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Northern India

Northern India
PROGRAM FOCUS Bonded labour, human trafficking
TOTAL INVESTED $14.1 million

Our Northern India hotspot is reducing trafficking, bonded labour and harmful child labour in two of India’s poorest states.

Hotspot start date: January 2014

Despite India’s strong laws, high levels of bonded labour are still documented in a range of industries including brick kilns, stone quarries, agriculture, construction, domestic work and sexual exploitation.  Debt bondage is the main mechanism, in which workers take out loans or they inherit inter-generational debts at extortionate rates from local landowners – and then they are forced to work for that same employer.  The vast majority of bonded labourers face severe discrimination because they are dalits (castes that have been treated as “untouchables”).

Of the 28 states in India, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh rank among the poorest on a variety of human development indicators, and in addition, they have large populations of dalits and adivasi (India’s indigenous minority groups). Combined in some cases with poor enforcement of the relevant laws, these issues result in a concentration of bonded labour and trafficking affecting the poorest communities. In many places, there is a culture of fear and silence around bonded labour, sexual exploitation and trafficking that increases the vulnerability of each family, as they face these issues on their own.

Multiple evaluations have found that the Freedom Fund’s labour interventions stop abuses, protect workers and change structural conditions to keep families out of bonded labour in our 1,100 target villages in northern and southern India. Read our Evidence in Practice paper.

The considerable impact already achieved has been the result of the following strategies being implemented over the past five and a half years through the Freedom Fund’s hotspot program:

  • Local interventions based on rights awareness and community organising to support vulnerable communities to make a change in their lives and to give them the practical tools to do so, such as access to economic entitlements and social services from government.
  • Out of these local interventions, communities have started to cluster at the block level to generate greater leverage with local government and with local employers.
  • In communities where the prevalence of exploitation is shifting, survivor leaders have begun to emerge and are being supported to develop their ideas and their organisation and to federate into survivor networks.
  • As these groups worked to remove obstacles to freedom, they have generated data about the child labour and bonded labour taking place and gaps in government delivery of entitlements. They are beginning to support efforts to bring government systems into practice. This process has and will continue to help define policy objectives within the hotspot.
  • Across the hotspot, a significant cluster of NGOs have started to develop the ability to cooperate towards common policy goals and use data to better inform the media. Survivor mobilisation and engagement from affected communities will remain a key element for gaining attention for the issue.

Read the Northern India Hotspot 2020 Annual Report.

In 2020, the northern India hotspot will enter its third strategy phase. The new phase will build on the program’s achievements and the learning and evidence gathered so far to inform more intensive efforts to engage government systems for state-wide impact to address the exploitation of children in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. During this next phase of the program, the hotspot will focus on four key objectives:

  • Objective 1: Support government to effectively respond to and prevent child and bonded labour.
  • Objective 2: Enable sustainable freedom through collective action at the community level
  • Objective 3: Strengthen legal action
  • Objective 4: Support survivor movements and community leadership

Hotspot Annual Reports:

Freedom Fund