It seems the perpetual indebtedness created by America’s student loan program was such a great idea, we exported it to Afghanistan.
From the NYT:
The Muhammads are indentured servants, bought and paid for by Gul Bacha, who purchased their contracts from a kiln owner in Pakistan, where they had been living as refugees. Like tens of thousands of Afghans, the Muhammads are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty that keeps them indebted to their employers — a situation common at many of the dusty brick kilns that dot the countryside, as well as in some other industries, particularly in rural areas.
After decades of violence, Afghanistan has few banks, and the people who labor at the kilns would almost surely be too poor to qualify for loans. Instead, they borrow from their employers, who generally pay them pennies an hour for their grueling labor — barely enough to survive and too little to pay off debts that only grow with each passing year.
For a vast majority of workers, there is no escape — for them or for their children, who are bound by their parents’ contracts. Their best hope is that the boss will sell their contract to another kiln, where they might be paid more. No matter what, the loan will follow them. In some cases, children are held as their parents’ collateral.
It is illegal for children younger than 15 to work long hours or do heavy labor, and the government says it is trying to provide education and help to families so they do not have to send their children to work at the kilns.
The use of child labor is also a concern of NATO forces in Afghanistan, particularly those involved in reconstruction programs. Yet kiln owners and contractors say bricks made by children are routinely used in NATO projects.
A spokesman for the international security force in Afghanistan, Lt. Bashon W. Mann, said that the force conducted frequent inspections at construction sites and that the coalition had no knowledge of having used building materials made by children.