A human rights organization says millions of workers in India’s brick kiln industry are trapped in a perpetual cycle of imposed debt and low wages, which forces them to bring their children to work alongside them in the hot, dusty kilns.

An estimated 23 million workers are employed in at least 100,000 brick kilns operating across the northern state of Punjab, according to a study released Wednesday by Anti-Slavery International. Nearly all the workers are provided loans from the kiln owners before the brick making season begins, immediately putting them into debt. The owners withhold their wages during the entire season, which lasts up to 10 months, and keep no records, allowing them to pay their workers far less than what is due.

Up to 80 percent of children under 14 years old working an average of nine hours a day during the hot weather months. Because workers are paid for each piece of brick they make, families are forced to put their children to work to increase their output.

The report also says living conditions at the kilns are dire, with the air filled with dust and other chemicals and no access to running water, and entire families living in cramped rooms of just under eight meters.

Volunteers for Social Justice, which partnered with Anti-Slavery International in the report, is urging India’s government to enact a minimum wage for the brick kiln workers, along with child labor laws to ensure that children get a proper education. “It is time that the government takes that responsibility and ends this exploitation that shouldn’t be taking place in the 21st century,” says Jai Singh, the director of Volunteers for Social Justice.



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