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Kids@Work

CIGARETTE ROLLER, INDIA- 1998

I am Sumathi.

I roll cigarettes by hand. I am 10 years old.

I do this work to pay the debt owed by my family to the money lender. They bonded me to him to pay for food and medicine.

I must roll 2000 cigarettes each day. This takes about 13 hours, with a few moments off to eat. For anything that slows the work, I am beaten, even if I am sick. I cannot talk or look up, or I am beaten. I must hold a matchbook under my chin so I will always look down at my work. If it falls, they assume I have either looked up or drowsed off, and I am beaten.

I work six days a week for pay, and one-half day with no pay to correct my "mistakes". Often, I don't know what mistakes.

If I do not make enough money, my parents beat me. When I was bonded, the bondsman gave my parents money. I make a little money each week for my family, but that is not to pay off the debt. The debt must be paid in one whole payment, including high interest charges. It will never happen. I will never make that much. Unless some one helps me, or some man with money agrees to pay off my debt and make me his wife, I will be bonded forever.

I would like to study. I would like to do anything but this, though I've heard of children worse off than I am. I know boys who weave rugs chained to the loom. I know of a girl sold to men.

So perhaps I could do worse, but I can do nothing better. It was this way for my parents, it may be this way for my children. There is no chance or hope.

It is simply how things are.

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