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empirical data and econometric analyses of rural India

Researchers of bonded labor in India seek to understand its long-standing practices through an examination of contemporary forms of labor coercion, their origins and relationships to poverty and inequality, and implications for policymaking. Child labor, agricultural debt bondage, and bonded migrant labor are persistent forms of modern slavery that fall under the Indian constitutional definition of forced labor. While child labor and bonded labor in India are typically addressed separately in the literature, many researchers focus on the causes and consequences of pervasive child labor in the world’s largest democracy. Child laborers face major health and physical risks: they work long hours and are required to perform tasks for which they are physically and developmentally unprepared. Child labor is deeply entrenched as a common practice in many sectors and states, due in part to India’s economic emphasis on exports in recent years. According to a current estimate, a quarter of Indian children ages six to fourteen—roughly two hundred million children—are working, and a third of the remaining seventy-five percent are bonded laborers (Sooryamoorthy 1991: 31). The largest single employer of children in India is the agricultural sector where an estimated twenty-five million children are employed; and the second largest employer of Indian children is the service sector where children work in hotels and as household maids. An additional five million Indian children are employed in other labor-intensive industries.