Child Trafficking: Changing the Odds, Denying the Profits

NOTE: This is a guest post from Nina Smith, Executive Director of GoodWeave USA.

The first thing I noticed about Sanju Maya–the first child rescued by GoodWeave in 2012–was her hands. I met Sanju Maya only weeks after she was found by our inspectors in Kathmandu. At 11, Sanju Maya has the body of an eight-year-old and hands of an 80-year-old, scarred from countless hours clutching sharp rug-making tools. Sanju Maya worked as a bonded laborer weaving carpets from four in the morning until eight at night, withstanding abuse by the loom owner.

GoodWeave rescued her on January 13th, and already her life is on a new and hopeful course. She is now the first person in her family to go to school, and thanks to GoodWeave, she’s doing it debt-free. In the snapshots taken at Hamro Ghar, GoodWeave Nepal’s residential center for rescued child weavers, Sanju Maya is surrounded by peers who “love her like a real sister,” evident from the girls’ arms draped around one another. However, it’s important to remember that like the physical scars still evident on her hands, there are emotional scars too–and those can take even longer to heal.

Sanju Maya was one of an estimated 30.5 million people living in contemporary forms of slavery in 2011, including bonded, forced and trafficked laborers[1]. Nearly half of those trafficked–more than a million–are children[2], and only one in 100 will ever be rescued from the hands of their captors[3].

Thanks to GoodWeave, Sanju Maya beat the odds. But the true power of our model is that it works to prevent trafficking before it occurs–so girls like Sanju Maya don’t have to bear any scars at all. Our random, surprise inspections of looms in Nepal, India and soon Afghanistan are an effective deterrent, leading to a 75 percent reduction in child labor in the rug industry since GoodWeave began. Programs like GoodWeave’s daycare and scholarships for the children of adult weavers are also a powerful tool for prevention, providing a safe place for kids to learn and play rather than prematurely joining their parents in the carpet factories.

The UN ranks human trafficking as the second largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, with its global profiteers bringing in $32 billion annually. Human trafficking expert Siddharth Kara’s forthcoming book  Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia uses data from six countries where this practice prevails to measure the “exploitation value” of a slave for various industries, from brick making to stone breaking, which represents the total expected profits the exploiter will enjoy before the laborer escapes, is freed, or perishes. Kara’s analysis reveals that bonded rug weavers in South Asia fetch their exploiters more than a 1,000 percent aggregate return on their initial capital investment–that investment being the paltry amount, an average of $170, paid for each carpet bonded laborer in the region.

Governments, businesses and individuals all have a role to play in ending this practice. Consumers in particular have the power to help combat human slavery through their purchases. When rug buyers demand the GoodWeave label, they send a message to manufacturers that a childhood is more valuable than a carpet, taking away the financial incentive for them to employ kids. Instead of perpetuating trafficking and other forms of slavery, GoodWeave’s industry partners and their rug-buying clients are helping employ adult rug weavers and educate thousands of kids like Sanju–providing a rich return on investment to society.

Momentum in the anti-trafficking movement, which GoodWeave helped pioneer 15 years ago, is growing, from California’s new anti-slavery legislation to’s first-ever grant portfolio to end modern slavery. And for consumers, there are a growing number of initiatives like Shop to Stop Slavery, Free2Work, The Emancipation Network and the Slavery Footprint to help research the products they are buying and learn about ethical alternatives. Together, we can not only help trafficked girls like Sanju Maya beat the odds, but also change the odds for the better, and for good.

Help honor World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, click here to learn more, or here to read more about Sanju Maya.

[1] Kara, Siddharth. Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia. October 2012. Estimate includes 19.2 million bonded laborers, 3 million trafficked slaves and 8.3 million forced laborers.

Photo: Sanju Maya (left) at Hamro Ghar with a fellow GoodWeave student, May 2012. Photo by U. Roberto Romano.


Teddie S.
Teddie S5 years ago

How many of these young people, are working in American owned companies in these countries? We hardly ever hear about them.
Good old out-sourcing, cheap labor, taking away from the people in our own country who need jobs to feed their families, for a higher profit.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

thanks for posting.

Gene Sengstake
Gene Sengstake5 years ago

Another problem - an insidious industry that harms the vulnerable and innocents in our society. And again - we all wonder - how can something like this exist??? Are we really that naive? We point fingers at the traffickers whose only interest in human life is financial - the governments who are obviously not doing enough to stop this cruel business - and wonder about the parents - where are they in all this??? But really - we all know where the problem lies - it is the consumer who purchases these products being made by slaves - the children - - - of course - they’re not “our” kids - but it bothers us anyway - - - but not enough to make us so angry that we actually do something about it - to perhaps even look at “our” role - our responsibility in this “should-not-be-happening” human atrocity. We buy the junk - and the expensive electronic gadgets that are making the exploiters of our youth - rich. And yes - they are “our” kids - we should feel a certain responsibility for all the children of the world - - - but like everything else - unless we are intimately familiar with the problem or people involved - we don’t take things as seriously as we should - it’s just our human nature - - - not really all that different from child pornography - this form of slavery saps the lives of voiceless children - or at least “we” cannot hear them - that is - if we are even listening - - -

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

We need more articles on this so it gets more attention from people who can stop this and continue to help these children. Thanks for this information and keep it coming.

Kelly Rogers5 years ago

I feel as the truth of this slavery is exposed more and more kids will be saved. One way to stop it is to not buy the things coming from these countries. Just like with puppy mills no one buying they will stop

Florence Eaise
Florence E5 years ago

thanks for sharing

Deborah Wasko
Deborah W5 years ago

Until a true moral mindset replaces current casualness and disconnectedness nothing will change.

As so appropriately noted, this change involves ALL ... government, businesses, individuals (including consumers). GoodWeave, 15 years qand counting, can't possibly do it alone. Individual energy and choice can and does make a difference. Ready?

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago


Aditya Narayan
Aditya n5 years ago


Yvette S.
Yvette S5 years ago

Awful! Thanks for sharing