Clothing & Cosmetics  > Children Mortgaged for Money


Some more hidden cruelties behind closed doors in silk industry
Purnima Toolsidass -- Compassionate Friend, Monsoon-Winter 1997 --- Beauty Without Cruelty India


When Sargunam needed Rs 5,000 to pay for an operation to remove her uterus, she did what people in her village near the town of Kancheepuram had been doing for generations -- she mortgaged her eleven-year-old son Ravi Kumar to raise the money.


Similarly, Chinakuzhantha, thirty-eight years old, pledged her twelve-year-old daughter Ramani to pay her husband's medical bills. Earlier, she had mortgaged her elder son to clear other debts.


Leela borrowed Rs 2,000 to carry out urgent repairs to her house two years ago. As collateral, she offered her ten-year-old son Muthu and committed him to work for twelve hours a day in one of the local silk handloom units to pay off the debt. His tasks included stretching the warps for the looms and manually feeding the threads for the intricate designs of silk saris for which he earned a paltry sum of Rs 10 per day.


'Advance' money for child labour is easily available in the flourishing silk industry of Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu. As the quantum offered -- ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 15,000 -- is the highest than in any other industry, parents are inclined to succumb and lease out their children as a matter of routine.


Although the majority of families providing child labour for bondage belong to the "below-poverty-line" category, in many cases the lust of parents for money rather than their poverty is the main reason behind the ongoing anachronism. The mothers in each case express remorse and regret, but they do it anyway.


"My husband earns so little and I have two smaller children to feed," was Kannimma's explanation for pledging her daughter Satya, aged twelve, for a sum of Rs 2,000.


A new dimension to the silk industry has been unfolded courtesy the Asian Age newspaper. Added to which The Times of India has reported that it is a practice for contractors to fleece farmers in Jammu and Kashmir by purchasing silk cocoons for as little as Rs 150 per kilogram.


Those with vested interests will, undoubtedly argue that if we stop buying silk, it will only add to the poverty of these people. Think hard: had such patronage (over generations) improved their lot, would these poor people have continued to mortgage their twelve-year-olds to twelve hours of labour Rs 2,000? Even if you do not have a 12-year-old child, but you have a heart and a conscience, do please, stop using silk, be it Kancheepuram or Kashmir silk, or any other. By using an alternative material, you will be helping one of the smallest of God's creatures -- the silk-worm, the unfortunate children of the most evolved -- man, and most of all yourself!


If you do not wish to use Silk... because you'd be indirectly supporting child-labour, or simply because to produce a single gram of woven silk, fifteen silk-worms in their cocoons are boiled alive, Beauty Without Cruelty can help you with an informative new leaflet The Silk Moths Undoing which explains the untold killing in silk production. The leaflet lists the varieties and different materials and things which contain and do not contain silk. For those who would like to have a free copy, please send a Rs 2 postage stamp. Please also indicate if you would like it in English or Hindi.


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