Child Slaves of South Asia

Child working in quarry
(Photo taken by Mathias Heng during Mission funded by the Society.  Copyright Mathias Heng).

Many children in Asia are kidnapped or otherwise trapped in servitude, where they work in factories and workshops for no pay and receive constant beatings.  

Typically, an agent from the city arrives in the village.  He shows great sympathy for the child’s parents and a deep understanding of their plight and financial problems.  He purchases two dresses for the mother and purchases a cow for the father (but the cow is an old sick cow which dies after a few months).  

In due course, the family’s new friend tells them that he could get a job for the child in the city where the child would be properly trained, receive wages and have good prospects for promotion.  The parents, seeing this as the opportunity of a lifetime for their child to escape from rural poverty, agree.  

The agent gives them a piece of paper with the name and address of a non-existent employment agency.  

Branded teenage slave in India
The slave was branded on his leg by his master
because he had tried to run away.

In reality, it is all a scam. The children live in a den or a squalid shed, with no prospects and no pay. Many are beaten with sticks and iron rods and not even allowed to see their parents. They are branded with red hot irons, burnt with cigarettes, starved, whipped, beaten while hanging upside down, chained up, abused in an intimate way, and kept locked in cupboards for days on end. One child, Shankar, described his experience thus:

“We were poked with burning cigarettes on the back and legs.  If we cried for our mothers we were locked in a room without air or enough light.  We were forced to work for 20 hours a day without pay.  We were kept half fed and beaten up severely by our masters if we were found talking or laughing among ourselves.  One night I jumped into the nearby River Ganges to kill myself to escape from this painful life.  We were never allowed to go back to our parents, to our villages.”  

Some, like 14 year old Nageshwar, are branded by their masters with red-hot brands.  

Most sweatshops have windows and doors barred to prevent escape.  The factory or sex den is guarded by thugs armed with cudgels and, occasionally, with guard dogs.  

The child’s parents hear nothing more from the child. If a parent gets suspicious, he or she may go to the address of the agency, only to find that it does not exist.  If the child’s parent finally tracks down the factory or den where the child lives and works, the master tells them: “I paid for his food and medicine”, and claims that the child cannot leave until the enormous fictitious “debts” which he incurred in keeping the child are repaid.  When, eventually, the police arrive, they throw the parent out.

“I was beaten for even scratching my skin and my father was beaten when he came to see me.  Ever since I started working, I haven’t been given either a wage or a single day off”.

— Ashok, 8 years, who worked a 21-hour day from 3 am until midnight in a carpet factory in India.

“I was not allowed to meet my parents for the 7 years that I worked, though I would often ask for permission.  The only response was more beatings”.

— Dilip, India

“Two of my friends were killed.  They were wrapped in jute bags, which were tied to heavy stones and thrown in the river”

— Dilip, India

These children are the face of the slavery today.  

The material in this report is based on a Mission to South Asia by the Society's Secretary-General.


As the governments and police forces in many countries are corrupt, the Society works to rescue these children by organizing and funding rescue missions to rescue these children from sweatshops and dens.


Further Information

For more information, read the Society’s publications entitled Myths and Facts About Child Labor ($2.90) and Survey of Child Labor in Asia ($15.50).  Prices include postage.


Links to other pages dealing with this issue:

Children in the carpet weaving industry

Rugmark rugs and carpets

Society's overseas programs in Africa and Asia

Goods made by child labor

Links to other pages dealing with slavery:

Does slavery still exist?

What is slavery?

The modern African slave trade

Child slavery in South Asia

Slavery on the cocoa plantations in West Africa

Hierodulic servitude in West Africa

Hierodulic servitude in South Asia


Rescuing slaves

Slavery Convention 1926

Links to pages dealing with other servile conditions falling short of slavery:

Bonded child labor

Servile concubinage


Forced labor

Links to pages on related topics:

Trafficking of children

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  2003 by the Anti-Slavery Society. The text on any page may be reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged.  This does not apply to photos.