How much is a year of your life worth to you? For most of us this isn’t something that we have ever really asked ourselves, because it has never been relevant. We have never had to sell ourselves for a debt or have our parents sell us for their debt. This seems unfathomable; that someone could have a year or more of their lives sold. And sold for what? Sold for labor, sex, or servitude, and sometimes even all the above. In India this is a very common occurrence. While on our field visit to Koppal, we had the opportunity to meet with some children who had been bonded laborers and are now child laborers.
It is hard for me to even imagine what it would be like to have my childhood stolen, because at the age of 21 I am still I child at heart. I love to frolic, watch cartoons, swing, play red rover, etc. But the children we met with in Koppal acted far more mature for their age. In fact, I would say they acted more like adults than children, but I suppose that is because they had no choice. We asked two boys if they liked to play. The first replied that he doesn’t get to play unless it is Sunday, because it takes time away from his work. The second replied that he never plays because the little time he has to rest he likes to sleep, and he finished by saying that he will work until he dies. For a moment, I tried to imagine a child in the United States making this statement. And nope, I couldn’t do it. I tried to imagine my cousin who is not much younger than these boys, working like that. And nope, I still can’t do it. Never before had I viewed playing and having fun as a luxury; something that one could only do if he had enough money. But that just shows how privileged I have been. Even at the age of 21, I still can’t imagine a life of non-stop work with little to no hope for the future.
One of the boys we talked to was around 14 years old. His parents had sold him for a year to a lawyer to pay off their debt of 1500 rupees which is equivalent to $30. I own shoes that cost more than $30. And personally, I think that a year of this boy’s life is worth far more than my shoes could ever be worth. It is amazing to me what people will do if they are desperate enough; that parents would sell their child. Both of the boys were working in construction and earning about 100 rupees a day which is equivalent to $2 which was all being sent home to their families. In my pocket sat around 2000 rupees, nearly $40. I couldn’t help but wonder what difference in their lives it would make if I handed them these 2000 rupees. Would it give them hope for a better future? It is an intolerable power to hold someone’s fate in your pocket yet choose to do nothing. This is the power that we have as “poor college students” from the United States. We have the power to change someone’s life, so why would we ever choose not to?
- Megan Wilkes
- Alex Christensen
- Rachel Mathiowetz
- Jonathan Steinwand