The caste system is deeply entrenched in many parts of India with lower caste groups facing discrimination, social restrictions, violence and abuse. The Arunthathiyar are regarded as the lowest of all castes, known as the ‘Dalit among Dalits’ or the ‘untouchables’. They are compelled by their status and extreme poverty to carry out the most menial and shunned jobs such as scavenging, cleaning toilets and burying the dead. As well as facing discrimination in every aspect of their lives, many Arunthathiyar children are forced to enter into bonded labour to help their families, pay for their marriages, or pay off family debt.
TRAID is funding EveryChild with £42,568 to prevent children in India being forced into bonded labour, specifically in textile spinning mills. Increasingly, textile mills prey on families living below the poverty line with a scheme called ‘sumangali thittam’ which lures girl children into bonded labour with the promise of a marriage dowry at the end of the contract. This is rarely, if ever paid. Although some children are recruited as day workers, the majority live in the spinning mills in ‘camp coolies’ in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Children have very little contact with their families and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Operating in two districts of Western Tamil Nadu, the project aims to rescue and rehabilitate 150 children in bonded labour every year, with a further 3,000 children per year provided with education and support. Child activity centres, interventions to remove children from bonded labour, and educating the wider community, including employers and supervisors, are some of the ways vulnerable children will be protected. Volunteers trained in child protection track every child enrolled in the centre to ensure they are not missing school to work in the mills, or worse have been trafficked into the cities. Older children will be supported with skills training and career guidance to equip them to have the best possible start in their lives as young adults when they leave bonded labour.