More than an thousand people have died in India due to a heat wave. Temperatures have reached 47 C or 116.6 F in some parts of the country.
Extreme weather lately in India has worsened crop failures in India and this is putting financial pressure on farmers.
Lal Singh a farmer in Madya Pradesh was desperate. Heavy rains and hailstorms had destroyed crop after crop. He fell deeper into debt. He struggled to feed his family.
“I took loan of Rs 60,000 from the bank for constructing a tube-well on my dry farmland. I planted chillies and was quite hopeful that I would be in a position to repay the loan after harvesting the crop. But the crop failed. I took another Rs 60,000 from a private moneylender at a high interest rate. But few months later even the wheat crop was spoiled,” he said.
So last August he left had only one choice: He sold his two sons to a shepherd for a year of labour, in exchange for Rs 35,000 around 500 US dollars.
His wife says it was a heartbreaking decision.
“It was wrong but we were forced to do this just to stay alive otherwise like many other farmers we too would have been forced to commit suicide. With no money and no means of sustenance, we were beside ourselves,” he said.
Eight months later 12-year-old Sumit and his 11-year-old brother Amit fled from the shepherds and were taken to local shelter.
Vishnu Jaiswalis director of the local branch of the group Childline says they were treated very badly.
“Their job was to look after and graze the sheep and other animals. They were often beaten. They were not given even two meals a day. As things became worse they ran away. There are bruises and cuts on their hands,” he said.
They were initially reluctant to return to their family. They were worried about how their parents would react.
But when I visited they were back home.
Officials believe there could be many other cases like this of farmers trading their children for money.
Rajnish Shrivastava, the district collector of Harda district says authorities rescued five children from forced labour in April.
“We are not taking such cases lightly. We are trying to find under what circumstances they sold their kids. We fear there could be more children in other camps of shepherds. We can’t allow the kids to be abused and trafficked in this way. We’ll continue investigations till all the children are rescued,” he said.
The governments of most states affected by extreme weather have announced relief packages for farmers.
But activists claim the process of delivering relief is taking too long, with authorities still assessing the damage in some regions and corruption means farmers often see very little financial aid.