Human bondage

Who among India’s young are likely to become modern slaves?

India has the largest youth population as well as the highest number of people trapped in forced labour and trafficking.

Last month, the United Nations Population Fund released its State of the World’s population report. At the same time, an international activist group, the Walk Free Foundation, released its Global Slavery Index 2014, which estimates the global extent of forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of slavery. In both reports, India gets the highest rankings.

With 113 million people aged 15-29 years, India has the largest youth population in the world.

India also has the largest number of people trapped in slavery – 14.2 million people.

How do these two groups intersect? Among India’s young people, who are the most vulnerable to slavery?

The report says that bonded labour and human trafficking become prevalent when people are vulnerable, and they are the most vulnerable when unemployed or engaged in activities that are not well regulated and do not provide basic social protection in the form of decent work, sufficient income and a good place to live in.

The Global Slavery Index points out that, in India, such labour could be in brick kilns, carpet-weaving, embroidery, agriculture, domestic servitude, mining and organised begging rings.

While there is no data for begging rings, the 68th round of the National Sample Survey (2011-2012) shows that the engagement in both agriculture and non-agricultural labour goes down as income levels rise. Salaried jobs which have a measure of social security are dominated by the richest 20%, while the poorest 20% form the largest chunk of agricultural labour.

So if you are poor, you are more likely to be trapped in slavery. Poverty rates in India are higher among Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and other backward classes. This makes young people from these social groups more vulnerable to forced labour and trafficking.

The other social determinant of vulnerability to slavery is gender. The report says that “with few opportunities for education, meaningful employment or access to reproductive rights,” young women are at the risk of being “recruited with promises of non-existent jobs and later sold for sexual exploitation, or forced into sham marriages.”

Data shows that the literacy rates among women are lower.

Women’s participation in the labour force is also significantly lower than men.

Strikingly, among working age women, the labour force participation rate – the ratio between the size of the labour force and the number of all the people belonging to the same age group – is the lowest among women aged 15-29 years. This rate is even lower for rural women as compared to urban women.

So if you are young, your chances of being trapped in trafficking and forced labour are higher if are poor, if you belong to Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities, if you are a woman and live in a village.

If these vulnerabilities are visualised as an intersecting venn diagram, the young Indian who emerges as the most susceptible to modern slavery is a young woman who lives in a village and belongs to Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim communities.

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Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.