Understanding bonded child labour in Asia: an introduction to the nature of the problem and how to address it

Understanding bonded child labour in Asia: an introduction to the nature of the problem and how to address it

Bonded child labour in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Phillipines

This document presents an overview of bonded child labour in South and Southeast Asia, and provides information on legal instruments and approaches that organisations might use to fight it.

The report first defines the nature of bonded child labour before examining its specific characteristics in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Phillipines. Drawing on country-specific reports and studies, it describes the prevalence of bonded child labour in each country, the main industries that use bonded child labour and the conditions of work, the means through which children are forced into such work, and the effects on their wellbeing. Observations from these country studies include:

  • while there are similarities with child labour, children in bondage are especially likely to be engaged in brutally exploitative and harmful physical labour
  • bonded children are often beaten, and, if they attempt escape may be tortured, and sometimes even killed
  • bonded children are unlikely to attend school
  • in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a very high proportion of bonded labourers belong to low castes or to marginalised tribal groups.

The report then outlines the key national and international legal instruments addressing the prohibitions and penalties against bonded labour, rehabilitation and administration of the law.

The report concludes with a discussion of the necessary actions required to end bonded child labour. It emphasises that, above all, elimination strategies need to go beyond the symptoms to address the underlying causes. This requires advocacy and social policy to address the bonded labour of adults and families, as well the causes of poverty that force families into bonded labour. Strategies to address bonded child labour should also recognise the following:

  • state provision of universal free, accessible, compulsory and meaningful primary education is essential to sustainable prevention efforts, and non-formal and vocational education is a central part of the rehabilitation of released bonded child workers
  • prevention efforts must also address the manifestation of discrimination
  • real rehabilitation can only occur if there is support for the child from the family and community
  • rehabilitation processes must serve the physical, social, psychological, cognitive and emotional needs of children
  • it is essential that those being ‘rehabilitated’ should participate fully in the development of rehabilitation policies, processes and plans.

An appendix provides contact details for organisations working against bonded child labour in the six countries studied.