THE Indian government recently began a crackdown on the use of
child labor in the carpet-weaving industry. But critics are
skeptical of the plan succeeding.
The government-run Carpet Export Promotion Council this year
established a mandatory inspection program called Kaleen. In
October, the government randomly checked looms for illegal child
labor and began punishing loom owners not adhering to the law.
The plan is financed by a small tax on exporter sales. Exporters
complying with the program will sew a Kaleen label onto their
carpets to show consumers no child labor was used. In a separate
effort, the government plans to open special schools and provide
small stipends to help child laborers pay for books and supplies.
Because consumers in Germany and the United States are
increasingly concerned about the child-labor issue, the success or
failure of the Kaleen program could help determine the future of
the industry, which earned $607 million in foreign exchange for
India in 1994.
"The government is determined to do away with any illegal use of
child labor by the end of the century," says Textiles Minister G.
So far, the Carpet Export Promotion Council indicates that about
2,300 exporters will use the Kaleen label. Random checks of looms
have reportedly led to deregistering 42 looms so far.
But carpet weavers have seen past government crackdowns come and
go. Raja Ram, a carpet weaver for 45 years in the town of Khamaria,
says government inspectors are easily bribed.
"If they get money," he says, "the inspectors say there was no
child labor. If there is no money, even if the boy is 18, they
write he is only 14."
About 300,000 children between the ages of 6 and 14 work at
making carpets in India, according to the South Asian Coalition on
Child Servitude, a child-advocacy group. Hand-knotting carpets is a
labor-intensive, cottage industry, mostly done by weavers at home
or in small workshops. Traditionally, children learn the
rug-weaving trade from their parents, beginning at age 15.
But some children begin much younger. Their nimble fingers allow
them to tie small knots. The more knots per square inch, the finer
the carpet - and the higher the price. But their fingers can suffer
injury from the constant knot tying and from the knives used to cut
the yarn. Children's eyesight also can be damaged by poor light and
Indian law distinguishes between legal child labor at home and
the illegal employment of children younger than 14 outside the
home. Working conditions may deteriorate quickly when children
labor in workshops. In some cases, labor contractors pay parents a
fee, promising to get their children carpet-weaving jobs.
These children, known as bonded laborers, face the worst
conditions, being virtual slaves to unscrupulous loom owners. …