400,000 Australians fast for Indian bonded children


SYDNEY: More than 400,000 Australians remained hungry for 40 hours in a nationwide fast for raising funds for bonded child workers in India and other deprived people the world over.

The "40-Hour Famine" was announced to be over on Sunday in the central business district of Melbourne. World Vision, an Australia-based voluntary body that organized it, declared the nationwide fast to be a success.

The objective of Famine, according to a World Vision communique, was to "help to secure the right to adequate levels of food for populations facing starvation and help them guard against future tragedies."

"We are particularly concerned about the children in India who are in bonded labor," Alan Austin, World Vision's media relation officer, told IANS Monday. Famine national manager Jonathan Krause estimates that Australian $6 million may have been raised with this monumental effort.

"There are children in India who have been basically bonded into slavery who will be released because of what we're doing. Kids in Cambodia will have places to play and go to school and get healthcare because we're clearing land mines. When you think about those things it makes it worthwhile," Krause said in a media release Monday.

Krause has just returned from a trip to southern India, following which he said he saw children as young as seven in bonded labor in Tamil Nadu. "These children work from 6 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.," he said. "They roll beedi cigarettes, sitting cross-legged all day. Their backs ache, they can't rest and they don't have time to play," he alleges.

In spite of an apparent resolve to help the deprived children in the developing world, the fast was of course not an easy task for the participants.

Contestants of the reality television show Big Brother were among those who bore the pangs of starvation for 40 hours to help raise the money. Besides the regular daily episode of this peak hour television show, every second of their collective and individual struggle with hunger was captured by Big Brother webcams and relayed on the Internet live.

World Vision said the cost of freeing a child worker from bonded labor in India is A$19-A$39 "although it depends how much the child's parents have borrowed from the sub-contractor".

World Vision alleges that the interest for the money thus borrowed is exceedingly high and results in the child spending the rest of his or her life in slavery. The wages earned by the child workers, World Vision says, is just enough to pay off the interest while the capital borrowed stands intact.

Beside freeing the child worker, World Vision also provides loans to such families under the "micro enterprise programs" to set up an income generating business such as a shop or dairy. These loans are said to be given through women's clubs.

According to a World Vision estimate, about 840 million people the world over suffer from chronic hunger. Most of these people are located in developing countries. People suffering from famine increase these figures from time to time. Civil wars and usage of food as a political weapon in some countries also make the matters worse.

World Vision has also identified areas surrounding the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Sudan as the most "food insecure parts of the world".

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Source: http://www.newindpress.com/newsItems.asp?id=IEH20010521113647&eTitle=newindpress+%2D+Top+Stories&rLink=0
Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 23, 2001
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