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Children and Silk Moths: Victims of a Cruel Trade

IVU News - Issue 3 - 1998

silkmothWhen Sargunam needed 5,000 Rupees (US$150) to pay for an operation to remove her uterus, she did what people in her village near the town of Kancheepuram had been doing for generations - she mortgaged her eleven-year-old son Ravi Kumar to raise the money. Similarly, Chinakuzhantha, thirty-eight years old, pledged her twelve-year-old daughter Ramani to pay her husband’s medical bills. Earlier, she had mortgaged her elder son to clear other debts.

Leela borrowed 2,000 Rupees ($60) to carry out urgent repairs to her house. As collateral, she offered her ten-year-old son Muthu and committed him to work for twelve hours a day in one of the local silk handloom units to pay off the debt. His tasks included stretching the warps for the looms and manually feeding the threads for the intricate designs of silk saris, for which he earned the paltry sum of 10 Rupees (30 cents) per day.

'Advance' money for child labour is easily available in the flourishing silk industry of Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu. As the quantum offered - between $60 and $450 - is higher than in any other industry, parents are easily encouraged to lease out their children as a matter of routine.

silkwormThe majority of families feeding the child labour market are below the poverty line, but the main reason for this anachronism is greed rather than poverty. The mothers always express remorse and regret, but the practice of cheap child labour continues. 'My husband earns so little and I have two smaller children to feed,' was Kannimma’s explanation for pledging her daughter Satya, aged twelve, for the equivalent of $60. According to The Times of India, in Jammu and Kashmir contractors fleece farmers by purchasing silk cocoons for as little as 150 Rupees ($4) per kilogram.

Those with vested interests will undoubtedly argue that poverty will increase if people stop buying silk. But if such patronage over generations had improved the standard of living of the poor, these people would not still be consigning young children to long days of labour for paltry sums.

Whether or not you have a twelve-year-old child, we urge you to stop using Kancheepuram, Kashmir or any other silk, and strongly recommend the choice of other materials to avoid harming both the silkworm - one of the smallest of God’s creatures - and the unfortunate children whose bondage and slavery diminishes us all.

Beauty Without Cruelty’s new informative leaflet 'The Silk Moths Undoing' describes how millions of silkworms are killed by the silk industry: to obtain one gram of woven silk fifteen silkworms are boiled alive in their cocoons. The leaflet also lists materials and products which do or do not contain silk. Anyone concerned about the harm and serious ethical implications involved in silk production and wishing to receive a free copy of this leaflet, in English or Hindi, should send the equivalent of a postage stamp to: Beauty Without Cruelty, Post Box 18, Pune 411001, India.

[Adapted from “Children Mortgaged for Money” by Purnima Toolsidass, published in Compassionate Friend by Beauty Without Cruelty, India.]

What’s Wrong With Silk?

It is the practice to boil the cocoons which still contain the living moth larvae in order to obtain the silk. This produces longer threads than if the moth is allowed to emerge. The silkworm can certainly feel pain and will recoil and writhe when injured.

The Modern Slave Trade and Animal Exploitation: a Common Origin in Human Greed

sheepAlthough slavery was theoretically abolished nearly two hundred years ago, millions of human beings - like countless billions of non-human beings - still continue to be treated and traded as other people’s personal property without any regard to their rights.

According to the South Asia Coalition on Child Servitude, 80 million children have been either kidnapped or forced by their own parents into slavery to settle their families’ debts or pay for high-interest loans. Whether for quick monetary gain, sexual bondage or as unwilling servants, not just millions of women but children as young as six to eight years old continue to be sold and forced into the feudal relationship imposed by the bonded labour conditions of the carpet factories, the silk trade and other unethical industries which exploit them.

The human insensitivity and greed that allows five to twelve-year-old children to toil in the carpet factories of Indian states such as Bihar, the two million child victims of the international sex trade in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as in America, Europe and the Middle East, and the forced labour of teenagers working under inhumane conditions in Asia, Africa and Latin America, clearly show that five centuries after the beginning of the flourishing international slave trade in the early sixteen century the continuing exploitation of human beings, primarily women and children, like our own future, remains inextricably linked with the fate selfishly meted out to those fellow victims - the animals wantonly exploited for their flesh, their skins and other unnecessary products that humans in their vanity consider more precious than life itself.

Until the first half of the 19th century the slave trade, so lucrative for countries like Holland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and the United States, transported great numbers of people across the Atlantic. Nowadays, the new slaves are mostly women and children unable to free themselves from the inhuman conditions and long working hours imposed by their masters - while the modern slave ships continue to ply their evil trade, crammed full of innocent sentient beings destined for extermination in the death factories of the so-called developed world

-- Francisco Martín

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