India is home to 18.3 million modern slaves – or 40 percent of the world’s total of 45.8 million – according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index from the Walk Free Foundation. Hundreds of thousands of them work in brick kilns here in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, in dangerous and squalid conditions.”
Modern slavery – including child marriage and bonded labor – has remained an immense challenge and cause for shame in India amid the rapid economic growth of the past two decades. The sheer scale of the problem makes it virtually impossible for the government to take on alone. Nongovernmental organizations regularly help to ensure that what little government support is available, such as food and housing assistance, reaches those who need it most.
Human rights advocates warn that such a paternalistic approach has its limits in a country as vast and diverse as India. Many worry that it’s not enough to keep people like Vanvasi from falling back into the hands of human traffickers and exploitative employers.
“A lot of the work has been very top-down,” says Jacqueline Bhabha, research director at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “There hasn’t been much success on really building collectively from the bottom-up, particularly in these extremely vulnerable and disempowered communities.” [full story]