CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian state with some of the country’s highest levels of migration driven by poverty is doubling the amount of paid work it gives some of its poorest citizens, in a bid to curb debt bondage, a common form of slavery.
Authorities in the eastern state of Odisha said hundreds of thousands of people were estimated to be leaving to find work every year, with many trafficked into exploitative jobs in the brick kilns fuelling the country’s construction boom.
To address this, they are expanding a national scheme that provides state-funded employment to the neediest, doubling the annual number of paid work days to 200 per household and increasing the daily rate from 180 Indian rupees ($2.50) to 286.
“As per our records, 140,000 people migrate for work after registering with the labor department,” said Niranjan Sahu, Odisha’s labor commissioner.
“But there are studies that suggest that three times that number migrate, many duped by illegal agents. We want to give them work near their homes.”
The project will provide extra paid work in two of the worst hit districts in the drought-prone west of the state, from where tens of thousands of families leave their villages each autumn to seek work across India.
Odisha has one of India’s highest migration rates, fueled by drought and a lack of jobs. An estimated 500,000 people migrate from this part of the state every year, more than half to work in brick kilns.
Most are duped into offering themselves for work as security against a loan they have taken or debt inherited from a relative, labor rights activists say.
Trapped in debt bondage, the most common form of slavery in India, they then spend the next six months or more working to pay it back.
India’s rural jobs guarantee scheme was set up in 2006 and provides unskilled work to about 70 million rural people building everything from dams to school toilets.
Wages can take up to two weeks to be paid - a delay labor rights campaigners have argued pushes poor families into exploitation - but the Odisha government has pledged to ensure the are paid within 24 hours.
Migration expert Umi Daniel said the Odisha government had in the past provided only 34 days of work - not the 100 days the scheme is supposed to guarantee.
“People need work and are vulnerable to exploitation. But we will have to wait and watch to see if this new initiative protects them,” said Daniel, regional head of Swiss-based charity Aide et Action International.
Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org
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