COVID-19 Keeps Indian Laborers in Debt BondageBonded labor is a form of modern-day slavery in which a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. Laborers are paid very little and have no control over their debt. In India, debt bondage aligns with the caste system to keep the lower castes (called Dalits, or Untouchables) impoverished. While this is a fate that could befall anyone, there are more safety nets in place for higher caste workers than for Dalits. COVID-19 keeps Indian laborers in debt bondage and has worsened the conditions.

Bonded Labor in India

Bonded labor is common in South Asian countries, despite it being banned in India in 1976. According to a 2018 survey, more than eight million people live in debt bondage in India, though experts estimate the actual number to be much higher. Most laborers work in India’s booming textile sector but bonded labor exists in every industry.

The conditions under which bonded laborers work are abhorrent. Men, women and children work 14-hour days with no breaks, and the treatment is brutal. Women and children are often victims of sexual exploitation. Dissent is met with harsh punishments. This includes vicious beatings and an increase in the debt owed. In 2014, a group of bonded laborers tried to escape their captors; two were caught and had their hands cut off as punishment.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Bonded Labor

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue of debt bondage in India. As millions of migrant laborers were forced to move during the pandemic, factory owners scrambled for cheap labor to keep production going. Many companies recruited child laborers with promises of steady employment until the country reopened.

Moreover, many states in India have loosened labor laws to offset the effects of COVID-19 at the expense of the laborers. Punjab and Gujarat amended their Factories Act, which increased the work hours to 72 hours each week. Rajasthan has increased working hours from eight per day to 12. Uttar Pradesh has exempted companies from almost all labor laws for the next three years, including the ones related to occupational safety, health, working conditions, contract workers and migrant laborers. As a result of its secondary consequences, COVID-19 keeps Indian laborers in debt bondage and further restricts laborers the freedom to escape.

In July of 2020, GoodWeave International, an organization dedicated to fighting bonded labor, conducted a study on the effects of the pandemic on forced labor risks. Since the start of the pandemic, workers are three times more likely to report owing a debt to a contractor due to reduced income.

Child Laborers

In addition, more children have been working during the pandemic to help financially support their families. CEO of GoodWeave International Nina Smith said, “there were 152 million child laborers around the world making products we purchase every day prior to the pandemic, down nearly 40% since 2000, according to the International Labor Organization.” However, while before the pandemic eight out of 10 children were in school, data suggests they will not all return when schools reopen. This is because their families have become dependent on their income.

Bonded labor perpetuates the cycle of impoverishment. When children miss school to work in factories, they are denied the chance to elevate themselves through education. When adults must put their money toward paying off insurmountable debts, their quality of life cannot improve.


There are many non-governmental organizations working to solve the problem of bonded labor. The International Justice Mission (IJM) works to rescue people from slavery and help victims get back on their feet. In 2020, IJM supported rescue operations that saved 15 people from a spinning mill, six from a cotton thread factory and three from a garment factory. Clement David of IJM said, “the only way to curb [bonded labor] would be for the government to conduct surprise checks and regular raids to prevent owners from employing child laborers. Also, a comprehensive rehabilitation package for unorganized workers and the vulnerable sector is the need of the hour for families to stop sending their children to work.”

GoodWeave International’s 2020 study also reported on solutions to end the practice of bonded labor. It reports that NGOs must deliver direct aid to vulnerable populations and support essential workers getting documentation to receive relief. Companies must also play a role by supporting on-the-ground relief efforts and building consumer awareness of adverse labor conditions. Governments must strengthen labor laws, subsidize transportation for migrant laborers and build awareness of existing relief channels.

Bonded labor is a reality for millions of people in India, but it does not have to be. With the combined efforts of the Indian government and NGOs, this practice can be ended in favor of fairer working conditions.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Dominican Republic
Human trafficking is a crime that involves unfair labor practices and sexual misuse of adults and children. Human trafficking in the Dominican Republic is a big problem because of the popularity of the country as a tourist attraction. Some locals and foreign visitors look for the service of young women and children working in the area. A good number of women engaging in the activities are underage.

Female Victims of Human Trafficking

According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Dominican Republic is a Tier 2 country which means that the country does not fully comply with the requirements to end trafficking. For the Dominican Republic to go above and meet the standards that the U.S. Department of State has set, the country must be more aggressive in its efforts to convict more traffickers. Police need more training regarding how to deal with trafficking and work with children on the street.

In the illegal trafficking business, women make up more than half of the slave population globally. Human trafficking in the Dominican Republic involves women who are the victims of abuse and neglect while engaging in sexual exploitation. Women and young girls are the victims of corrupt traffickers and corrupt authority figures in the Dominican Republic who side with the illegal trade and business.

Human Trafficking in the Dominican Republic

Victims of trafficking frequently look for opportunities to become financially independent and make money for themselves or to support their families. Depending on the situation, some victims do not come from the best living environments and want to escape their families.

To combat this, the Dominican Republic has implemented a national anti-trafficking plan. The first one emerged in 2003 followed by a nationwide plan in 2006. The country has seen some success in its efforts to bring justice ever since. For example, the Dominican Republic’s first maximum sentence sent a trafficker to prison for 25 years.

The International Justice Mission

The International Justice Mission (IJM) is an organization that focuses on human rights and law. The mission of the organization is to eradicate forced labor. IJM has worked successfully with the Dominican authorities by bringing justice to the country. A sense of normalcy and stability has returned by removing the criminals in the communities where they were working. IJM provides lawyers to build a case against traffickers that uses testimonies from survivors.

IJM saves victims of trafficking by cracking down on crimes and reporting them to the Dominican police. Additionally, it offers to help survivors find safe living spaces. The victims of these crimes suffer physically and psychologically. The psychological effects of such harm manifest in the long term in the form of mental health issues. IJM has treatment plans in place for government agencies and local organizations that address health, counseling and personal development measures.

Looking Forward

The Dominican Republic has implemented solutions to combat human trafficking in the Dominican Republic. Organizations like IJM are necessary to improve life for survivors of trafficking while making the communities that the crime of trafficking most affects better. Victories are emerging and the good news is that some progress is better than none at all.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in Africa
Today estimates determine that over 40 million people live in modern-day slavery, making it more rampant than it has ever been in human history. A significant amount of this trafficking takes place in Africa. These 10 facts illustrate what human trafficking in Africa looks like and highlights some organizations that are combatting it.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Africa

  1. Twenty-three percent of global human trafficking takes place in Africa. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, over 9.2 million people living in Africa are living in modern slavery. This makes up nearly a quarter of all human trafficking around the globe. When it comes to countries within Africa that have the highest amount of victims per 1,000 people, Eritrea has the highest prevalence with 93 victims per 1,000, followed by Burundi with 40 victims and the Central African Republic with 22.3.
  2. Nearly 40 percent of those trafficked in Africa are in forced labor. In Africa, forced labor is the reality for an estimated 37 percent of trafficking victims, according to the Global Slavery Index. Labor trafficking can take on many forms including work in agriculture, mining and fishing industries. Traffickers often force victims to work extensive hours in extremely dangerous conditions and potentially abusive environments with little to no pay.
  3. Over half of human trafficking victims in Africa are in a forced marriage. In Africa, traffickers force an estimated 63 percent of victims into marriage without their consent, many of whom are children. According to the International Labour Office, forced marriage of young girls and women can be in exchange for money, paying off debt or to settle disputes among families. Forced marriage can result in sexual and physical abuse, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. According to the Human Rights Watch, Africa and other governments included ending child marriage as one of the targets in the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Since then, UNICEF says several African countries have started to create and utilize preventative action plans and strategies to address child marriage.
  4. A lot is still unknown about human trafficking in special case countries. Libya and Somalia are both special case countries according to the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report. In other words, it is impossible to accurately measure the extent of trafficking due to extensive conflict in the area. It is Libya’s fourth consecutive year to have this classification. Violence and unrest in the region have led to a lack of authority and law enforcement, making it difficult to track human trafficking and combat it. Somalia has been a special case country for 17 consecutive years now, facing ongoing insecurity and a humanitarian crisis. Conflict in the area has continuously hindered efforts to prevent human trafficking.
  5. No African country fully meets the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. These minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that the U.S. Department of State set includes four main parameters. These include prohibiting severe forms of trafficking, punishing trafficking crimes accordingly and making serious efforts to eliminate modern-day slavery. While no African countries fully meet these minimum standards, 19 are on the Tier 2 Watch List. According to the U.S. State Department, this means they are “making significant efforts” to comply with the TVPA’s standards.
  6. Over half of those suffering exploitation for labor are in debt bondage. According to Anti-Slavery International, debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. Through debt bondage, traffickers force victims to work in order to pay off a debt. However, in most cases, traffickers make debts impossible to pay off by giving laborers insufficient compensation or none at all. According to the Global Slavery Index, debt bondage accounts for 54 percent of people exploited for their labor in Africa.
  7. Over 400,000 people in Africa are victims of sexual exploitation. This accounts for 8 percent of forced sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children around the globe. According to the International Labour Office, women and girls account for over 99 percent of these victims. 21 percent of all victims are children under the age of 18. These victims are men and women who traffickers have exploited for commercial sex. In some cases, victims may have voluntarily entered the industry but are not able to leave.
  8. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the highest absolute number of human trafficking victims. Over one-quarter (26.3 percent) of all victims of human trafficking in Africa are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the U.S. Department of State, although the DRC government is not making significant efforts to end trafficking, it has made some progress. The government of the DRC has taken steps to prevent the use of child soldiers and has repatriated several trafficking victims. Congolese law has also criminalized all forms of sex trafficking, but only some forms of labor trafficking.
  9. South Africa launched the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons National Policy Framework. South Africa is not only a major destination for human trafficking but according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), many also consider it a transit country for trafficking in North America and Europe. In 2019, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in South Africa created a framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. This National Policy Framework (NPF) engages governmental organizations as well as civil stakeholders in anti-trafficking efforts and aims to strengthen the criminal justice system in regards to human trafficking in South Africa. This framework is a four-year initiative in collaboration with the European Union and the UNODC.
  10. People traffick thousands of children on Lake Volta. Lake Volta is the world’s largest man-made lake and is essential to Ghana’s expansive fishing industry. According to the International Justice Mission (IJM), thousands of children work on this lake, many of whom traffickers force to work against their will. Often, traffickers force these children to do dangerous tasks such as untangling fishing nets and deep diving. The majority of trafficking victims are 10 years old or younger. Violence and starvation are common among these young trafficking victims and many are hard for the government to track as they are working on unregistered boats.  Since 2015, IJM has been able to rescue 164 victims from Lake Volta’s fishing industry and continues to partner with Ghana’s criminal justice system to bring traffickers to justice.

Human trafficking in Africa is a serious problem. However, with the help of organizations like the UNODC and IJM, awareness of modern-day slavery in Africa is increasing. The new legislation is helping to protect vulnerable populations and many African countries are joining the fight to end modern-day slavery.

– Megan McKeough
Photo: Flickr