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Nine years ago, World Vision staff discovered pervasive bonded child labor in the district of Gudiyatham in India: parents indenturing their children to moneylenders, in payment of debts as small as $20. The children rolled cigarettes, tanned hides, or made matches without freedom to go to school—and with little prospect of ever repaying loans made at ruinous interest rates.

Today, according to World Vision's extensive house-to-house surveys, child labor in the Gudiyatham district has been reduced by more than 80 percent. Children out of school can be counted in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

Jayakumar Christian oversees this and other projects that serve the poor. One would think that all Indians would welcome such efforts. Not quite. One of Christian's jobs is to encourage the 12 World Vision staff members based in Gudiyatham, who, like many of their colleagues, have faced increasing opposition. World Vision India has developed a citizenship-training program, and a few weeks before this interview, local fundamentalists had orchestrated a police raid on one of the training sessions, threatening force and seizing the training materials—all with cameras rolling from local media who had been tipped off to the raid in advance.

Such harassment is typical of what Christians in India increasingly endure, even when, as with World Vision, the programs they offer are carefully designed to strengthen India's pluralistic democracy rather than to proselytize. The staff endured a tense negotiation with police before local officials concluded that there was nothing objectionable in World Vision's materials. But Christian was still distressed. "I was asking God, how long can we take this? The fundamentalists just walk away ...

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Powering Down
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In the Magazine

September 2007

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