for children who are enslaved by criminal gangs is also a theme in Sunil Laxman’s excellent piece on child prostitution:

Pimps and brothel owners terrorize the little girls who are ruthlessly taken away from their homes and families. They are beaten mercilessly, starved, or burnt by cigarette butts. Then they are gang raped. This is their “break-in”, when these children are reduced to mere shells of human beings. Their spirit is long dead by the time they are forced to accept “clients”. Then they are paraded in a line to a client, who “chooses” his favorite girl. And rapes her.

One rescued girl, probably about 14 years old, tells you that she had been in the “business” for 6 years. She, like all others, was exposed to multiple partners every single day, and had to “work” every day without rest. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS amongst these children is huge, worsened by a prevalent myth that sex with a minor or virgin will cure you of AIDS.

Read the full thing.

Charity might be helpful in providing safe homes and schools for orphans, but there doesn’t seem to be enough charitable resources to save all of these children from a hard fate. This is a tragic market failure because these children, if properly raised and educated, could easily pay back that expense with interest and have plenty of income for an excellent life.

One thought I had, although it might seem naïve from a simple game theory point of view, is to try to obligate these children who are saved and raised in charitable schools to help fund the school later in life. A lot of Americans send money to their old Alma Maters, (I bet few game theorist do). It isn’t unreasonable to assume that these children would be grateful for opportunity that the charity provided and would contribute a portion of their future earnings towards it. In this way, over time, the children of India would save themselves.

This is just a thought.


  • Michael, it is true that such children want to pay back to society... there is an inspiring story of Dr. George Kollashany in Bangalore who works with rehabilitating street children - first by weaning them away from substance abuse - I first read about him in Harsh Mander's book 'Unheard Voices' - these children who go on to do well do something in return for others like them....
    another important thing is is that children who break away from such circumstances and do well in life are also inspiration points for others - sort of role models - which is very important - when kids see someone like them who has gone ahead in life, it acts as a better motivator than anything a counsellor might say verbally...

    By Anonymous Charukesi, at 10:56 PM  

  • Hi Charukesi
    A point that Kailash made in the PBS program that I watched was that many of his helpers were former child slaves themselves. I think it only natural that a child freed from a terrible fate will want to help other in a similar circumstance. The key is to have a charitable organsation that is can effectively channel that natural desire.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 4:03 AM  

  • child labor is a curse.....common people like me and you should step forward to eradicate the prblm.nice posting.....

    By Blogger nin, at 5:12 AM  

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