GoodWeave: Recovering Childhoods Lost

GoodWeave InspectorIn January 2011 GoodWeave India’s inspectors discovered 60 children as young as eight working as bonded laborers in three separate Bhadohi carpet weaving sites.  All had been trafficked from the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal, over 300 miles away.  In reuniting one child with his West Bengal family, community members told GoodWeave that some 400 children from six neighboring villages were now working in the carpet belt.

“Children in modern India exist in two completely extreme realities,” said Dr. Vineeta Gupta, Program Officer, South Asia, at The Global Fund for Children (GFC), one of GoodWeave’s India partners. “One India offers children access to technology, resources and a high-quality education to rival the world’s most developed countries.  In the other India, invisible children are bonded in labor similar to that of 16th century slaves.  Groups such as GoodWeave and GFC are working relentlessly to narrow this gap by finding innovative solutions to reach the most vulnerable children. Supporting these community-based efforts is vital in the effort to facilitate change for India’s neediest children.”

Mathew John, GoodWeave’s Head of the Central Inspection Unit, believes that poverty, lack of education and greed are the root causes of child labor in India’s carpet sector.  “Many villagers in northern India are totally illiterate and live in conditions of extreme poverty.  They often have to rely on a middleman, such as a carpet broker, to feed mouths at home. Many of these parents can’t feed their children and feel that the children might be better off getting training to become skilled weavers and having meals at the factories.” 

In exchange for their child, the brokers pay the parents between 500 to 600 rupees per year, or the equivalent of $11 US, for the child’s wages.  The children themselves do not get paid, but receive modest meals such as rice, lentils or roti bread for working 14 or more hours per day.

Over the years Mathew, who started working for GoodWeave in 1995, has seen four types of child laborers:  bonded laborers, who have been kidnapped or are runaways; migrant laborers, whose families have left their villages or countries to seek employment; local laborers, who come to work each morning and return home at night; and child family laborers, who assist their family with weaving. 

Mathew has personally witnessed thousands of cases Child Weavingof “total childhoods lost” and children who are punished or beaten for not meeting daily weaving quotas.  One case that stands out in his memory occurred during the month of December, the peak of India’s winter.  “Two inspectors found many children working half naked, wearing bare scraps of clothing and shivering in the early morning cold.  The loom owners were powerful people and we knew that we couldn’t touch them just then.  It was just not possible for two inspectors to rescue that many children, so I told the inspectors to come back to the office.  The next morning we sent five inspectors who put 11 shivering children in their cars and drove them to our rehabilitation center, about 30 minutes from looms.” 

Mathew estimates the current total number of child laborers in India range in the hundreds of thousands, 80 percent of whom come from Bihar, and others originating from West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nepal.  He says that one can find many bonded child laborers in a variety of Indian industries, including shoes, silk, jewelry, quarries, bricks and sports equipment.  Child labor in the carpet industry, however, has been reduced considerably largely because of GoodWeave’s random, unannounced monitoring and inspections of carpet factories participating in GoodWeave’s certification program.

Mathew maintains strict standards for himself and his inspectors, refusing to be influenced by the corruption that typically plagues India.  He states that exporters in the carpet belt know that they cannot bribe him or GoodWeave inspectors.  GoodWeave also carefully scrutinizes its non-governmental partners who run its programs to ensure that they are effective and committed.
Vivek Srivastava, GoodWeave India’s Executive Director, believes that addressing the root causes of child labor is the only solution to the problem.

“Most of the child labor interventions focus more on rescue than rehabilitation.  But only when rescue is coupled with rehabilitation, livelihood interventions for communities from where the child labor originated, alongside a robust supply chain monitoring system, will we have a better chance for children to not constantly re-emerge in the labor ranks,” says Vivek.

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Children's Stories

At the age of five, Manju was already working on the rug looms. While she has since been found and freed from illegal carpet work, some 250,000 children throughout South Asia still toil in obscurity. Through GoodWeave nearly 3,600 kids like Manju have been rescued, rehabilitated and educated, and thousands more deterred from entering the work force.

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