The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) commenced its 33rd session on 13 September. This year the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences has a thematic focus on debt bondage. The rapporteur notes that “the majority of those in debt bondage are reported to be in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, despite the specific prohibition on such practices within the legal frameworks of these countries”, underlining that those who are trapped in debt bondage in South Asia are predominantly Dalits.
The new report ‘Cotton’s Forgotten Children’, released by the Stop Child Labour Campaign and the India Committee on the Netherlands (ICN), finds that almost half a million children in India work as child labourers in the cottonseed production industry. Most of them are Dalits, Adivasis or other low caste children (OBCs). The report warns that most of these children are not in school and are subjected to hazardous work and harmful chemicals.
An amendment to India’s new Child Labour Prohibition Act that seeks to permit children under 14 to work in ‘family enterprises’, has been proposed by the Government. Child rights activists in India, including Nobel prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, say that the amendment will push millions of children into child labour and thereby out of an education, particularly Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim children.
The newly released Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 and the Amnesty International 2014-15 report find that caste discrimination persists with adverse effects to human rights on multiple levels. Serious obstacles to access to justice, discrimination in education and access to services and caste-based violence, including rape of Dalit women, are among the key themes addressed in the reports. These concerns are also noted in the latest India and Nepal reports of the US State Department.
The Global Slavery Index 2014, released by the Walk Free Foundation, singles out India as the country in the world with the most slaves and sees caste at the root of slavery in India. Caste-affected Mauritania tops the Index on percentage of the population in slavery.
A report following up on modern slavery in Indian spinning mills, finds that despite initiatives launched to end conditions of forced labour, the situation remains alarming. Efforts of clothing brands and retailers to end this, lack scale and conviction. Due to their marginalised status and lack of alternative opportunities, the majority of girls working in these factories are Dalits.
In a recent Geneva meeting of UN Special Rapporteurs and civil society, caste-based discrimination was highlighted by the Rapporteurs as a key cross-cutting issue of concern.
Caste discrimination is a key factor behind child labour in India - is the message coming from experts on child labour. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, also explains how witnessing caste discrimination as a child spurred on his engagement with fighting for the rights of the most marginalised.
In a written reply to the Indian House of Parliament (Lok Sabha), the Indian Social Justice and Empowerment Minister, Thaawar Chand Gehlot, said that the practice of manual scavenging still persists in various parts of the country. He added that because previous laws banning the practice had proved inadequate, parliament had enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the implementation of which is now be monitored.
The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the continuance of manual scavenging in the country is in blatant violation of Article 17 of the Constitution of India by which, “untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden”. The court was emphatic about the duty cast on all states and union territories “to fully implement the law and to take action against the violators”.
Dalit girls exploited in India's garment industry A new report finds that Dalit girls in India's garment industry live with very limited freedom of movement, are underpaid for long working-days and working under hazardous conditions. Despite efforts to curb the ‘Sumangali Scheme’ exploiting young Dalit girls – it continues unabated.
HRW Report: Cleaning Human Waste: Manual Scavenging, Caste, and Discrimination in India
Caste systems are present in four out of five countries ranked the worst slavery offenders, in the 2013 Global Slavery Index. India alone accounts for half of the people on the planet regarded as ’modern slaves’.