Over-indebtedness threatens millions of microloan borrowers worldwide

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From Asia to South America, anger is mounting against microfinance institutions. In the hills of Assam, in northeastern India, thousands of women demonstrated in mid-June against the ” harassment “ microcredit organizations. Some have even symbolically asked the authorities for permission to kill themselves to escape their creditors… suicide being illegal in the country.

Thousands of kilometers away, in northern Kyrgyzstan, in April, several dozen women wearing black headscarves, the color of mourning, barricaded themselves in an administration building with cans of gasoline, and threatened to set it on fire if their creditors did not give them a break. In Sri Lanka, other women took to the streets in May to demand government aid against the“microcredit slavery”.

The crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the risks of over-indebtedness for the 140 million microborrowers in the world, 80% of whom are women. Their outstanding amount is estimated at 124 billion dollars (103.9 billion euros).

Read also “Africa suffers from over-indebtedness because of corruption”

“Most microcredit users work in the informal sector, which has been hardest hit by the crisis.testifies Martha Chen, co-founder of the network of informal workers Wiego. Borrowers, deprived of income, have sunk into over-indebtedness at alarming levels. » A vast survey conducted between July and November 2020 in twenty-one countries, among 18,000 microfinance clients, by the research firm 60 Decibels reveals that 84% of them have seen their financial situation deteriorate.

“Hassled borrowers”

Nearly a third of these workers were forced to borrow money from relatives or loan sharks, or even sell land or other assets to pay off their debts; 43% of them even admitted to having reduced their diet.

“Women are the most affectedunderlines Antonique Koning, specialist in financial inclusion of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), within the World Bank, because they work in sectors such as personal services or retail, which have been paralyzed by the confinements, and their domestic tasks have also multiplied during this period. » According to the World Bank, 43% of microenterprises owned by women in sub-Saharan Africa have closed temporarily, compared to 34% of those owned by men.

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