Lockdown loans to survive could push street children into bonded labour, fear NGOs
By Uzmi Athar :
HE RAN away from his home in Bihar, lived on Delhi’s streets, sold scraps for a living and then, just as life was settling into an uneasy groove, came the lockdown pushing the 15-year-old into an endless cycle of debt. The young teen, whose earnings have come down from Rs 200 to just about Rs 15-20 a day since the lockdown in March, was compelled to take loans and has no resources to pay his borrowers back, raising fears that he might be forced into bonded labour. He is not alone.
According to an estimate by the NGO Save the Children, about two million children live on the streets across the country. Scrambling to survive on the margins of society, they are shunned, barely make do and may now be exploited because they are not in a position to pay back their borrowers. The 15-year-old, whose name is being withheld to protect his privacy, is unaware of what could lie ahead but spells out his many problems. “The lockdown was very difficult but at least some people were feeding us. Now that has stopped. I live near the New Delhi Railway Station.
Trains are not running regularly so my earnings from scrap have dipped from about Rs 200 to just Rs 15-20 per day. I had no option but to borrow money,” he told PTI. The danger of children like him becoming bonded labourers is very real, said activists and others working with children across the country. Children take credit locally and have no means to returning it except for working for free, explained Anindit Roy Choudhary, Director of programmes and policy impact, Save the Children (India), “The amount can vary between Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000. Most of them do not have a cushion to be able to repay so a common practice is to work the loan out.
It is always problematic because the person who has given the loan takes an interest on the amount so there is no estimation… that is where bonded labour starts,” he said. “This will also become a common practice because children just don’t have anything to eat and no money in their hands. So the possibility of them wanting to have cash is high,” he added.