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The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am again grateful to my noble friends and to other speakers for supporting this debate. It is over five years since we last debated slavery in its contemporary forms in January 2000. Lord Longford remembered talking to Lord Kitchener about it, while Lord Wilberforce spoke with his usual calm authority. Both noble Lords will be missed. I had returned from Nepal, enthusiastic about new legislation to prevent bonded labour. Her Majesty's Government, in the form of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, pleaded that much was being done in many countries, as I am sure we shall hear from her again today.
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Since our last debate, awareness of slavery has increased. Trafficking of women and children has become an international scandal. There has been more NGO and United Nations activity, and more interest in the United States, but unfortunately not enough action has been taken by most of the governments concerned. Thanks to the Nepali campaigners, the government of Nepal have since ratified the ILO conventions and have released thousands of kamaiya labourers. However, the government have since been almost impotent because of Maoist terrorism.
As we try to make poverty history through aid, debt relief and trade, there is something obscene about our failure to eradicate the worst forms of labour exploitation which still affect over 12 million people around the world today. According to the ILO's latest report, more children are entering the mining and quarrying sector every day. In the Philippines, nearly 18,000 children, some as young as five, work in mines and quarries. In Nepal, it has been estimated that around 32,000 children are working in stone quarries. Some 8.4 million children are in the "unconditional" worst forms of child labour. ILO Convention 182 defines these as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, and other illicit activities.
These practices affect children all over the world. Forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, for example, takes place in Burma, Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and five African countries. My noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Alton will be speaking about Africa.
My noble friend Lord Hilton of Eggardon will be speaking about trafficking. The ILO estimates that some 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour, and 32 per cent of those are exclusively used for labour exploitation: domestic work, agricultural work, catering, packing and processing. Many governments have failed to protect migrant workers from forced labour and exploitation. They have restricted access to legal migration channels, despite a high demand for skilled and unskilled migrant workers, thereby contributing to the profitability of trafficking.
Debt bondage is another pernicious form of forced labour. It associates dependency with caste. Almost all bonded labourers in India, Nepal and Pakistan are from
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the lowest castes, tribes and minorities and are landless and economically dependent. Employers exploit them by paying poor wages, or demanding unpaid labour, forcing workers to borrow. They work longer hours for less pay, and become even more indebted.
Research among bonded mineworkers in Rajasthan five years ago revealed that one third were women, and that one in four of those women were widows of workers who had died of silicosis and TB. These women were still incurring debt from costs such as medicines and funerals. Another study by Human Rights Watch found that bonded child workers in the Indian silk industry work 10 to 14 hours a day, at least six days a week, and many had respiratory diseases and skin infections.
It is 30 years since the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed, but many local officials turn a blind eye to it, and the Indian Government have only taken action in a fraction of cases. To me, the concept of good governance, whether in Africa or Asia, means that we must look at these problems on a world scale, not leave them to those individual states. India, for example, has a quarter of the world's poorest people. We must encourage any efforts the Indian Government make to combat descent-based discrimination and atrocities against the Dalits, or the scheduled castes. As a major aid donor, trade partner and friend of India, we must be prepared to speak out when the Indian Government are not making these efforts.
India's constitution officially abolished the low status of the Dalits, then known as untouchables, in 1950. However, Dalits suffer discrimination everywhere. They are often excluded from public services altogether. In some places, they are still not even allowed to walk on the road.
One definition of extreme poverty in India is when someone as poor as a Dalit labourer has to eat undigested grain saved from buffalo dung. The Dalits have to do the worst cleaning jobs in latrines for a pittance, and they are the ones who remove corpses during emergencies like the tsunami.
The most common causes of atrocities against them relate to land, water and employment. Incidents are occurring more frequently because Dalits are asserting their rights to those resources. Landowners and the panchayat members used to having their way with Dalits have, in turn, become more aggressive.
At the same time, there is clear evidence of police collusion in caste-based atrocities. Out of 100 cases surveyed in Andhra Pradesh, only 18 complaints were correctly filed under the Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 and 29 were never even registered, let alone investigated by the police. False counter-charges by members of higher castes are, however, often admitted.
Even when a case comes to the local courts, the victim is extremely unlikely to win. One human rights report in Andhra Pradesh recorded an average conviction rate of 4.7 per cent. Out of 78 major cases which went to the High Court, mainly of rape, murder, physical attack or abuse, two-thirds went against Dalits.
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It is an offence theoretically punishable with imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of two thousand rupees. Two-thirds of the scavengers are women, occasionally assisted by young children who may collect a piece of bread in compensation.
Child prostitution is another aspect of discrimination against Dalits in the South. The tradition of the jogins is that a young girl is dedicated to the goddess as a means of avoiding natural disasters, sickness in the family or sometimes the lack of a male heir. Her parents take a vow even when she is an infant. The child is declared a jogin and becomes a property of the temple until she comes of age. Aged 11 or 12 she is then "married" to the goddess at a special initiation ceremony where she is garlanded and dressed up as a deity. At this point, she in practice falls into the hands of a patron of the temple, and becomes his mistress for an indefinite period. She has no say in the decision and sometimes her parents earn money from her.
Surprisingly, there is no national law against that system, although it breaks almost every international human rights convention. Vulnerable girls are theoretically given protection by the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a penalty of three years' imprisonment under the Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act 1988. But there are few prosecutions and little political will to enforce the Act. Voluntary organisations supported by Christian Aid and Save the Children have been remarkably successful in campaigning on their behalf and helping them to become more aware of their rights under international law. But that must not just be left to NGOs; they are insufficient to make real changes.
India's constitution established a judiciary which remains among the best in the world. But due process depends on the quality of service at every level and on a mature political structure which will set the priorities in favour of the poor and oppressed. As I said, that is not just an issue for organisations that the Government here can support. It is for the G8, as it is discussing those other major issues of poverty. It is up to the international community to support India in those activities. Until the police and legal system can ensure convictions, and as long as the poor and scheduled castes continue to be unprotected, it will be left to the non-government sector, the unions and the Dalits themselves to assert their human dignity.
In 2007, we shall be celebrating the anti-slavery bicentenary. Preparations are already being made in charities, government departments and non-governmental organisations, including Anti-Slavery International. The anniversary is a time to commemorate the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and to work for the eradication of all contemporary forms of slavery. So it has a twin aim. The Wilberforce Institute in Hull, the National Maritime Museum here and the new gallery in
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Liverpool, to mention only three, deserve our support. We know from last October's excellent debate in another place that the Government will ensure that this bicentenary is properly commemorated.
No one should forget Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade. In 1807, this Parliament finally abolished it here, although the campaign against slavery overseas continued. Historians such as Linda Colley say that our grassroots democracy was founded on the anti-slavery campaign because it inspired and informed millions of people who never knew that they had so much influence on their own government, and on parliamentary reform and much followed, as we all know.
I am proud to belong to perhaps the oldest British charity of its kind, ASI, but there are many societies world-wide that have the same potential today to channel political ardour into productive information, advocacy and human rights work. For example, the Arab world is now experiencing a remarkable growth in civil society. Few people recognise that in Saudi Arabia, where there is a strong charitable tradition, among other organisations there is a charity helping trafficked Nigerian and other street children.
Finally, I have specific questions for the Minister, of which I have given her advanced notice. What are the Government doing to ensure that core international standards that prohibit slavery, such as the UN supplementary convention and the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking are universally ratified? The 1956 convention will have its 50th anniversary next year, but more than 70 states have still not ratified it. Will the UK work through the European Union and the United Nations to ensure higher priority for the eradication of slavery, for example, through the creation of a UN special representative to review contemporary forms of slavery or by supporting the ILO special action programme on forced labour? Will the UK sign the new UN convention on migrant workers?
How do the Government engage with the government of India at a national level, through its country assistance plan, on issues of caste and social exclusion? What progress is DfID India making in its partnership with the UNDP and the Ministry of Home Affairs on increasing access to justice for the poor? What contact does it have with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on Dalit issues? Finally, will the Government undertake research to try to quantify the number of people who are trafficked into the UK for labour or sexual exploitation? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
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