A three year old boy in India runs as much as 30 miles a day. He’s in training, at the behest of his coach, to place in the Guinness Book of World Records and will happen only when he can run for 90km at a stretch.
When Budhia’s father died a year ago, his mother, who washes dishes in Bhubaneswar, capital of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, was unable to provide for her four children.
She sold Budhia to a man for 800 rupees ($20).
Let’s put this into context.
$20 is a lot for most people in India. India’s poorer than Sri Lanka by a long shot, and in Sri Lanka, I pay my maid $3 for her to cook and clean for 8 hours – and that’s considered high pay for a maid.
In India, the going wage is probably closer to $0.50 or $0.75. $20 is probably a month’s wages for someone who isn’t that poor, relatively speaking. For someone who’s really poor, that can represent up to a year’s wages.
Locals can hire full-time maids for Rs.2000 to Rs.5000 a month, depending on what they require the maid to do. That’s equivalent to $20-50 US.
The standard of living in Sri Lanka is higher than that of India, and average wages in Sri Lanka are also higher. Consider that in Sri Lanka, the average wage is $850 US a year, but in India it’s $250 US.
Consider that the literacy rate in India is around 50% and that India is considered to be the most corrupt country in the world with the most corrupt government and police force.
Why would they know that it’s illegal or why would they believe that law would be enforced when so many others aren’t?
Arranged marriages are still the norm in India, much more so in the villages, and people living in the villages tend to be poorer. Sometimes, the marriages take place when the two people are children. While it’s becoming a bit more common for the two adult members to have some say in who they’re married to, it’s still often enough that they just do whatever the parents tell them, even though that could mean they’re married off to someone who’s abusive, a stranger, an alcoholic, someone who’s decades older, whatever.
With the dowry system in India, it’s the bride’s parents who give money to the groom’s. Marriages are often so expensive that a family will spend a year’s wages on the wedding, sometimes more. If a dowry is considered insufficient by the groom’s family, the bride can be hurt, usually burned, and sometimes killed. In 1993, there were a reported 5,377 dowry deaths. And all this while dowries are officially illegal (1961).
But then, suttees (burning a woman alive along with the cremation of her husband’s remains) happened long after that was made illegal (1829 to 1841, depending on the area), too. The last known case was in 1988.
Fahim and I were talking just the other day about children being sent to Buddhist monasteries when they’re young – 6 or 8 or whatever. Back when he was a child, it was common enough, and usually, it was because the family was too poor to be able to feed all the children. It was simpler to send the children off to the monastery to be raised to be good little Buddhist monks. Benefits: they were fed and educated, often unlike the children who had to stay at home.
Remember after the tsunami? There was the incident with baby 81 and the 15 or 16 families who fought over that baby, all claiming the baby was theirs. There was the grandfather who sold his granddaughter to sex slavers. There were children who were forced into joining the Tamil Tigers. There were children who were kidnapped and taken out of the country to go into the sex trade in other countries. Thailand is known in the region as having more child prostitutes – both boys and girls – than anywhere else in the world.
Selling a child because you can’t afford to feed and clothe him? Not surprising at all.
While Sri Lanka has a literacy rate of over 90% (compared to India’s 50-something %), people here still don’t understand their rights or obligations. Laws here are open to interpretation – comparatively speaking, US law is straightforward and clear cut. Here, get three lawyers together and you’ll have at least ten opinions on what the law is for any situation.
How do you educate people so they no longer accept this as a way of life? How do you do this when the government is corrupt to the point of not caring about its people?
How do you instill necessary changes in the government without hurting the poorest?