Internet InfoMedia sugar in india fueled by child marriage and hysterectomies

The Brutality of Sugar: Debt, Child Marriage and Hysterectomies

Archana Ashok Chaure has given her life to sugar.

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She was married off to a sugar cane laborer in western India at about 14 — “too young,” she says, “to have any idea what marriage was.” Debt to her employer keeps her in the fields.

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Last winter, she did what thousands of women here are pressured to do when faced with painful periods or routine ailments: She got a hysterectomy, and got back to work.

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This keeps sugar flowing to companies like Coke and Pepsi.

The Brutality of Sugar: Debt, Child Marriage and Hysterectomies

March 24, 2024Updated 2:57 a.m. ET

The two soft-drink makers have helped turn the state of Maharashtra into a sugar-producing powerhouse. But a New York Times and Fuller Project investigation has found that these brands have also profited from a brutal system of labor that exploits children and leads to the unnecessary sterilization of working-age women.

Young girls are pushed into illegal child marriages so they can work alongside their husbands cutting and gathering sugar cane. Instead of receiving wages, they work to pay off advances from their employers — an arrangement that requires them to pay a fee for the privilege of missing work, even to see a doctor.

An extreme yet common consequence of this financial entrapment is hysterectomies. Labor brokers loan money for the surgeries, even to resolve ailments as routine as heavy, painful periods. And the women — most of them uneducated — say they have little choice.

Hysterectomies keep them working, undistracted by doctor visits or the hardship of menstruating in a field with no access to running water, toilets or shelter.

Removing a woman’s uterus has lasting consequences, particularly if she is under 40. In addition to the short-term risks of abdominal pain and blood clots, it often brings about early menopause, raising the chance of heart disease, osteoporosis and other ailments.

But for many sugar laborers, the operation has a particularly grim outcome: Borrowing against future wages plunges them further into debt, ensuring that they return to the fields next season and beyond. Workers’ rights groups and the United Nations labor agency have defined such arrangements as forced labor.

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